Host: Matt Hall
Guests: Sid and Ann Mashburn
Matt: 00:07 Welcome back Long View listeners. I'm so glad you're here, and I want to start off by saying a couple things that we don't normally talk about. One, people have asked me, "Matt, what's your goal with the Podcast? And it's really the same goal I had when I wrote Odds On: The Making of an Evidence-Based Investor, is to make new friends and to bring our existing friends closer or in business terms to bring our existing clients a little bit backstage, get to know us more, and to introduce us to new prospective relationships. If you're interested in learning more about my firm it's called Hill Investment Group, and you can go to our website and check us out.
Matt: 00:41 Next, I want to tell you this episode to me feels kind of like sitting on a front porch with a glass of sweet tea. Maybe not sweet tea, maybe an Arnold Palmer, maybe half lemonade and half tea. There's just a great vibe and energy to Sid & Ann Mashburn. I recorded this episode in Atlanta, Georgia, and they are just the coolest. I'm excited for you to hear from them. Their full bio will be in the show notes, but I just want to say they are the tastemakers. If you look for them you'll find them all over the media right now. They have great partnerships with big brands and have cool stores. In fact they have five stores throughout the country, but they weren't always entrepreneurial. And I think you're going to find a lot of good stuff in their journey.
Matt: 01:30 For example I love talking with Ann about how she got started at Vogue Magazine and learning from her experience that's not unlike the story that you may remember from The Devil Wears Prada. And Sid's journey is equally interesting in that he's from the South and from Mississippi, but as a kid was reading Vogue Magazine and imagining how he would find his way into the retail and design world. So for full bios check out the show notes, but just know I love these two people. I love the company they're creating. And I think if you're looking for a takeaway I think you're going to find a lot if you check out their website or one of their stores when you're in their five cities.
Matt: 02:07 And we're not big on predicting the future, but I would just say I would look for them to be a big name, a name like you might know in other retail spaces. They're doing really special work, and I'm proud to have spent some time with them. Hope you enjoy.
Matt: 02:31 I want to start by saying ... And this may be easier for me to say than for you to say. I really think you're doing something that no one else is doing like if I tried to relate to other people something that they, if they don't have a Sid & Ann Mashburn in their own town if I tried to compare you to someone else you're really in a class all your own. And I love what you're doing, and I've met other people who feel like they have a secret too because they've found you.
Ann: 02:58 That's so nice, thank you.
Sid: 02:59 You're too nice to say that. Thank you.
Matt: 03:00 Okay, well let's back up, though, and go to sort of the early days. Sid, you're the preppy hippie from Mississippi.
Sid: 03:11 That's what Ann says. That was her original moniker for me.
Matt: 03:15 But Sid, Mississippi is not exactly the fashion capital of the world.
Sid: 03:19 Oh, come on, Matt, you know better, right?
Matt: 03:22 So how does a nice boy like you end up in the fashion world in New York?
Sid: 03:27 It really is a great question because I think what you just said is kind of what everybody thinks. Funny enough, Mississippi people do take pride in what they wear, and it's just something that you kind of grow up with. And I grew up in a very small town, and funny I had two older sisters and an older brother, and they all loved clothes. And my mother's family was a merchant family, so they had these stores in these small, super small agricultural town called Pelahatchie, and they had a clothes store, a hardware store, an implement store, and a furniture store. And you don't think anything about that when you're growing up particularly because as I grew a little bit older finally my grandmother died, and the business just kind of went away. But my sisters loved to go to market with my grandmother, and they would buy clothes. And so we always had fashion magazines around the house. I was reading Vogue and Mademoiselle and Glamour, and my brother I think, my mother would not have liked it, but he had some Esquires around, which were considered kind of racy in our household. And my brother was a super dresser.
Sid: 04:37 So you kind of grow up around that, and you take to it. So there's not a lot to do in Mississippi, so between clothes and sports and just kind of idling my life away I learned to really love clothes. So as soon as I got my driver's license at 15 I immediately went to a store. And funny enough, it was a relative who owned the clothes store, and I got a job. I was the errand boy, the runner. I worked on the floor too because eventually there would be more customers than the two guys on the floor could handle. And it was awesome, and what was interesting about it is you really saw a real wide swath of people because this was a smallish town too, so everybody came to shop there. Either you had a lot of money or you didn't have a lot of money. So also it was a collection of brands that kind of ran from inexpensive up to not inexpensive, not expensive terribly but still not cheap. It was pretty good quality.
Sid: 05:37 I learned a lot about watching people in the wild because you spend time with them talking about clothes and their life and the context and the [warping wolf 00:05:47] of their life and talking to them through the curtain while they're in the dressing room. I loved it. I loved it, loved it, loved it because it was an opportunity to connect with people, and they were looking for some advice and some help so you became a confidant of theirs. Even though I'm 15 years old they're like, "What do you think about these pants on me?" I'm like, "No, try these." And they're like, "Oh yeah, those are good." So it just was a great entree into being a little more grown up and understanding people's needs.
Matt: 06:23 And Ann, you know I think most of the listeners have probably either heard of or maybe even seen the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, and you were at Vogue, and I think ... And by the way one of my favorite lines from that movie is when the character who I think is supposed to be Anna Wintour says, "The details of your incompetence do not interest me." I've tried that a few times in my own office. It didn't go over well.
Sid: 06:48 Try that at home sometime.
