From Transparency to Sustainability: Building A Successful Retail Business
Founders of The Natori Company and Angara discuss what it takes to excel in retail today
The retail business is changing.
It used to be that if you wanted to buy something, you’d head to that store. Today’s retailers are facing greater challenges, and during a time that typically can make or break their year — the holidays.
From building trust and transparency for consumers to hammering out partnerships between businesses, two retail veterans recently shared their thoughts on creating a successful retail business strategy during a YPO Facebook livestream event.
Among the takeaways: Consumers require transparency in myriad ways, but especially the ability to view product differences between online retailers in real time.
“We’re facing what a lot of companies are facing,” says Ken Natori, a member of YPO and Founder of The Natori Company. “We’re very excited about our online prospects over the next couple of months. One trend that we’ve been dealing with and continue to deal with is just the complete and pure transparency.”
The Natori Company is a designer fashion brand with a collection ranging from ready-to-wear lingerie and sleepwear to home textiles, accessories and athletic wear. The company can be found in 20 countries, mostly in Asia and Europe, and it’s launched a direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) site, natori.com, which continues to be a growing part of the business.
For Ankur Daga, a member of YPO and Founder and CEO of Angara, the shift to online continues to be a huge part of business.
Angara.com is the No. 1-ranked fine jewelry D-to-C website, according to Newsweek.
“Experience is driven by the industry,” Daga says, for example, explaining that the company came up with a solution for consumers making decisions based on skin tone. “We’ve created a sliding mechanism, where you can see the skin tone that is most similar to you and see the actual jewelry piece on that skin tone.”
This feature has been met with rave reviews.
But Angara has more up its sleeves: The company has been testing technologies to get products close to “photo real.”
“In the next few months, we should have a solution that lets you see jewelry, like you’re looking at wearing it in the mirror,” Daga says. “We’re pretty close to that.”
All in the family: joining forces and partnering
This year, The Natori Company and Angara became business partners.
Several key factors solidified the arrangement: Mutual respect for each other’s business, licensing experience, tremendous supply chain connections, design capabilities, and a shared mindset of charity and sustainability — giving back to important causes.
It also helps that Natori and Daga are YPO members.
“Once we both discovered that we were both in YPO, there was a tremendous instant accountability and not that we didn’t have trust already, but it just really elevated that trust,” Natori says.
Trust is huge in this business.
For Natori, it’s all about “having quality partners who believe in our brand, who can translate our design into their category and who have the same sort of conservative premier distribution strategy as us.”
Daga adds that while Angara traditionally has been strong on the classic designs front, a piece that was missing was fashion.
“It requires really a different mindset and a different design aesthetic, which Natori has,” Daga says, adding that The Natori Company has led over the last 20 years on the East-meets-West-type of design aesthetic in a luxury, high quality premium finished product. “That resonated very well with us.”
It also helped that Natori’s family business has amazing relationships with leading retailers in the U.S.
But ultimately, for a business to succeed, you have to be willing to innovate and take risks in a retail business strategy.
“Business can’t be a game of perfect,” Natori says. “You need to be able to roll the dice a little … the mindset has to be in order to compete, you have to change. And with that change comes a little bit of risk.”
Creating A Successful Retail Business Strategy
Diversity is a critical part of the businesses.
The Natori Company was founded by Ken Natori’s mother, Josie, who remains CEO. The company is proud that of its top 13 managers, 11 are women, Natori says.
Similarly, Angara has seven offices in three countries. Says Daga: “We’re very much a global and multicultural company.”
Their shared vision of giving back equally is important. Some call it sustainability or business with purpose, but it’s just part of the business.
The Natori Company utilizes a family-owned manufacturing company in the Philippines. This company does the lion’s share of Natori’s manufacturing.
On the Natori site, you can view a video of the factory, people who are part of the operation, and conditions there.
There’s also a page on the site called Natori Gives, whose mission is to empower and educate women around the world.
One woman who remains close to the business is a survivor of child sex trafficking from the Philippines. Natori explaines that this woman made it her lifelong mission to help rehabilitate victims of child trafficking, assisting with operations and prosecuting those who attempt to traffic young children.
“She’s a total inspiration,” Natori says. “Every time I go to the Philippines, I visit [her] shelter and to see the resolve in these girls despite everything they’ve gone through has been amazing. Now, any graduates of that program who are interested in learning about design or manufacturing, we’re creating a mentorship program and ability for them to train in our factories once they graduate.”
Angara focuses on improving underserved communities.
It hires from a charity that cares for disabled individuals. Some of these individuals are missing limbs or feet.
But the nature of Angara’s e-commerce business means that physical limitations are not necessarily a negative. The company’s offices are built to make it easy for individuals to move around.
“We’re very active on the mentorship side and we look for people that, despite their disability, are very passionate about whatever they do, and we try to develop their skill set accordingly.”