Peter Housley | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Peter Housley

Background:  

Indochino offers suits and shirts that are customizable and tailored to the wearer’s measurements. Men can order their clothing online, via mobile, or in person at Indochino showrooms. In February, the company opened a location in Charlotte’s SouthPark Mall.

 

The Mistake:

Not valuing the data enough.

I learned to value the power of data when I started my career at Procter & Gamble in brand marketing. In those days, you were required to be very numerically focused; we would have these annual budget reviews, which were like tribunals with an executive team, and I would study the data and try to improve. It was a great training ground.

I think I left those roots behind when I moved into advertising and branding because I had to focus my attention more on brand-building, and didn’t think in terms of how data would have helped to bolster that.

At one point, I was VP of marketing for a department store in Canada called Zellers. When we looked at the data, we found that Zellers had the leading market share for kids clothing in Canada, meaning that more moms were buying their kids’ clothing at Zellars than any other store in Canada, including Walmart. 

With that little bit of data, I went before the CEO and a big executive team and recommended we position the company as “mom’s store,” because we took care of everything moms needed.

In front of the whole team of executives, the CEO told me he thought my plan was the dumbest idea he had ever heard. I was mortified and embarrassed. And I didn’t have enough data to sell the argument in the moment. If I did, I would have said, “No, it’s actually not a dumb idea, and let me give you 15 more data points for why I’m even more convinced this is the right way to go.”

But I only had a little bit of data to shape a hypothesis. I didn’t have enough data to make it a slam dunk.

The more data you’re armed with, the more effective you become.

The Lesson:

The more data you’re armed with, the more effective you become. Not only can it help you build a business successfully, but it can also help you sell your point to people.

For example, when I was the CEO of Lavalife – one of the top 10 dating companies in the world -- I approached the board of directors about spending roughly 30 percent of the sales on advertising, which translated to about $30 million. They thought it was crazy.

We knew that the only language they understood was data, so we built a very sophisticated data model that looked at the cost to acquire a customer and the lifetime value of the customer. And I had business intelligence data teams building consumer funnels to look at the return on advertising investment. With that, we sold the board of directors on our idea.

It turned out to be a profitable venture for us.

Knowledge is power, and data is power.

That’s why, when I joined Indochino three years ago and started looking at the shape of its data, I wanted to change things. The way they did their reporting and marketing was a little clunky. So we went on a journey: We put in a new business intelligence team of data scientists, and spent 18 months building a new data warehouse.

The data warehouse had a “semantic layer” on it, meaning you could run a query on any information, where people could ask things as specific as, “When was the last time a customer who hasn’t shopped in six months went to the website?” It was a self-serve model, where businesses didn’t have to use data scientists to retrieve information. 

Today, I’ve got six or eight marketing people, an entire finance team and a retail team all using the data model.

Three years ago, it would take us at least two weeks to pull the data we needed to give presentations at board meetings; with the data models we have now, we can do it in less than a day.

We’ve since structured our decision-making, planning models and marketing all around data, and we’re better for it.

Indochino is on Twitter at: @INDOCHINO

Photo courtesy of Indochino

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