Combatant Gentleman: Dress Smarter

Combatant Gentleman is helping today's young professions get a leg up in the office.

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Founded in 2012 by the Melwani cousins, Vishaal and Mo, Combatant Gentleman wants to help you dress smarter. The 3 year old e-commerce menswear supplier is pioneering a “sheep-to-closet” operating model that manages to keep costs so low, they can fill a prominent gap in the market. Combat Gent is enthusiastically pursuing the young business professional that needs to look good in the office but is not yet able to afford a closet of higher end suits.

 

Business Model

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When Combatant Gentleman CEO, Vishaal Melwani, saw his recently graduated friends struggling to afford the proper attire for their new jobs on Wall-Street, he saw an underserved market and an opportunity for a new kind of business. As a third generation Versace tailor, Melwani knew the ins-and-outs of quality menswear and wanted to be able to bring that level of expertise and quality to young men, new to the professional world; thus, he created Combatant Gentleman.

Combat Gent launched as an exclusively online suit and tuxedo supplier. They have since moved into more casual menswear but their bread and butter is still their suits, offered in two fits: slim or the slightly roomier modern cut. They differentiate themselves from their competitors with price, quality, and ease of shopping. At Combat Gent, they realize that customers are hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on clothing they have never touched or tried on.  Therefore, they developed a suite of services to help their customers including a proprietary fit calculator that uses your height and weight to find the proper fit (called FitTech, it gets fit right 96% of the time),  video chat with their customer service representatives through their site, and free shipping and returns. When it comes to quality and price, Vishaal wanted to offer his friends a better alternative than Men’s Warehouse (the largest player in Combat Gent’s space). Being the sole designer, and with his experience, he sought to deliver the quality of designers available at Nordstom’s (such as Hugo Boss) at a price as low as $160. To accomplish this, he needed an innovative operating model to compliment his bold business plans.

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Operating Model

The secret sauce to Combatant Gentleman’s business is their operating model. To keep costs as low as possible, they have fully vertically integrated their processes. Vishaal knows how to source.  After working in his parent’s Versace stores, he spent time at a denim mill and started a garment trading company with his cousin; experience that gave him a thorough understanding of all that goes into a suit from the raw materials all the way to selling a finished product. As a result, Combatant Gentleman owns their own sheep (67 to be exact), plants their own cotton, and owns their manufacturing facilities. They also travel the world to find the best raw materials and manufacturers. With materials sourced from Italy, India, and Portugal and manufacturing facilities in Northern and Southern China, Combat Gent can always be on the lookout for new innovations and cost savings. Cutting out all the middle men, through their vertical integration, has significant cost savings and Combat Gent is very transparent about how they pass those savings on to their customer.

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Additionally, by focusing solely on e-commerce, Combatant Gentleman saves a tremendous amount by not having to maintain a retail network and stock inventory in all of those locations.  Going even further, they created a core software technology that connects all the aspects of their business, called Tower. Tower is Combat Gent’s ongoing attempt to communicate to all aspects of their business accurately forecasted sales, which is very difficult at the rate they are growing. For instance, Tower looks at web traffic/sales, if it sees a large increase, it will automatically place an order with materials suppliers and manufacturers to stock up their warehouses. Through this internally developed operations technology, Combat Gent can keep their processes as lean as possible.  All of this adds up to a significant savings in overhead costs that they can pass on to the customer.

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As Combatant Gentleman grows, they know they have many challenges to face. Their model is quite scalable, but anything that grows fast will face problems. Over the last 3 years they have had some issues with stock-outs and hiring quality people fast enough. As they grow, they’ve also altered their model slightly, by adding various other products and even opening a retail location at their headquarters for custom suiting and product trials. However you look at it, the numbers are hard to ignore, with revenue growing from $673k in 2012, to $4.4 million in 2013, and over $10 million in 2014 the future looks promising for the Melwanis and their innovative suiting company.

 

Sources:

“Dress Smarter.” Combatant Gentlemen. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <https://combatgent.com/dress-smarter>.