Matt: 06:49 Yeah, I'll try that and see how that works. But tell us a little bit about your experience, how you ended up in this industry and in the media and in this sort of Devil Wears Prada role.
Ann: 07:03 Well, when I went to college, when I went to the University of Colorado, which is not a fashion school, and I actually was an English major in the beginning because I like to write. And then I decided to go into the business school, so I left school thinking that I knew I didn't want to do business, and I wanted to do something creative. And I went on this trip with my brother to Europe, and we spent a month in Paris, and I was really affected by the way women dressed. I just loved it, and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to go work in fashion. I'm going to try to be a fashion writer." This was in the early '80s and I marched into many advertising agencies and all the publishing companies and took the required typing test [inaudible 00:07:46]. You had to type 50 words a minute to be able to interview for an assistant position.
Ann: 07:52 I went on a few interviews, Mademoiselle, Glamour, but they called me and said, "The fashion editor of Vogue is looking for somebody." And I marched in there. I had no idea who she was. And she for whatever reason was charmed by me and said, "You have the job." They called me and they said, "You're not going to believe it but you got the job." So I went from it was just completely because I interviewed, and she liked me. But I had no clue, and really that movie is an exaggeration a bit. And I did not work for Anna Wintour. She actually was in the office next to me and was just a creative director at the time I was there.
Ann: 08:26 She wasn't as powerful a position, but the editor I worked for in the movie she very much resembles actually in the way she looks Meryl Streep even more than Anna Wintour. She was 62, had this gray hair. And you just were humiliated on a daily basis. Basically you were the least important person in the room but the most important person in the room. Everything was riding on how you organized the day. She would just throw things at you that you had to do, and you had no idea how to do them, and you just had to figure it out. And everybody kind of looked at you with this little smirk on their face and would think to themselves, "I wonder how long she's going to last," that little girl from the Midwest who doesn't know anything.
Ann: 09:07 It was great, and I learned much. In the [inaudible 00:09:10] you talked about I worked with really amazing photographers. I worked with great ... I did all sorts of cover shoots with Brooke Shields, Isabella Rossellini. I was on Cindy Crawford's first Vogue photo shoot. And you just ... I knew I was in the right place at the right time, and I absorbed ... I mean I think I learned 15 years worth of lessons in the 18 months that I worked there because I just kept my eyes open and got it done. Long answer, sorry.
Matt: 09:38 No, I love it. So Sid, you find your way to New York. You take a bold move and head to New York. You get a gig at J. Crew, which in the early days we said you're one of the first or the first designer. Tell us about what those days were like. Were you classically trained?
Sid: 09:58 Well the funny thing is growing up in Mississippi I was always playing with proportions and the clothes I had. So all my friends were wearing ... The average person was wearing boot cut, and the cool guy was wearing elephant bells on his Jeans. So I got a pair of straight-leg Levis and would roll them up, and my friends were like, "What are you wearing? Why are you wearing that?" So that was the beginning, and then I started ... I got into button-down shirts. My grandfather had a great closet. He wasn't a fantastic dresser, but he was a good dresser and had good taste. So I started getting his old shirts. And then I was getting my mother to taper all my pants because she was a pretty good home sewer. So I wouldn't say I was designing, but I was reconstituting the clothes I was wearing, and I was dressing like a guy in college partly because I worked at a clothing store and I got a discount. So all my money was going to gas and to clothes.
Sid: 11:03 So I knew enough for my appetite to be not sated at all. It was really like how do I learn more, how do I learn more. And when I asked my dad if I could go to design school midway through Ole Miss he was like, "No, I don't think so. I don't think that's right for you right now." And he said it in what was seemingly a dismissive way but really more of a, "You know what, just finish what you're doing, and then we'll figure that out," very practical and very like, "Let's just take one day at a time." I didn't want to stay at school. I was a very average student expect for the things I liked, but I worked in restaurants and I still worked in clothing stores, so they were both people businesses.
Sid: 11:47 I was still playing around with clothes, so when I graduated my dad said, "Hey, why don't you sell your car and go to New York and see if you can figure it out." And I did, and I tried to get a job ... Excuse me, I got a job in retail immediately. I went around and I interviewed at Pariella's and Merona and various other places that were pretty cool. So I got a job in a retail store, which I thought that was the stupidest. I felt like I was taking a step backward. I didn't realize that I was being protected from not knowing what I didn't know. So it was an opportunity to learn how to live in New York and how to live on my own and how to be trained and kind of get the rhythm of the city.
Sid: 12:26 And then a guy that was one of my customers liked me and said, "Would you come work with us?" And he had a company called British Khaki, which was super cool. I said, "Will you teach me how to design?" He said, "Sure, of course I will." And I had tried to get into FIT and Parsons while I was there, and they weren't having it. They were like, "No, you've got to start over," and I wasn't having that. Anyway, while I was working at British Khaki, and he was teaching me how to pitch colors, which pitching colors meant you would set a plaid pattern and you'd put red beside cream beside green beside blue, and then that was in the warp or the north and south of the weave, and then in the west you'd put different colors to match up. And then you'd get a colorway painted and send it to you and go yes or change the red to a burnt orange or whatever. And then you'd send it off to India, and they would weave you a hand sample. It was pretty cool.
