Buffett's Fruit of the Loom Tries on Subscription UnderwearBy
Berkshire-owned brand debuts new service as earnings decline
E-commerce is a small, but quickly growing, part of operations
Guys can now get their boxer briefs from the Berkshire Hathaway Inc.-owned brand through a new subscription service called Fruit to Your Door. Shoppers can buy a six-pack of skivvies, among other products, and have them re-ordered every six months at a 30 percent discount. The program, available for men’s and women’s garments in the U.S., can also be gifted.
“You might see a lot of moms doing this for their kids in college,” said Bryse Yonts, a spokesman for Fruit of the Loom, which is based in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Fruit of the Loom joins startups already selling underwear this way, including Me Undies and Panty Drop. Subscription services are a growing part of the consumer-products market, and are seen as a way to boost online sales and win over younger shoppers.
That’s especially true for basics. Retailers like Amazon.com Inc. offer subscription refills for items like toothpaste and diapers. In shaving, brands such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club are gaining market share, too.
The initiative comes after Fruit of the Loom’s earnings fell in the first three quarters of 2017. Berkshire, where Buffett is the chairman and largest shareholder, acquired Fruit of the Loom out of bankruptcy in 2002 for $835 million. Since then, it has overhauled the 166-year-old brand by pushing into new categories and offering more premium options. This has been a response, in part, to demands for higher quality in the once-mundane underwear category and shoppers’ willingness to pay more for it.
The subscription service was set up by OrderGroove, a New York-based startup that has worked with retailers such as Wal-Mart and Vitamin Shoppe on similar programs. OrderGroove is pouring resources into using data to better understand when people need to replenish products, according to founder Greg Alvo. The goal is to make re-ordering so easy that brands will get more purchases per year from current customers, he said.
With U.S. malls experiencing declining visits as many retail chains struggle, consumer-products companies are looking for ways to boost their sales directly to customers. While e-commerce from its own website is a small portion of Fruit of the Loom’s overall business, it’s growing quickly, Yonts said.
Investors are paying close attention: At Berkshire’s annual meeting earlier this year, Buffett was asked how Fruit of the Loom would navigate the shift online.
While there hasn’t been a large impact yet, “the world is changing, big time,” he said.