Bonobos ‘guideshop’ stands in lower Manhattan on April 18, 2017 in New York City.

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Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn is returning to retail as a brand advisor as the company looks to return to its roots after it was sold Walmart Bonobos and new parent WHP Global announced on Friday earlier this year.

Dunn, who founded the menswear brand in 2007, will report to WHP Global CEO Yehud Shmidman but work closely with Bonobos president John Hutchison and Express Inc. CEO Tim Baxter.

WHP Global and Express Inc., which operates the Express brand, bought Bonobos from Walmart in a $75 million deal that was announced in April and closed last month. Originally Walmart bought Bonobos in 2017 for $310 million while working to expand its online presence under former e-commerce president Marc Lore.

“It’s almost unlimited opportunity, isn’t it?” Shmidman told CNBC about the decision to bring Dunn back to the brand. “You get the opportunity to dive deep into why the brand was created in the first place, the success it had in the early years and how it came about, and how to learn from it to inspire the next chapter of growth.”

Shmidman said WHP Global has no plans to change Bonobos’ DNA and said the firm’s decision to appoint Dunn is part of its plan to focus the brand on its core identity.

“It’s very important to know that we’re not changing. In fact, if anything, we’re doubling down on the same DNA that made Bonobos successful,” Shmidman said.

One area where Shmidman wants to see change is Bonobos’ physical footprint: The brand currently operates brick-and-mortar stores with guided tours where customers can try on clothes and then order them online, but only in the US. Under WHP Global, Bonobos can expand internationally, he said.

“How about Bonobos in Dubai? How about Bonobos in Hong Kong?” Shmidman said. “How great would that be?”

Dunn said he’s excited to “have a seat at the table” and that this time he’ll just be advising the brand — not running it.

“I’m here to serve in any way I can, and the way I think about it is just to stay really close to the customer. I’m a lot older than when Bonobos started, you know, I’m 43 now, he was 28 then,” Dunn said. So I got a lot of perspective on the product and the customer and how to start this new chapter and expand.”

Bonobos started as a digital-only retailer in its early days and became a pioneer in direct-to-consumer after scaling, achieving profitability and gaining national recognition.

When Walmart decided to acquire the brand, some thought the partnership didn’t make sense because the giant retailer’s focus on value didn’t seem in line with Bonobos’ identity as a premium men’s line.

While Walmart sold Bonobos at a significant discount compared to what it paid, the acquisition was not necessarily lost for Walmart. The tie-up helped boost its digital sales.

Online sales accounted for about $53.4 billion — or nearly 13% — of Walmart’s total U.S. net sales in the last fiscal year that ended in late January, according to a company filing. That’s a jump from $15.7 billion, or about 5% of Walmart’s total U.S. net sales, in 2019.

Andy Dunn, co-founder of Bonobos

Source: Brian McConkey

But how Bonobos fared — and what it gained — from its time under Walmart’s massive tent isn’t so black and white.

At the time of acquisition, Dunn he wrote in a blog post that the Walmart sale gave Bonobos an opportunity to tap into the broader ecosystem, he argues that the deal fits with his goal “to become the market leader in all premium menswear.”

It also gave Dunn the opportunity to work alongside Lore, his long-time mentor, whom he considered “the best in the world at building world-class third-party brand e-stores”.

Six years to the day after this blog post was written, Dunn told CNBC that he stands by his decision to sell to Walmart and “loudly” disagrees with critics who say the brand has been diluted by the acquisition.

“In terms of premium positioning, Bonobos’ business is still up and to the right and growing,” Dunn said. “From a customer perspective, I don’t think much has changed, you know, that would be my reading, and I think the proof is in the pudding of the continued growth of the brand.”

The Walmart umbrella offered Bonobos exposure to, as well as protection from, a wider customer base pandemic-related headwinds which plagued other independent retailers during the global health crisis.

“With the pandemic and how hard it has been for retail, that was a moment for me to step back and think, wow, we made the right decision to put Bonobos in such a strong house,” Dunn said.

These days, Bonobos is still delivering double-digit revenue growth, WHP Global reported.

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