Viewpoint International, Inc. History
New York, New York 10018-3704
Telephone: (212) 391-8688
Sales: $369.15 million (2004)
NAIC: 448110 Men's Clothing Stores; 448120 Women's Clothing Stores
Life is one long weekend--who wouldn't find the thought intriguing? That relaxed casual state of mind is the philosophy behind TOMMY BAHAMA, the popular lifestyle brand that elevates the act of relaxation to a fine art. The inspiration behind the company is a fictional character whose celebration of island living encourages a slowed down, relaxed approach to the finer things in life.
- Apparel industry vets launch the Tommy Bahama lifestyle brand.
- The first company store opens in Naples, Florida.
- The first café opens next to the first store.
- Indigo Palms jeans are launched.
- Oxford Industries buys Viewpoint; Island Soft casual clothing debuts.
Viewpoint International, Inc., a subsidiary of Oxford Industries, Inc., is best known for the Tommy Bahama brand. Tommy Bahama began as a line of elegant, casual men's clothing with a tropical flair. Later expanded to include womenswear, Tommy Bahama also pitches the island lifestyle through a broad range of licensed goods. The company has more than 40 of its own locations, including seven combination retail/restaurant compounds, and four outlets. Upscale department stores also carry the brand. In 2003, Viewpoint was acquired by Oxford, a large, publicly traded producer of private-label clothing.
Launching the Company in 1992
Viewpoint International, Inc. and the Tommy Bahama brand was created in 1992 by apparel industry veterans Tony Margolis, Bob Emfield, and Lucio Dalla Gasperina. The original product was upscale casual clothing for men. Margolis, a cofounder of Generra Sportswear Co. Inc., served as Viewpoint's president and chief executive officer. Emfield, a regional sales manager at Generra, became marketing director and former Seattle Pacific Industries (Union Bay Sport) vice-president Gasperina served as the new firm's design director. Margolis and Emfield had worked earlier as sales reps for the Britannia brand during the 1970s.
Start-up capital was $1.5 million, including $500,000 from Hong Kong manufacturer Whole Duty Inc., reported the Puget Sound Business Journal. Viewpoint began with three clothing brands, two of which would be eclipsed by Tommy Bahama: Gear for Urban Training, a line of skateboarder clothes, and Linguini & Bob, for ladies' men in the Saturday Night Fever tradition. According to Inc., these were both distributed through Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., a retail chain on the road to bankruptcy.
Margolis and Emfield reportedly first conceived the Tommy Bahama brand while at their vacation homes on Florida's Gulf Coast. It was designed to conjure an island attitude--"one long weekend." The name, by one account attributed to Emfield, referred to a fictional character living the good life in the tropics, decked out in classy but relaxed updates of "Hawaiian" shirts and khakis. Silk was a favored material since it was cheap to import, Margolis later told the New York Times. Other offerings included T-shirts and linen and canvas shorts. Businessmen longing for a bit of a holiday made up the target market.
The company motto was simply, "Relax," and it was an appealing mantra. According to the New York Times, Tommy Bahama's first-year sales were $3.5 million. With department stores scaling back their offerings, the clothes were most successful with small men's shops at first.
Viewpoint was based in Seattle, where the clothes were designed under the direction of Gasperina. The other two partners worked in different cities--Margolis in New York, and Emfield in Minneapolis. Seattle was chosen for its port and its established apparel industry. Manufacturing was carried on in Asia; the garments were distributed through upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Resorts and country club pro shops also carried them.
The other two brands were dropped in late 1994, reports Inc. magazine. Feeling a cash pinch, the company resorted to producing private-label clothes.
In November 1995, the company's first retail shop opened near a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida. Having a stand-alone store finally provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the tropical lifestyle should be merchandised. It was approached as if they were constructing a house for the Tommy Bahama character. Old Chinese newspapers were used as wallpaper to suggest world travels, reports Display & Design Ideas. The environment was kept open, inviting, and exotic.
The founders later told Inc. that around the same time as the store was opening, they were wondering how to make the most of some money they had saved for advertising. Leery of high media prices, they wondered, "What would Tommy do?"