Sid: 13:20 So I admit I went to the beach on June 2, 1985 with my friends, and there Ann was. She came up to me and asked me kind of when do the trains go back. And I was like, "I don't know." So then we got up to leave, and she followed me, and then we stopped to take pictures, and I swung around to follow her. And I followed her onto the train, and she offered me a seat, and that was the beginning of our relationship. A friend of hers I met at a party said, "Hey, you should come talk to us about this company." She was leaving Vogue to go work for a nameless startup catalog company in New Jersey. The sum of that was great, but the ingredients doesn't sound very good.
Sid: 14:06 So it turns out it was J. Crew. And I got the job as the first menswear designer there, and it was awesome because they were a startup. I knew more about clothes than they did really, but they knew a lot about marketing, particularly direct marketing. In a funny sense J. Crew, L.L. Bean, Lands' End those were really the e-commerce businesses of today, but it was direct mail, and the marketing team was the real engine there because they were analyzing zip codes, and they were data processors basically or data analyzers.
Sid: 14:46 And so we were just building product that we thought was pretty good and well priced and built for the college market. It's just things we liked. So that's how I got the job. And they just kind of ... They liked me and thought I had plenty of energy, so it was a job where I'd go to work and leave the house at six something in the morning, go to Port Authority, hop on a bus, go to New Jersey, get home at 8:00 at night. I loved it. I couldn't imagine that I got to do that especially without training. So Ann's friend who she introduced me to was really the person that helped me at the top.
Ann: 15:22 If I can jump in. J. Crew was a lot like Ralph Lauren in that when they recruited they looked for people with high energy and great taste. And a lot of the stuff they can teach you, but you can't, it's hard to teach somebody to have vision, style, taste, and they saw that when they saw Sid.
Sid: 15:43 And the ability to communicate around it because you did have to kind of speak to it because you had to sell your designs even within the four walls of the company and just tell somebody why you thought this was the right color palate or why this cut of pant was right or this jacket fabric was good.
Matt: 16:01 Were you two in New York at this time dreaming and talking about one day starting your own company or were you loving these roles that you had and just sort of starting your family in those days?
Ann: 16:12 When I met Sid he absolutely always thought about doing his own thing. I think I still have a button that he put on his coat, his little plaid blazer that had a wolf on it. He was going to call it wolf clothing. Do you remember that?
Sid: 16:31 Yeah.
Ann: 16:32 Did you forget about that? So Sid has always, always, always wanted to do this. I had no idea we would ever have it. I guess I thought he could do anything, so I didn't ... But we were so young. We were 23 when we met. And we knew we had a lot to learn. We always talk about now when we ... In the beginning we had nothing to lose, so it was low risk but didn't know anything. Then later in life when we did start our business together at 45 we had a lot to lose, but we finally had the experience and the know-how to really do it. So we had to wait.
Matt: 17:03 You guys seem like you have some things in common and some things that are very different sort of shared values and complementary skills. And that's kind of been a theme throughout the Podcast episodes is like great partnerships seem to have shared values and complementary skills. Would you say that is true for your partnership both in life and in business?
Ann: 17:23 Yes, but I would also say that because we're so close there's a lot of tension, and I don't think sometimes the things that seem complementary can seem conflicting too. You always ... Especially in marriage you always want to be right, and I think in business-
Sid: 17:39 Or want to agree-
Ann: 17:42 Yeah, that's true, yeah.
Sid: 17:43 ... or be on the same page. You want to be right, but you want them to be right too.
Ann: 17:46 Well, no, you want them to think like you.
Sid: 17:48 Yeah, maybe that's a better way of putting it.
Ann: 17:51 But yeah we definitely have complementary ... I mean a partnership first in our life together when we split tasks. We both worked for a while, but then when we started to have so many children we split up, and I did the majority of the heavy lifting for the girls, and Sid worked doing what he does best.
Sid: 18:15 It's interesting that she says that also because I would say that in some marriages you know it's always like, "Why are you working so long?" And I did work long hours, and part of it is because I thought I needed to and part of it was because I liked it. And hopefully it wasn't an idol. It was just something that was not necessary but also was invigorating. And Ann never regrets that at all. She's like, "Yeah, of course you have to work, and I've got the house taken care of." And she did. So really it was a lot of fun growing up, and we had plenty of challenges along the way. And the work was not always easy but something that I always felt like I was progressing in, which was nice.
Ann: 19:01 Sid is very detail-oriented, and I'm really much more 80/20. So I keep things moving along perhaps more so than you do, but you bring us back when we really need to so something better the right way. He's fantastic when it comes to the tiny things, but I can see the big picture. I'm very impatient, so I like just to get it done.
Matt: 19:26 Yeah, I've heard you say that Sid kind of likes to take the long road or the windy road, and you're kind of, "Let's get there quickly."
Ann: 19:34 Yeah, I just want to go. We were driving in the car visiting his small town in Mississippi [crosstalk 00:19:39].
Sid: 19:38 I like to say the windy road not the winding road.
Ann: 19:43 We were driving with his mother, and he took us around the back way, and I kind of exhaled, and I was like, "Uh." I knew the way to go to where we were going, and I'm not even from that town. And she looked at me and she said, "Don't you know that Sidney likes to go the round about way." And I got it.
Matt: 20:01 So where are you when you decide to make this big entrepreneurial move? Where were you living, and how did you decide to come to Atlanta as sort of your home base?
