Case Study 7
Tilley—Hats Off to a Great Company!
Communication in Process
Alex Tilley, an avid sailor who was tired of his hats blowing into the water and sinking into
oblivion, decided to do something about it. After consulting with a variety of specialists,
Tilley created a hat that floats, doesn‟t blow off, has pockets and a brim that stiffens in the
rain, and blocks harmful UV rays.
Alex Tilley grew up in Ontario, and his entrepreneurial spirit shone through at an early
age when he resold pumpkins he had purchased from a farmer and made a profit. After a
lacklustre academic career (which is still part of the folklore in Sudbury) and working at
various ventures, Tilley decided to become a dealer in fine art. This career choice allowed
him the leisure time to sail—a passion that brought forth the famous Tilley hat.
Alex Tilley began selling hats in 1980 hoping to make a small profit. Although early
sales of the hat were disappointing, his break came when he donated his hats to the
Canadian sailors who were competing in the 1983 America‟s Cup sailing race. Eventually
word-of-mouth advertising paid off, and a mail order business was started. When customers
began showing up at his door, Tilley knew it was time to open a retail operation.
The classic Tilley hat is a Canadian design icon that has expanded into a global
business. Tilley hats are world renowned and are endorsed by Sir Edmund Hillary (the only
person who receives payments for his endorsement—30 hats and 30 windbreakers for his
Sherpa friends) and also by the Canadian Armed Forces, which purchased 6000 hats for
troops during the first Gulf War and continue to issue Tilley hats to our troops.
But Alex Tilley knows that it is not enough to have an excellent product; customer
satisfaction must be paramount. Knowing that happy customers will tell their friends and
that word of mouth is the best advertising, he has made customer service a matter of pride
within Tilley Endurables.
From a marketing standpoint, Alex Tilley recognizes the value of customer
endorsements. Tilley catalogues feature real people to create credibility by putting a name
and face to his products. Tilley Endurables was one of the first companies in the world to
have its catalogue on the Web in the mid-1990s, and today Tilley hats are sold in 18
countries, with five family-owned stores in Canada (three in Toronto, one in Montreal, and
one in Vancouver) and retail partners throughout the world. In addition to making hats,
Tilley Endurables has evolved into a company with over 9000 stock keeping units (SKUs).
The company sells travel apparel, travel accessories, totes, belts, and many other items.
Alex Tilley also has a strong determination to give back and is actively involved in
“Street Kids International,” an organization that provides children with resources to help
them achieve independence, “to thrive and to succeed or fail on their own initiative.” Tilley
Endurables donates a portion earned from each hat sold to Street Kids International to
support it in furthering its work.
• If hats are the backbone of Tilley‟s success, why is it important to continue adding to,
promoting, and updating its products?
• How can Tilley get its message out to customers about its products?
• How is audience analysis a key factor in Tilley‟s ongoing success?
Process in Progress
Tilley Endurables Revisited
Today, Tilley Endurables has 200 employees in three different countries, and great
employees are key to Tilley‟s success. Alex Tilley acknowledges that the “nice, friendly
and sincere staff” is crucial to its image. The company sells its products in more than 26 000
stores in a dozen and a half countries around the world. Even though 70 percent of Tilley
sales are in Canada, more hats are sold overseas than in Canada.
With few exceptions, such as socks that are made in the United States and the Cobber®
Neck Wrap made in Australia, all Tilley merchandise is manufactured in Canada.
Ultimately, it‟s the Canadian-made quality that has made hat sales soar in the United States
and the United Kingdom. Although Tilley has considered opening a manufacturing plant in
China, where he could make his products at a lower cost, he says he‟s proud of the Tilley
labels, which say they are sewn with “Canadian persnicketiness.”
The iconic Canadian Tilley hat, which comes in 13 sizes and has annual sales of more
than $280 000, has been worn by Pierre Trudeau, Mick Jagger, Paul Newman, and Prince
Philip and has made Tilley, an MBA dropout, multiple millions.
Tilley‟s target market is consumers age 50 and up. To reflect this age group, the people
in the catalogue are older models or real customers. Although the advertising for the
products focuses on mountains and deserts, Tilley‟s customers live predominately in the
“urban jungle” but may aspire to more exciting possibilities in the future.
The clothing is considered classically conservative, and somewhat expensive, but Tilley
argues that the superior quality of the products requires this pricing. And they offer a lot of
extras—Tilley products come with a lifetime guarantee. So, for those who want a product
that‟s “endurable,” Tilley aims to fill that need and supports his products with the Tilley
guarantee posted on the company Web site:
We pride ourselves on making the finest outdoor hats and travel clothing in the world
and treating our clients in the fairest way possible. If there is a problem caused by poor
workmanship or faulty material, please send your freshly washed garment to us and we‟ll
replace the garment free—whatever‟s fair. Exclusions: normal wear and tear and damage
caused by misuse or improper care.
Tilley‟s philosophy of business also provides an interesting perspective—he advises
entrepreneurs to “expect failure as a part of your business life and carry on after that.”
• Based on what you learned in this chapter, what specific advice can you give about
keeping a message clear? Should a business message be conversational? If so, how is a
conversational tone achieved?
• Why is clarity important, especially in providing information about guarantees?
• What advice can you give for improving the directness and readability of a business
Process to Product
Applying Your Skills at Tilley
Tilley‟s headquarters in Don Mills, Ontario, reflects the novel approach of the company.
Witty slogans such as “Practise Safe Sun” and “Prepare—for Adventure” set the tone for
the company. Many unique artifacts greet customers as they head into the store, including a
huge rusty moose, an Easter Island head, and an Inukshuk.
After passing the free cookies and coffee, the customer finds the store itself is a burst of
colour. The customer will find silks, denim, and Linda Lundstrom‟s elegant Tilley line in
addition to the vests, pants, shirts, and shorts made from Tilley‟s famous polycotton blend.
The product line changes constantly, and Alex Tilley remains true to listening to his
customers. When he received a letter from a man in New Hampshire who complained that
he loved his Tilley winter hat, but the earflaps were too short to keep his ears warm, Tilley
redesigned the hat to make the flaps longer and sent the customer a new hat—for free!
Although hats are still the company‟s top selling item, the firm sells a wide range of
products. Alex Tilley is always looking for new opportunities of growth. His line of
clothing called the “Different Drummer” is dedicated to “the uncommon man and woman.”
The new strategy is designed to increase the demographic appeal of the product, with a
younger customer in mind.
Although the Tilley product line has expanded and developed with the times, when
asked what he‟d like his epitaph to read, Tilley said, “I would like my epitaph to read: „A
good man who built a better hat.‟ ”
Assume that your team leader has asked you to analyze some of the competition‟s Web
sites. Visit the Tilley Web site and compare its content and presentation to that of another
apparel company such as Roots or Eddie Bauer (or a company of your choice). Based on
your perception of the intended audience and purpose of the Web site, evaluate the
effectiveness of each. Write a memo to the team leader discussing your findings.