Marketing 50

Tommy Bahama

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Tony Margolis has a simple business mandate: What would Tommy do?

Since 1992, Tommy Bahama has sold shirts for the man who lives in Margaritaville or wants to look as if he did. The brand uses minimal advertising but has built an image around the fictional Tommy Bahama using store design and sponsorships.

That image has carried Tommy Bahama into a chain of 29 stores and six store-and-cafe "compounds" selling men's and women's apparel, home textiles, and even furniture. The stores were initially a way to show retailers that they could sell more Tommy Bahama product if they displayed it properly, but they have grown into the main marketing statement for the company, says Mr. Margolis, president-CEO of the chain.

It all started with trade show booths, says Mr. Margolis. The fledgling company put a full-court press on specialty retailers because department stores wouldn't give space to an untested brand.

"Department store America was in a constricting mode ... If you weren't Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger, you couldn't get an appointment" with buyers, Mr. Margolis says.

So the company staked its marketing budget on a booth to display its wares at retail trade shows. The island style of the booth became the basis for the stores. The company began advertising three years ago with inserts in upscale magazines such as Town & Country and Cigar Aficionado. Its agency, Seattle-based Foundation, has handled advertising and store design since the first trade-show booths. "They grew up with us," Mr. Margolis says, "and they know Tommy as well as we do."

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