Sid: 20:15 Well, we were living in Middleton, Wisconsin, which is kind of a bedroom community for Madison, Wisconsin. And I had been working in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. And I basically had been fired from Lands' End.
Ann: 20:29 Which I thought would happen a year into his post there. He asked me to move to Wisconsin from Connecticut and New York, and I thought, "Oh, sure I'll go there for a year. I'm sure that's all that we'll be there," but it took a while longer.
Sid: 20:44 About six years. So anyway Ann was kind of of the mindset of, "Well, we're going back to New York, right," because that's really where most design creative positions are. And I said, "Well, you know that idea that I've been talking about for 30 years or 20-plus years?" And she said, "Yeah." So we talked about that a little bit, and she said, "You know what ..." I'll let you say.
Ann: 21:13 I said, "Okay, we have to buy a house to live in, so let's put our money into that." And I want to make sure the girls' 529s ... We had five daughters. The oldest was a senior in high school letting ready to pay for college. So I said, "Okay, if we can put those things away I'm pretty sure we can lose the rest of the money that we have because you're pretty employable." So I definitely had that attitude that it wasn't that I ever thought we would fail, but I just had open eyes to say what's the worst thing that could happen? And if I can live with the worst thing that could happen it'll be fun and let's try it. So that's what we did.
Sid: 21:47 And we looked at about nine cities, and we got it down to New York and Chicago. And Ann said, "Hey, how about Atlanta?" And she's from the northern Midwest and lived up in New York in the Northeast and back in the Midwest and never connected to the South. She always thought the South was exotic and interesting, and there probably is a couple of other adjectives I may be missing. I said, "Atlanta sounds great." So I came down to Atlanta in January of 2007, and I stayed with a friend of ours. I thought it was my only friend in Atlanta at the time, but I realized later that I knew some people. And this person, Lisa Hoffman from Hattiesburg who I had gone to college with, and she treated me like she was running the Chamber of Commerce and as a friend and showed me around everywhere and took me to Taqueria del Sol to eat. I was like, "Why are we going to a taco place in Atlanta?" And it was like, "Could it be really that good?" And sure enough it was fantastic. And I spent the rest of that week there in January driving every street in Atlanta.
Ann: 22:57 The round about way.
Sid: 22:58 The round about way, but my job is sort of creative lead whether it was at J. Crew of Tommy Hilfiger or Lands' End or Polo is kind of sniffing out what appears to feel cool and feel right. And so I couldn't really find sort of the locus of energy in Atlanta, and I drove every street from the underground to the mall for four days. So on Friday I was like, "Shoot, I'll go back to that taco place because I go catch a plane because that was good." And I drove back over there, and the parking lot was teaming with people. And this was an area of Atlanta that had not been really developed yet.
Sid: 23:37 So this place I was like, "Gosh, this is pretty cool." And I walked into a store there, and I said, "Hey, how's your business here. I'm Sid Mashburn." They had kids business, and it was pretty high end. It was very nice. It was called [B. Brathwait 00:23:50]. And they said, "Gosh, you should consider opening your store here." I was like, "Huh." And she said, "As a matter of fact I think the people behind me are getting ready to move out." Sure enough, I walk back there, and he was boxing up. I'm like, "Hmm. This is interesting." I go back to Wisconsin where the snow is piled high, and the forsythia was already coming out in Atlanta. And I said, "Ann, this is pretty cool. You need to get down there as quickly as possible." So sure enough ...
Ann: 24:22 So we came in February. I thought the same thing. I thought it was a very cool center. It reminded me of the meat packing district. It just felt like we could make something there. And again to Sid's point there were daffodils, and I thought Atlanta looked like an awesome place, so we just jumped in.
Sid: 24:39 So we came here, got here in July. Actually I was coming back and forth the whole time, and I had to send a package to the landlord, and he's a very particular guy, a guy named Michael Phillips, and he's a fantastic curator and a visionary real estate guy. And he said, "I'd love for you to come open your store here." So we hammered out a deal, and I got a local contractor. And Ann started coming in and out of that. And all of a sudden the reluctant retailer was really starting to catch fire. It's like, "This is cool." And she started really getting into it. She was the first CFO of the company because she had a business degree, and I did not have a business degree, and she knew accounting. So she oversaw that.
Sid: 25:24 And we opened the ... We moved down in July of ... or we moved everybody down in July '07, and we opened up the doors October 15, 2007 with myself, a master tailor, and one other guy, Randy Piles. And it was three men and 3,000 square feet. So we had to move quickly. But it was also at a time when the economy was just getting ready to take off in not a favorable way. I was really not concerned. We talked about risk. Ann's fairly risk averse, and I can be risk averse also except for in something that I really believe in. I knew in my heart that this was a great idea because there was nothing like it in the market space, and Ann didn't totally agree with me. She questioned me. You can say what you had on your mind.
Ann: 26:23 Well, I just wondered why. I thought, "Can't you find what you want someplace else?" I knew we had ... I just ... I knew you could do it.
