Young Entrepreneurs: Brian Spaly of Trunk Club
Young Entrepreneurs: Brian Spaly of Trunk Club

Under CEO Brian Spaly’s leadership, Trunk Club has positioned itself as the next big thing in personal shopping.

Brian Spaly has founded two companies that are centered on selling clothing to men. But as an entrepreneur working in fashion, his approach to solidifying his place in the industry has been completely unique.

His first entrance into the world of fashion was back in 2007 while he was getting his MBA at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Together with Andy Dunn, he co-founded the menswear company Bonobos. However, Spaly took his involvement with fashion to the next level in 2009 when private-equity investors recruited him to re-launch Trunk Club after its original founder got caught up in fraud charges.

Under Spaly’s leadership, Trunk Club went from a simple idea to a household name. The concept is simple: busy, professional men who don’t like to shop can email a stylist and have a trunk of specifically selected clothes delivered to their door. If they don’t like any of the items in their trunk, all they have to do is return them. The brand’s audience is incredibly targeted. And even though they aren’t traditional shoppers, Spaly recognized that there was a demand for this type of service in the market.

In an interview with Forbes back in 2011, Spaly said, “We’re really hoping to build a valuable relationship with this guy. And our experience has been that vendors really want to work with us because they like the fact that we promote their brand to guys that are harder to find otherwise.”

As Trunk Club’s membership grew, major fashion retailers started taking note. Some companies tried implementing similar services on their own. But others, like Nordstrom, realized that they wanted to get in on the ground level of the next big thing in personal shopping. That’s why the department store purchased Trunk Club for $350 million in 2014.

“The more we learned, the more we realized it was a business we wanted to be in,” said John W. Nordstrom in an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business. He continued, “We weren’t sure if we were going to do it internally or through an acquisition. But the more we got to know Trunk Club—first, they’re really good at what they do. And second, they’re a number of years ahead of where we’d be if we got into it on our own. Speed does matter.”

Today, Trunk Club is still considered a success. While Nordstrom decreased the company’s value to $197 million earlier this month, the retailer still maintains that the brand is growing. And as more people discover its services, it’s likely that Trunk Club will continue to expand its reach.

That long-term demand is exactly why Spaly got into the menswear business in the first place. He says that in order to be a successful business owner, you need to be confident that there will still be interest in your concept down the line. And that passion has to start with you.

In a Q&A with Stanford Business, Spaly explained how he continues to build great businesses as an entrepreneur. He said, “Ask yourself, ‘If I built this company five years from today, would I still be motivated and excited about it?’ This will prevent you from chasing faddish notions. Don't become an entrepreneur because you want to become rich; do it because you want to solve a problem. Don't clone other businesses; come up with your own ideas. I make pants. But I love making pants! Don't chase waterfalls or unicorns.”