“Looking Good Has Never Been Easier with Combatant Gentlemen!” Total Delivery. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <http://blogs.terrapinn.com/home-delivery/2015/01/31/combatant-gentlemen-good-easier/>.
Lopez, Linette. “Wall Street Is Ordering Suits And Shirts From This Men’s Clothing Startup In Bulk.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <http://www.businessinsider.com/combatant-gentleman-takes-wall-street-2015-1>.
“Vishaal Melwani Shares the Vision for His Revolutionary Menswear Brand Combatant Gentlemen.” India.com. 9 May 2015. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <http://www.india.com/lifestyle/vishaal-melwani-shares-the-vision-for-his-revolutionary-menswear-brand-combatant-gentlemen-378018/>.
“Why Combatant Gentlemen Is the Warby Parker of Suits.” Inc. 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <http://www.inc.com/graham-winfrey/why-combatant-gentlemen-is-the-warby-parker-of-suits.html>.

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4 thoughts on “Combatant Gentleman: Dress Smarter

  1. I’ve heard great things about Combatant Gent and am interested in learning more about what you might consider to be the biggest barrier for new competitors to enter. The online clothing space has become tremendously fragmented and it is very difficult for any one brand to capture a large market share. We’ve seen similar online retailers such as Bonobos and Everlane that also don’t operate a physical presence, albeit a few minor exceptions. I wonder about how easily replicable this type of business is and whether what differentiates winners from losers will be the marketing spend and strategy needed to attract and retain customers. I do look forward to trying on my own Combatant Gent suit soon.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post, Steve!
    I certainly think this is an interesting business model and applaud the founders for finding and serving a niche that is underserved by large, established players in a crowded industry. I agree that vertical integration drives their business and that this is its competitive advantage over the competition.
    However, I wonder if their fit calculator and video chat with customer service representatives are enough to satisfy their customers’ expectation for service. Their operating model certainly seems to serve their business model in allowing them to provide a low-cost alternative, but I think they may have underestimated the need for in-person service. Proper fit is important to the overall look of a suit (more so than it is for the look of more casual clothing like Bonobos offers), and I am skeptical that they will be able to sufficiently serve their customers without adapting an operating model similar to that of Bonobos which leans on the uniqueness of its free standing stores and personalized attention. This may be an efficient solution for someone’s first suit purchase, but once these consumers obtain more disposable income and rise in their careers, I wonder how hard it will be able to retain them.

  3. What a great post!

    I think the idea of Combatant Gentleman is very interesting especially since there are places such as China where you can get a tailor-made suit for a very affordable price. Combat Gent seems to be bringing these services to the US in order to satisfy the lower end of the suit market.

    Similar to Charlie’s comment, it seems that everyone likes their suits tailored a certain way and wants to have a good quality product that will last them for some time. I wonder what happens when a customer gets a suit that does not fit well or needs a quick alteration. Do they get a refund? Do they need to alter it on their own? Other things to consider: Are there enough variety of fabrics? How good is the quality of the suit material? Is it durable? How long will it last for?

    The business and operating model of Combat Gent is very intriguing, but it seems like they will have to overcome some of these perceptions in the market before gaining a large market share.

  4. Great post, and thanks for introducing us (at least I hadn’t heard of them before) great sounding option for picking up new suits. Like Thomas, I may have to pick one up as well!
    I like the concept that Combatatant Gentleman has utilized of cutting out intermediary steps (suppliers, resellers, etc.) in order to reduce the number of markups along the way, and thereby reducing the final cost to the customer. I am concerned (and I believe you alluded to this) that they will have trouble efficiently scaling and reacting to uneven demand, as each new level of demand fulfillment requires additional investments in very discrete assets (sheep, sheep shearers, yarn spinners, etc.) along their vertically integrated supply chain. As they make investments to meet new-found demand, they are then left with the risk of seasonality of suit purchases causing both over- and under-supply situations. This cost will eventually be passed to the consumer (or eat at their profit margins). Because of this, I question whether the savings they are generating for the raw material ($8 raw material cost in their current model), is worth the risk of owning this entire supply chain and the potential costs that could arrive, as described above. Additionally, as I think through their competitive advantages that will enable them to to ward off future competitors, I’m left without seeing much substance.

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