Sid: 26:34 So I said, "Just trust me here," and she did. So our business actually was growing in those first few years. We were hiring people, so we were really kind of bucking the trend of everything else. And we were on the back side of a shopping center in a non-trafficked area of Atlanta, and we were building a business. And people would come in, and I was dressed fairly peculiarly for Atlanta at the time because at the time I think I called it the pleat capital of free world you know guys with big clothes. I was wearing pretty slim clothes and pants that were perhaps too short for some guys and jackets that were a little tight. And guys would walk in. They'd be like, "What is this? What's this about?" And then they would see the tailor shop. And we intentionally built an open air tailor shop partly to show that we were very serious about tailoring, partly to show the skills and the mindset we had around tailoring, and a little bit of entertainment as well and also to bring who we thing are sort of stars in their own right these tailors. They're kind of the under sung heroes oftentimes.
Sid: 27:51 And then people would come in and look at me and look at the clothes and wouldn't understand. Then they'd see the tailor shop. They'd go, "Wait a sec." They couldn't put it together, but they knew that there was something else a little special about this place particularly because the product mix also was pretty, it was pretty edited. It had Levis Jeans, A.P.C. Jeans, and Sid Mashburn shirts, and Caruso and Sartoria suits and Evergreen shoes and my shoes. I mean it was tight. It was very edited. And people had not seen anything like that, and frankly there was not anything like this in the country at the time. It was kind of I think on the front-end of the menswear [inaudible 00:28:29] that was occurring, and it was just starting to come on, so it was an exciting place to be at the time.
Matt: 28:37 Ann, what do you think Sid was doing in those early days when it was just Sid Mashburn that was catching people's attention or that was causing it to grow or be different from what people were finding in other places?
Ann: 28:49 Well, it's kind of an overused word now, but it really was about the experience. And I think both of us helped and kind of I wasn't selling in the shop, but we made a place that felt like a place you wanted to just be and not just to buy. So part of it was to kind of express ourselves because we didn't know that many people in town, and somebody's walking into the store you want them to know it's yours. We decorated it with a lot that was from our own home. I made sure that we had this awesome mood board because when I would ... You know we both were in creative fields, and you have your little bulletin board and your cubicle, and I can remember really loving ... I loved my own, but I mostly loved to go when I would visit Sid at his office I would just sit down and just kind of exhale and say, "Wow, this is cool. You think this is clever. I like this. It's really interesting." So we put that up in the shop so that when people came in they could get a bit of Sid's aesthetic.
Ann: 29:48 Then when people came in we'd offer them a drink. We would ... Sid is all about music. That's a huge ... I think Sid is actually a more talented music person than even clothing designer in my opinion. And he always had great vinyl playing, it was just his point of view. So I think that the thing that I love about our shops is that you walk in and you know where you are. You may like it, you may not, but we definitely have a point of view. And it's not so out there that it doesn't appeal to a lot of people, so business wise I think our brand makes a lot of sense for a lot of people.
Ann: 30:22 But it really was just a personality. And Sid was in the store himself, and he's a big personality, and he makes a lot of friends really easily. I actually just think that's pretty much it.
Matt: 30:34 What was the spark that really pushed you to open Ann Mashburn?
Ann: 30:40 Well, I did not want to, but this landlord that we talked about, Michael Phillips, who really has exceptional taste and is a great visionary and a great seller kind of sold me on it. There was a small shop that was two doors down from Sid's that was going vacant, and he pushed me and said, "You're great. You could make it great. I think it would be fantastic." And then my girls pushed me because they knew how much ... They said, "Mom, you do so much work, and dad gets all the attention." So I think it was the fact that I had five daughters, and we did have a family business. As I've said many times I didn't really want it, but once I had it I thought, "Okay, if this is a family business and on a really good day I looked at it in a very wonderful romantic way that we would go visit all the factories in Europe, and they had this tradition of family-owned clothing businesses and factories that it was a really beautiful thing to see."
Ann: 31:35 I knew that the girls were only vaguely interested in men's clothes, and I thought, "You know what, let's have a female side of it." So we set it up really safely that I had a bump out in a year if it didn't work, and it worked really well so we kept on.
Sid: 31:52 If I could add one thing, one thing that I loved about the way Ann thought of it she made the glass is never half full. It's brimming with opportunity. So it was rare that I said, "Ann, this is going to be difficult. You're going to lose a piece of your life. It's going to be very hard work. You're going to just lose what little free time you have, and the time with the girls you're going to lose a little bit. And you know what taking care of customers is a full-time ... Hospitality is a full-time job, and it's going to be hard." And she said something about, "You know what. I want the girls to see that when an opportunity presents itself that you don't just sit on the bench, that you go ahead and jump in where an opportunity is available." And I loved that. And it really I think kind of expresses a little bit of her mentality also is like, "Yes, I can do this, and I'm going to jump right in and do it." So it was a good example to our girls also to go ahead and seize the day.
Matt: 32:57 But I'm really pleased that you just said the word hospitality because Danny Meyer is the episode right before our episode, and I really think he changed the game with his book Setting the Table, which came out 13 years ago, which is all about what he calls enlightened hospitality. Whether you all like that book or not you do it. Your people do it. And a lot of the ingredients that are in Setting the Table I have witnessed or experienced at Mashburn. Is that intentional?
Sid: 33:33 Absolutely.
Ann: 33:34 Sid had read the book before we opened the store, and I always say our whole concept was modeled much more after his idea of hospitality than the clothing.
Sid: 33:47 And even food and hospitality business also is kind of the ... Even the merchandise mix kind of goes to that is how many different people can we take care of. Before his book, Setting the Table came out I think we loved and embodied some of those, but to my knowledge no one had ever laid that down. And he laid it down just some eloquently and humbly too, but not like fakey humbly like, "You know what, there's some things there that you have to deal with from being a proprietor that don't always position the customer as being the last word, although they really are because that's all that matters is what they thought when they came in and you took care of them or didn't take care of them."