They decided he would open a brewpub. Tommy Bahama's Tropical Café, a restaurant with a relaxed island flavor, was opened when space next to the store was offered at a steal. The cantina served Tommy Bahama beer to wash down the island dishes such as a grilled jerk chicken sandwich with roasted onions and shrimp BLTs. (Florida's Paradise Breweries produced the beer under license.) It was a hit with visitors, who loved being able to buy clothes at the Emporium while sipping tropical drinks.
Tommy Bahama's washable silk clothing got more exposure when Kevin Costner wore it in the movie Tin Cup. Tommy Bahama benefited from a trend toward more casual clothes throughout the decade. At the same time, its own fashions were becoming more sophisticated to appeal to a more upscale buyer. In the last half of the decade, reported the New York Times, the company started importing more muted floral prints from Europe.
The opening of the retail/restaurant compound proved to be the company's big break. Hugely successful in its own right, the location created a buzz that led to increased orders from department stores. A second store soon opened in Sarasota, Florida. Viewpoint's sales were about $100 million in 1998, reported the Los Angeles Times. During the year, the company opened two restaurant/retail compounds in California. A women's line was introduced in the late 1990s.
Tommy Bahama also expanded to sportswear and swimwear for men and women, as well as accessories like ties, forming a joint venture, Paradise Neckwear, to produce them. Footwear and belts were being made under license by Paradise Shoe Co. of Tempe, Arizona. Paradise Bags Co. of Millburn, New Jersey made the brand's handbags. Other offerings in line with the beach theme included hats and towels. According to Brandweek, licensees also included Wildwood Lamps, Geneva Watch, Shaw Rugs, L'Amy (eyewear), and Sferra Bros. (linens). The most successful was said to be North Carolina-based Lexington Home Brands, which reportedly sold $100 million of branded plantation furniture in the first year and a half.
All of the extensions kept within the tropical lifestyle. "We don't really look at our brand as apparel," Gasperina told the Seattle Times. "We look at it as a brand with a soul."
New Brands After 2001
Sales exceeded $300 million in 2001. According to Inc., royalty revenues from licensed goods brought in $16 million. Viewpoint had 2,500 employees, more than 300 of them at its Seattle headquarters and distribution center. The Tommy Bahama chain had 18 retail stores and six restaurant/retail compounds, as well as finer department stores in 34 states. None of the company-owned stores were in Seattle. Private-label manufacturing accounted for 10 percent of revenues, reported the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Viewpoint had another brand on the drawing board, a denim clothing chain called Indigo Palms. Viewpoint launched a line of men's jeans under this name in the fall of 2001. Jeanswear for women soon followed. The company also added sweaters and sweatshirts designed for winter walks on the beach to appeal to stores in the Northeast.
Model Andy Lucchesi had signed up to portray the Tommy Bahama character in the company's print advertising beginning in 1999. The company launched its first national advertising campaign in 2001, placing ads in fashion magazines such as W and Town & Country. The advertising budget was upped the next year to help restart the women's line with a focus on a younger audience. Another marketing activity was sponsorship of sporting events such as golf, auto racing, and speedboat racing.
A Stamford, Connecticut equity firm, Saunders, Karp & Megrue, acquired a minority holding in mid-2002. Viewpoint aimed to reach $1 billion in revenues by 2007, reported the Puget Sound Business Journal. According to the same publication, Saunders, Karp wanted to sell its stake within a couple of months of acquiring it, opening the way for the eventual acquisition of the company by Oxford International, Inc.
Former Seventh Avenue whiz kid Christian Francis Roth was brought in to restyle the women's line, which accounted for about one-third of sales. Hawaiian shirts for men then made up just 20 percent of total business.
Acquisition by Oxford in 2003
Venerable apparel group Oxford Industries, Inc. acquired Viewpoint International and its Tommy Bahama brand on June 13, 2003. The deal was worth $240 million in cash, $10 million in stock, and up to an additional $75 million if certain performance targets were met. Viewpoint, operated as Tommy Bahama Group, remained under the direction of its original founders.
Oxford produced licensed cotton clothing under a number of designer and department store brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene, Lands' End, Nautica, and J.C. Penney's private label, Stafford. The Viewpoint purchase brought Oxford into a higher margin market heavy in silks. Oxford's stock, traded on the Big Board since the 1960s, nearly tripled in price after the company acquired Tommy Bahama, seen as much more glamorous and lucrative than Oxford's private-label business. Oxford Chairman J. Hicks Lanier called it the "crown jewel" in the company's portfolio.
