Hey guys! Welcome back to Products Worth Talking About — the show about disruptive physical products and the people who built them.
If you’re a subscriber to our channel, you may already be familiar with our guest on today’s episode. We reviewed his brand, Nantucket Whaler, in our video, “Who Makes the Best Men’s Dress Pants? We Test Them One Leg At A Time.” We were thrilled to invite J. Michael Prince, the President and CEO of USPA Global Licensing (the parent company Of Nantucket Whaler), onto the show!
We talked to Michael about a ton of things that many entrepreneurs think about — from getting acquired to launching a brand during a pandemic to what he thinks 2021 will bring. Michael has a lot of experience in the e-commerce and retail clothing space, and we were stoked to hear his insight into running Nantucket Whaler as a start-up within an established brand. Let’s dive in.
First, we want to give you a little background of the unique history of Nantucket Whaler and the USPA Global Licensing set-up. USPA stands for US Polo Association, one of the largest licensed stores in the world. They’re based in West Palm Beach, Florida, and they are the fifth largest license in sports with a footprint of about $2 billion and a presence in 180 countries around the world.
“The only sports that are bigger than us globally from a retail sales perspective are the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball, but we’re bigger than Major League Soccer [and] NASCAR. We’re bigger than the PGA Tour.” – J. Michael Prince
Nantucket Whaler, on the other hand, is a complete newcomer to the retail scene. Nantucket Whaler started on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts, inspired by a whaling ship from 1837. Whaling isn’t something you want to associate with your brand these days, so the company has made an effort to back sustainability efforts and give back to the whale and dolphin conservation society.
Michael’s job is pretty interesting — he’s managing what is basically a native startup within a $2 billion brand. We wanted to know how he balances the two identities.
“This brand is more about exploration. … [When] you look at it, it’s like the island [of Nantucket]. It’s where sophistication and class, exploration and grit [collide]. … That’s how we look at this brand. It’s entrepreneurial. It dates back to those early explorers and how they lived their lives. Our product shows that we’ve got items that are very nautical in nature, but other items that are more kind of contemporary and forward-looking as well. It’s all about that identity and authenticity.” – J. Michael Prince
Authenticity is the very foundation of Nantucket Whaler — and it’s one of the things that’s helped them ride out the challenge of launching their product line in the midst of a global pandemic.
For us, the epitome of success is when you sell a company. That exit is just so rewarding — it shows that you built something of value and can move on to your next big idea. That’s why we’re always curious to hear what stands out to big companies that acquire little ones — like USPA and Nantucket Whaler. What did Michael see in Nantucket Whaler that led him to bet on this tiny retailer?
“What I’ve realized throughout my career [is that] authenticity matters, and it matters more today than it’s ever mattered, probably in any industry. There are a thousand brands we could have bought, but a lot of it just didn’t feel right. US Polo felt right to me because it was the official brand for the sport of polo, [which was] founded in 1890. So there’s heritage, there’s a sport, and there’s authenticity. Nantucket was the same way: Inspired from an 1837 exploration, that spirit that people had in the 1800s had to circumnavigate the world. … This [felt] really, really right.” – J. Michael Prince
There’s great insight here for any entrepreneur: Look for a parent company that aligns with your brand’s history. Stay true to your roots, and it will serve you well.
And speaking of roots: Michael hasn’t changed much about the way Nantucket Whaler operates, which is something we just love. He’s kept the authentic, small-town feel of the brand while operating through the pandemic.
“I told the team, when we bought the [Nantucket Whaler], I said, ‘Let’s imagine we’re in our college dorm room and every nickel matters. It’s your money. That’s how we have to treat this [opportunity]. We’re not going to treat it as part of a bigger company. We’re going to treat it as an entrepreneurial [venture] started out of our dorm or out of our garage. That’s what the team’s done: We’re nitty-gritty with how we spend our dollars.” – J. Michael Prince
This is just such a cool idea: to run a business lean and mean, despite having the resources of a $2 billion company. It keeps Nantucket Whaler sharp, innovative, and in touch with its customers.
Believe it or not, a pandemic is not the worst time to buy a new company. Michael says running Nantucket Whaler over the last year has gone surprisingly well. We wanted to know more about the timing of the acquisition and how he determines when is a good time to buy a company.
“I look at acquisitions as part factual and analytics and part when your gut says, ‘This makes sense.’ I’ve always, throughout my career, had that nice balance. I’m a linear guy, how I think, but I’m also [a] ‘go with my gut and my mind’ [guy] at times. When we saw this brand, [I] could [have] easily said, ‘You know what? No, it’s a complete start-up.’ I’ll tell you, it’s a lot harder to launch something that you know than to come in and run something and fix it. I’ve done both. This is a lot harder than running the bigger business because every nickel matters, and it’s about survival.” – J. Michael Prince
Michael is the first to admit that running a retail company right now is a little crazy. Some people projected 25,000 retail stores in the United States would close by the end of 2020. But, Michael trusted his gut — and Nantucket Whaler is doing just fine.