Sid: 34:43 We actually had our team read the book probably about four years after we got open, maybe four or five years after we got open. And it's funny because we were talking about it at a morning meeting, and we had an intern there who was in high school at the time. He was great. And the phone rang during the middle of our Saturday morning meeting. We always have a campus pregame on Saturday to bring everybody today at 9:15. We open up at 10:00 on Saturdays. So as soon as the ... You played baseball, so you can appreciate this. As soon as the phone rang it was like a center fielder hearing the ball crack off the bat. He bounded for the phone. I was like, "He got the book perfectly because that's really the way you want people to respond."
Sid: 35:32 So one of the things we said even before I read the book is because we couldn't always get to all the customers, but when customers came in we said we wanted to hug them with our eyes to make sure they felt acknowledged. And when we would approach any customer it was never, "What can we help you find today?" It was more like, "What can we get you to drink? Would you like a cold drink or a Coke or coffee or a beer or a glass of water?" And then we wouldn't even say, "How can we help you?" But very quickly in that split second of time your EQ has to be such that you go, "Excuse me. This guy is not here to chit chat or walk around. He needs a pocket square or collar stays or a tie or something." You've got to figure that out very, very quickly and go, "What can I help you with today?" So understanding and reading the customer quickly is super important part about what we do.
Sid: 36:33 Anyway, I was really inspired and encouraged after reading his book and applying that. And it's a little bit of even what I grew up in because in the store in Mississippi everybody was welcome because the towns were usually so small that you knew most everyone. It's like, "What can I do to take care of this person today?"
Matt: 36:51 Yeah. I think you may remember this from the book, but Danny says it in the last episode where he says, "When we're born we experience light, warmth, touch, and food." And those are our first experiences with hospitality. We don't know it by that name, but we spend a better part of our lives chasing those same things.
Sid: 37:12 Yeah, that's true.
Matt: 37:12 And I think you really, you all have found a team and a culture or created a team and a culture that feels natural. It doesn't feel forced. When I was first introduced to Sid and Ann Mashburn I had heard that you had maybe 30 employees, and now I think you have, like, 150.
Ann: 37:30 Close.
Matt: 37:31 What's that journey been like?
Ann: 37:34 Fast. Or it feels like it's gone fast. Yeah, it's hard. It's hard to ... Danny Meyer says, "The bigger we get the smaller we need to act." I think that's his quote. So I think it's hard to keep feeling like you have this small company, but we all want to grow because we want to share it with more people, and we're business people, and we see there's an opportunity. I think we still try to keep the same touch that we've had the whole time. And it's great to have more people because it's fun to grow a business and to see that you're adding to the economy rather than going the other way.
Matt: 38:16 Yeah, it's really tricky isn't it. There's a charm and intimacy that you all have, and how does that scale or get bigger? How can that be felt?
Ann: 38:23 We think about that all the time, and when people ask me the question they say, "How big do you want to get? What are your plans for the company?" And I can just say that I think what we do is only valuable when it still feels special, but there is lots of opportunity. And I think we'll know it when we feel it that if it's getting too big or if it doesn't keep that authenticity because that really is to me the extra magic part of it. You can get a lot of things everywhere, but I think I just want to keep us authentic in how we are but by still growing. And I think we've done that in our other shops. They all are very similar in feeling in the same way that our daughters all look very similar, but they're different. They look like they came from the same two people, and I hope our shops in other cities they feel different enough that you want to go see them and experience Texas feels different than Washington, D.C., feels different than Atlanta, but it's that same DNA that runs through all of them.
Matt: 39:24 So when you guys do think about the future though how do you make decisions as a couple? Let's think from the financial point of view. In the beginning you funded this, and then at some point you decided to bring on some other investors. How do you all make decisions, and how do you deal with disagreement? How transparent is it with either the team or your family or how does that all work?
Sid: 39:50 It's a balancing act. I wouldn't look back and say, "Gosh, we nailed it or gosh we screwed it up," because we've done both and we continue to do both. We're still just kind of finding our way. And it's even a little bit of what Ann was saying to your last question is we hope that what we're doing in the right thing, and we like to try to be able to course correct, and we hope that our company and the teams there are open enough and transparent enough with each other that we can admit wrong or right and go back and revisit something and then go forward again. When we make decisions together our time is ... Ann's super busy by her schedule, which involves taking care of our girls still to a great degree for also overseeing the creating process and making decisions around the design and the product and making basic business decisions about deliveries and things like that. And I wind up doing the same thing but not as much responsibility to our girls but also taking care of some of the operational pieces of our business.
Sid: 41:00 So we try to bring each other in on decisions that we think the other person's going to be important to help make the decision. We don't always do it because we're moving so quickly.
Ann: 41:11 And some things we don't need to. I'm not going to tell ... Sid asks my opinion about design. He'll walk in and say, "How does this look to you?" And I'll say, "Oh, you know, that doesn't look like you or actually I think that those shorts are a little long or something," but that's the tip of my spear. I would never say to him, "Don't do that," because that's just his thing. And likewise I have a really distinct point of view about women's things, and he actually is very opinionated about it too. But a lot of times you just have to say ... And we haven't ... I would give the advice to somebody else is that each one of us needs to have our own lane where we really can make most of the decisions. And we try to do that, but I think we're both, again, so intertwined that we like to put our two cents in. But I trust Sid to make the right decisions about a lot of things.