Viewpoint introduced a higher end brand of casualwear called Island Soft in the fall of 2003. Launched at Tommy Bahama stores, the line was not limited to a tropical theme. It also was sold at department stores and at Viewpoint's new Indigo Palms stores, the first of which opened in Newport Beach, California in November 2003.
In July 2004, Viewpoint announced that it was licensing Gemini Cosmetics to produce fragrances for men and women under the Tommy Bahama label. Other new brand extensions ran the gamut from ceiling fans (Emerson Fans) to sailing yachts (Beneteau U.S.A. Inc.).
The Tommy Bahama Group posted operating income of $50.6 million on net sales of $369 million in the 2004 fiscal year. The firm was celebrating its success by moving into a new headquarters building in Seattle. Oxford aimed to grow the chain to up to 80 stores by 2008, then cap the expansion to maintain the brand's exclusivity.
Principal Operating Units: Indigo Palms; Island Soft; Tommy Bahama.
Principal Competitors: Kahala of Hawaii; Nautica Enterprises, Inc.; Polo Ralph Lauren; Reyn Spooner Inc.; Tommy Hilfiger Corporation; Tori Richard.
- Batsell, Jake, "Well-Stressed? Then Relax in These Clothes; Casual Outfitters Find Comfort Fits Country's Mood," Seattle Times, March 26, 2002, p. F1.
- Bellafante, Ginia, "The Hawaiian Prints That Wouldn't Fade," New York Times, June 24, 2003, p. B7.
- Bowers, Katherine, "Tommy's Bahama Mama," Women's Wear Daily, November 13, 2002, p. 10.
- Clark, Julie, "Do You Like Piña Coladas?," Display & Design Ideas, November 2001, p. 25.
- Cunningham, Tommy, "Tommy Bahama Hires Financo to Spearhead Growth Plans," DNR, April 23, 1999, p. 1A.
- Dolbow, Sandra, "Brand Builders," Brandweek, March 4, 2002.
- Hofman, Mike, "A Brand Is Born," Inc., December 1, 2001.
- "In Brief: Eyewear to Yachts," Women's Wear Daily, July 16, 2004, p. 2.
- Jones, Jeanne Lang, "The Other Tommy," Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle), August 23, 2002, p. 1.
- Lloyd, Brenda, "Tommy Bahama Sends Oxford Soaring," DNR, October 13, 2003.
- McCarrell, Pat, "Big Bucks for Bahama," Puget Sound Business Journal, May 2, 2003, p. 3.
- McKanic, Patricia, "Tommy Guns for Exposure," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 18, 1998, p. 1D.
- McKinney, Melonee, "Not Your Typical Tropical," Daily News Record, August 7, 1998, p. 2.
- McNaughton, David, "Upscale by Design: Oxford Sizzles with Tommy Bahama Brand," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 30, 2003, p. D1.
- Medina, Marcy, "Tommy Bahama Is Suiting Up," WWD, January 7, 2002, p. 3.
- Moore, Booth, "Seeking Career Heat at Tropical Tommy Bahama," Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2003, p. E1.
- Much, Marilyn, "Apparel Company Has a Brand New Strategy," Investor's Business Daily, August 15, 2003.
- Newkirk, Margaret, "Oxford Buys a Piece of the Beach," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 29, 2003, p. D1.
- O'Loughlin, Sandra, "Tommy Bahama Sails Out to Sea with Sights Set on Young Women," Brandweek, January 20, 2003, p. 14.
- Quintanilla, Michael, "Bahama Papas," Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1999, p. E1.
- Spector, Robert, "Seattle Sportswear Firms Rebound with New Names But Some Faces Are Familiar from the '70s, '80s," DNR, September 21, 1994, p. 4.
- Stewart, Al, "Tommy Bahama Stretches Its Scions," Daily News Record, January 19, 2004, p. 4.
- Tice, Carol, "Button-Down Meets Breezy at Tommy Bahama," Puget Sound Business Journal, March 5, 2004, p. A3.
- Williams, Linda, "Generra Co-Founder Stitches Together New Apparel Firm," Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle), September 11, 1992, p. 4.
- Williams, Stan, "Tommy Bahama--They Call Him the Great Extender," DNR, February 5, 1996, p. 8.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 66. St. James Press, 2004.