With a simple cutting of a ribbon on a sunny September day in Bellevue, Washington, Bill and Suzette Nordstrom, founders of Weldon Barber, and Veeral Rathod, co-founder of J.Hilburn, celebrated their new partnership committed to elevating the personalized fashion and grooming experience for men.
The newest in a chain of high-end barbershops, the Weldon Barber location includes one of the first brick-and-mortar storefronts for J.Hilburn, a web-based, bespoke tailor for men’s apparel, including suits, shirts and outerwear.
Building the Business
For the Nordstroms, the partnership was the latest chapter in the evolution of their men’s grooming business that started in 2004 with the same level of devotion to customer service made famous by Bill’s family’s Nordstrom department stores. A business born out of frustration when Bill struggled to find a good place for a men’s hair cut, Weldon Barber—whose name is a play on “well done”—is committed to celebrating the talent and professionalism of its barbers.
The company has no business relationship with the retailer Nordstrom, but Bill is a former executive vice president of the company, and he leveraged his background in retail sales to build their grooming business to nine stores located throughout the greater-Seattle area.
“We started out with the goal of putting the customer first while creating strong career opportunities for our team,” Suzette Nordstrom says. “We found out about J.Hilburn because one of our friends is one of their best stylists in the Seattle area. As we got to know about each other, we realized we shared a similar vision, and we started brainstorming.”
While Bill and Suzette were busy building their grooming empire, Rathod and J.Hilburn co-founder Hil Davis were leaving lucrative jobs in the financial sector to pioneer their online men’s apparel business.
“We knew men had a hard time finding clothes that fit, they don’t like to shop, and it’s hard to find high-quality men’s apparel that isn’t highly marked up,” Rathod says.
Within a decade and with the help of 2,000 personal stylists across the country, the J.Hilburn brand became the largest seller of custom men’s shirts on the planet, posting sales of $60 million in 2014.
J.Hilburn’s new partnership with Weldon Barber gives the Dallas-based apparel manufacturer a physical presence in one of its hottest markets—a space where men can meet with their personal stylist, be measured and fitted, try on sample apparel and experience the fabric and styles of upcoming collections.
A Shared Vision
As the two companies got to know one another, they realized that they not only shared similar business values, but they were talking to the same customer.
“We both understand the power of highly loyal clients and the importance of building trust over time,” Rathod says. “We believe these customers will trust us to recommend one another for grooming and clothing. We know men are buying shirts and suits somewhere, and they are going to someone for their hair. Together, we are creating a personal, curated experience that helps men save time by getting their needs met in one place.”
In the physical space, the J.Hilburn store is to the left with sliding glass doors that control the noise from the bustling barbershop but still maintain the feeling that the apparel and grooming businesses are together. To the right, clients are greeted by the comfortable Weldon Barber waiting area, with big-screen TVs, leather chairs, men’s products and stations that are private enough and lit so that clients don’t feel they are onstage.
Envisioning the Future
With loyal customer bases of their own, both companies envision their team members recommending each other and they eventually plan to create more formal cross-promotions.
“Our goal is that anyone who visits the locations sees us as a single, unified brand,” Rathod says. “After all, we’re not talking insurance or interest rates. We are both talking about things that are fun—things that make men look and feel good.”
When asked how each will determine if the collaboration is a success, Bill laughed. “Well, we’re about five hours into this relationship, and I think over the next 90-120 days we’ll both be watching and listening to our teams, and then we’ll start making decisions on our incremental growth,” he says. “We believe we are truly gifting customers with another opportunity that can satisfy them to the level we strive for. If we can give them a grooming experience with excellent quality, our clients will be confident that we can steer them in the right direction when it comes to fashion.”