Ann: 42:03 Financially we have a business partner, a president, who helps us also. And we have a board, so big decisions we definitely get other input on because sometimes when you're too close to it you just can't see it. So that I think is a fairly smart thing to do. But creatively can get tense because we both want what we want.
Sid: 42:25 And also we do also ascribe to the idea of seeking the counsel of many. So how do we find counsel amongst friends, amongst our board members, amongst other people in the organization and just other business acquaintances about, "What have you encountered here? How have you handled this?" And that can be something as everyday as just employees. How have you handled this situation, and how do you keep a consistent communication throughout the whole organization because we've got everything from the warehouse team to logistics team to a supply chain team to a finance team to a real estate. It's a very complex business that we've built. And I say that not complementarily. I say it in as like we've bit off a lot and partly because I'd had exposure to being in companies whether it's J. Crew or Polo or Tommy Hilfiger or Lands' End where they had great success, and two of those were direct to consumer companies, J. Crew and Lands' End.
Sid: 43:37 And I think in some ways I underestimated the real complexity because I was mostly always in design and product development and at Lands' End even in PR, but still you don't really see the whole people and understand how fragile in that kind of system you can be dealing with at a time. So now our master tailor says to me sometimes he says, "God loves you, and you is lucky." I wouldn't say he says that in a way where we've reached critical success or anything, but just along the way you get encouraging reports and accomplishments along the way to know we're moving in the right direction. So anyway I trust Ann with decisions that I couldn't make them without her. And same thing with her. We know when we see it that way it's like, "Why didn't you ask me about that?" It's like, "I just didn't get to it." At our best we say we're sorry. The other side of it says, "You know what, I just was moving too quick," and you just move on.
Sid: 44:43 You have to remember that this is my wife and my life really not just a business partner. So the pillow talk's pretty powerful. So having our desk 47 and a half inches apart sometimes too close and sometimes too far.
Matt: 45:03 Okay, well let me ask you this question. We ask people this question in my office. If we were sitting here three years from today what would have to happen in order for you to feel successful both personally and professionally?
Ann: 45:17 I think every day I feel successful if I get through the day and I'm doing business and employing people, and the people that come to work are creative and feel like they're doing well because I really feel like the beautiful things we make and making this beautiful space I could keep doing that over and over and over again. And frankly when I cook something new every day I'm creating, and I love to do that. But when we build a company that ... And I was signing checks that were going to families that were taking care of other people. So I just think being in business every day is a success, so I feel pretty much three years from now if I'm still in business then I can go to bed happy that night, and any problem I have I'll solve or I won't. Some day we might go out of business, but then I'll just think of something else to do. I don't have a huge high bar for feeling that I'm successful except for just doing what I do every day. Makes me happy.
Matt: 46:20 So maybe a reluctant entrepreneur at first, but now you're all in.
Ann: 46:21 Yeah, I'm completely all in. It's what I'm doing. I love having a place to go every day. The worst time of my life ever was when I didn't know what I was going to do every day. I was like you know. If you're ever out of work I think that's a really tough place to be in, so I'm just grateful to go to work.
Matt: 46:40 Sid, what about you?
Sid: 46:41 Personally if I feel that Ann and my girls have a sense of joy and satisfaction about where they are in life and know that they feel fulfilled that's all I need personally. Professionally, which is a twin sister for me of personally if we're profitable as a business and the people that work with us feel a sense of fulfillment and excitement and accomplishment that's about all I could ask for right there. So we get a report card on that every day when we see the numbers from the previous day. You know on your report card you had your social skills, and then you had each of your subjects those number-
Ann: 47:36 What do you think Sid did better on?
Sid: 47:36 That's a good question. Actually what would you say?
Ann: 47:37 I think you did great in all of them.
Sid: 47:41 But the numbers are only part of the story. It's like it really is what are the customers saying? How are people feeling? What are your vendors saying? What are your vendors feeling? And what's our on-time deliveries look like? The report cards, we call it a scorecard, is pretty complex as well. So I think that pretty much sums it up is the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment particularly on the business side profitability.
Matt: 48:20 When I was a little kid ... I hope other people had this same experience, but I went shopping with my mom, and we got some new shoes. You had that feeling like you could run faster and jump higher.
Sid: 48:30 Oh for sure. Still do.
Matt: 48:32 Yeah, right, exactly. I think as I translate that for myself it's like one of the great things that what you do can do for others is build confidence. And I want to know do you think that that's really the game you're in?
Sid: 48:48 We traffic in confidence. That's the return on the investment that the customer's really looking for because clothes you can feel good or feel cool or feel sexy or feel many ways in clothes, but ultimately you want a person to feel like their boat is lifted a little bit. So that's what we also want to do is when someone crosses our threshold whether they're coming to buy something or look or get a drink or get a coffee or whatever we want them to feel lifted up. And that's ... We feel like if we do a great job of lifting people up then the business will take care of itself because we feel like we've got enough of a great product offering that that's almost the easy part really is like how do we react and take care of someone.