“We’ve actually had a pretty good year. We’ve seen online sales pick up — we were the first store in Nantucket Island to open for retail. We opened three days earlier than everyone else [in] a really good summer. We’re talking about opening a store in West Palm beach. Tyler, you asked about valuation — that has changed today, versus 18 months ago. 18 months ago, [the attitude was] let’s go license this out. Let’s bring in some bigger partners. … I looked at this and said, ‘If we can do X amount of dollars online on our own business and X amount of dollars with a few stores, maybe that’s a few million bucks, but we’re making money.’ We’re okay letting this thing grow organically, flowing, paying back dividends to the parent company and doing it that way.” – J. Michael Prince
The nice thing about the way Michael and his team have approached running Nantucket is that it’s a lean, flexible company that doesn’t have any pressure to blow it out of the water. With little investment from the parent company, Michael can focus on growing organically and intentionally.
Obviously, running a startup is a very different experience to running a massive global brand. We were curious to know what surprised Michael about working in an e-commerce startup and learn about wins or losses that caught him off guard. Early on, Michael learned an important lesson: put yourself in the shoes (or, in this case, pants) of the customer.
“Nantucket itself is a very unique place, right? It’s an island [full of] high net worth individuals. You do have a lot of people who visit, but you can’t just have that lens about the island. … You also have to think about how Americans shop across the country. How do they shop in Colorado? How do they shop in West Palm beach? That can differ, right? Down here [in West Palm Beach], it’s 85 degrees, 90 degrees, most of the time. People probably aren’t going to buy a cold weather jacket in West Palm beach, unless they’re going to go somewhere.” – J. Michael Prince
You always need to meet the customer where they’re at. And, you always need to provide them with a way to connect — especially in the clothing retail industry.
“I still think that the greatest experience a consumer can ever have with a brand is to walk into the brand’s own retail store and touch the product and talk to someone working in the store and see how other shoppers are shopping. … That little store on Nantucket Island is so critical for us because it’s authentic. It gives consumers a chance to engage with the brand at a personal level. … I really liked omni-channel, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a smaller store fleet as you expand the e-commerce. But, I think having a retail store presence with the right environment is also very important. I believe that more today than I did five years ago.” – J. Michael Prince
We love this insight. Providing an in-store experience is what differentiates brands like Nantucket Whaler from big-box retailers like Amazon, which feel very transactional. The decision to run a retail store in this business climate may not make sense at face value, but when you consider it from the customer’s perspective, it’s so crucial.
No one can tell what surprises 2021 has in stock, but we wanted to hear from Michael his predictions for 2021.
“I think we’re in for another 12 months of stop and go. For us and our global business, it’s been consistent everywhere: What you’ve seen is retail shopping consumers who aren’t wanting to walk into malls. … My advice to entrepreneurs out there is to keep your powder dry — meaning, be thoughtful about every nickel you spend every day. … Work with your best partners, the best way you can, because it takes a partnership to get through this. You can’t get through it by yourself. You’d have to work with your very best partners. You help them, and they help you.” – J. Michael Prince
We agree, but it’s also a great time to be an entrepreneur. There are plenty of opportunities out there if you have the money or if things are going well. Just be able to pivot when you need to!
Before we wrap this up, we also wanted to hear from the boss himself what his favorite product from Nantucket Whalers is. RT has become a convert to the Nomad Pant, sometimes even reaching for them over his beloved Lululemons. Tyler also loves that they don’t shrink in the wash — these are seriously good pants.
“Like you guys said, you can’t go wrong with The Nomad. Get them in every color, wear [them] to work, wear to the beach, wherever it takes you — wear them to play golf. [The Nomad] works everywhere. It’s at a great price point. I call it kind of affordable luxury, because it’s accessible.” – J. Michael Prince
The Nomad comes in seven different colors and is priced at $78. More colors are coming this year, so be sure to keep an eye on Nantucket Whaler’s social media pages. You can follow them on Instagram, @nantucketwhaler, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
A big thank you to Michael for coming on the show — watch the whole episode on YouTube to hear more about the brand and how it works with USPA.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to build a product-based business, check out our business plan that literally writes itself! Within no time, you’ll be ready to pitch to investors and start the company of your dreams.
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Thanks for reading! Until next time—
RT and Tyler