Ann: 49:42 I think that's also why we're a little bit different. I think you can get anything online, but I think we do a great job of educating people about what's appropriate, how they should take care of their clothes, why they might feel better in this and not that. And just in terms of confidence, I've told this story a couple times, but the biggest impression that my time at Vogue had on me was that I worked with ... My editor was 62. The majority of the editors there were in their 40s and 50s and some in 60s, and they were really attractive women, but they weren't super models. They were ... The supermodels that I actually did work with were insecure, and when I looked at the two of them I thought I want to be those older women with a lot of confidence. And they had that confidence because they knew about clothes. They didn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about it. They delighted in really beautiful fashion, but for the most part they just knew themselves, and they had so much confidence getting dressed every day. And it was fun for them but probably a small part of their day.
Ann: 50:45 The real part of their day was working and making something happen. So kind of as someone who thought of myself as a feminist I thought this is who I want to be. I want to think less about what I wear, but I know how important it is, so I try to give that to all of our customers, but I have a better handle on women and really teach them how to do that because once you get that checked off your list you just can do so much more.
Sid: 51:13 You know what's really cool is that Ann writes this blog called You Need This I Promise. And what's really nice is what she just said informs a lot of this is like how do you just tell people to kind of be comfortable in your own skin and lean into life basically in whatever situation you find yourself in, and it's not as complicated as we can tend to make it and as the pressures of life can tend to make it.
Matt: 51:42 I love that you just brought up You Need This I Promise.
Ann: 51:46 One of the things I think we do really well is provide a little context about clothing, why it's important, let people know. The idea behind some things sometimes is more romantic and interesting even than the clothing item itself. I know men, Sid always talks about guys wanting to pop the hood. They love to wear a jacket more if they know that the wool came from some obscure spot or the colors were dyed a certain way. And Sid's kind of real attention to detail, he's really great at that. And I think that I do a pretty good job of talking about that in this, I like to write about why I love something, why a story that I'll remember from my youth about why my new clothing on the first day of school meant so much to me, and I can carry that over and talk about how the pair of boots that I buy in the fall might give me that same sense of excitement.
Ann: 52:39 So we have a little bit of content that I think we love to share with our customers, and we started with some content that I did, and now we have this great question and answer venue on our website for Sid. It's called Ask Sid, and we take real questions from men online, and then Sid will answer them and go into detail about something that you thought you had no interest in, and then you hear him talk about it, and you're like, "I'll keep reading."
Matt: 53:08 Or then you find yourself asleep going, "Why did I read this in the first place?"
Ann: 53:12 But, yeah, he has a lot to say. You know a lot.
Matt: 53:16 You know what I like about You Need This I Promise that Ann does and about Ask Sid is it kind of cuts through the busy clutter of my life, and it breaks the preoccupation with whatever else is going on for me. So the question Ask Sid your answer it helps me get at just the thing. I have to figure out less. And I feel the same way about You Need This I Promise. It's like don't worry about anything else. This is the thing. There's a thousand choices you can make. I just gave you the one. Trust me.
Ann: 53:47 I'm going to make it easy for you. And hopefully it's a little more fun to have it [crosstalk 00:53:47].
Matt: 53:47 Yeah, exactly.
Sid: 53:49 I think if you have it or have before or have not before I would encourage you to share your piece of wisdom around dressing.
Matt: 53:57 Oh great, yes.
Sid: 53:58 It is ... Please tune into this, ladies and gentleman.
Matt: 54:03 So when we have new people join our team at Hill Investment Group I just am not a fan of when people tell you what not to do. I like it when you tell people, "Here's what we're aiming for. We may not always get it, but let's directionally go this way." And so I save this ... I lead this little section where we talk about in a service business I've been told that when you sell something intangible that the tangibles become all that much more important. So how we present ourselves to me matters. And this is a little thing I found in a magazine. It does like this, "Yes, it does matter. Sure, the well dressed person gets ahead at work, but the real reason to look presentable isn't to impress your boss or your colleagues. It's to have some self respect. This is your career. You probably busted your ass to get where you are, so take some pride in being there. Dressing well every morning acknowledges that you're preparing for something important. It reminds you to prize your dignity and to never be the kind of worker, hell, the kind of person, who does only the bare minimum."
Sid: 55:09 So good.
Ann: 55:10 Very helpful.
Matt: 55:12 Well, like that quote, I really love ... I just love being with you guys because you say things in just the right way. I feel like you're so easy, and yet I love that you're competitive and hard working. I love that you have taken this road that could come with its own unique set of challenges working together and bringing family into it. I love the way ... I can see the way you respect and care for your people, the way Sid gave someone a high five as he was getting something out of the refrigerator earlier, and the way people respect and look at you and appreciate you. You're really doing something different and unique and special, and my route for you is that as you continue to grow and be successful is that the special never leaves, that it only grows.
Sid: 56:01 Thank you.
Ann: 56:01 That's so nice of you. Thanks. This has been a lot of fun.
Matt: 56:03 Oh good. Thanks Sid, thanks Ann.
Ann: 56:05 Okay.
Matt: 56:06 And for all your listeners, write a review, keep giving me feedback, and tell a friend. See you next time.
Matt: 56:18 What's your best clothing purchase of all time? Please note the information shared in this Podcast is not intended as advice. The intent is to share meaningful experiences. I am likely not your advisor nor wealth manager nor financial planner, and my opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by Hill Investment Group. Investing involves risk. Consult a professional before implementing an investment strategy. Thank you.