An Example Of How To Do… Just About Everything.

If you want Ivy bona fides, this is all you need to know.  I walked into the sales offices of St John Bay Rum Company in Ridgefield CT a few minutes early, and asked Rhys Moore for a picture.   He swung around and grabbed a tie, and proceeded to tie it PERFECTLY while holding a conversation while walking around WITHOUT a mirror.

I asked him about that.

“Boarding school,” he said.  “From September until July, I wear a tie almost every day.”

“Habit?” I ask.

“No, because you should always dress a little bit better than you need to.”

 

Rhys Moore, CEO

The resurgence of SJBR is due, in part to that attitude.  When Moore came to the company in late 2016, it was with a background in turnaround.  And a love for Ivy.  His previous gig was a bank workout with Bill’s Khaki’s.

“The brand was languishing, and I saw an opportunity,” Moore said.  “When I got here everyone knew the brand, but in their memory.  I would hear all the time, “My father used to wear that” or “I wore that in college” and it was always followed by “I should try it again” – and they were right, they should.  Happily, they did.”

At some point during every turnaround, the person with their hands on the wheel shakes their head and says to their significant other, “Man, what an S-storm.” In Rhys Moore’s case, taking on a company based in the Virgin Islands, his tenure began with… an actual storm.  Two.  Hurricanes.  That devastated production.

“We are VERY committed to being a USVI company.  Our office here is only out of necessity.  There was never a question, even after Maria and Irma, about other choices than to simply build back.  The Virgin Islands are a core part of our heritage and history and we are not willing to let go of that special relationship.”

Ok, so here is where we are in the story.  Moore comes to turn a distressed company with its base in the Virgin Islands, and that already distressed company’s base gets wiped out by two hurricanes.  5 years later Moore has the company thriving, with everything from innovative marketing to new product introduction to green packaging.  Yet when you sit with him you get the sense that his blood pressure never went up.

There are some classic mistakes in turnaround.  Moore makes none of them.  The first thing most companies do after a capital infusion is spend.  There is a psychological reflex to show activity immediately, without pace and deliberation.  Moore did the opposite, and deliberated, refusing to act until the time, and the idea, was right.  Most companies in turnaround with a capital infusion people up and paper up.  Moore did neither.  His office is very lean, and his business plan is two pages.  Moore is not interested in impressing you with himself.  In fact, it took some doing to even get him to agree to a profile. Moore wants to talk about the product.

And he is doing so smartly.  But not without risk.  The tagline for SJBR is “Unapologetically Masculine.”  In an era where self definition is pervasively fluid, SJBR took the risk invoking gender.  And doing it firmly.

 

Test driving the new tag at a trade show in Texas. It was very well received.

“Look,” Moore continues, “When I presented this to my team, I said it was a roll of the dice.  But it is honest.  We have a masculine product, and we need to tell people who we are definitively.  If you say “smells good” you are one small fish in a very big sea.  If you are very clear about what you are, you become singular.   It is about deliberately highlighting the best about the brand, and being up front about it.”

The dice Moore rolled came up with the numbers he needed, on all fronts.  The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, sales are up, and coupled with new package design, green efforts, and a steady growth pace, Moore has the company almost where he wants it.

“The storms set us back, of course,” Moore said.  “But we are right on the cusp of where we thought we would be anyway.  We got there by focusing on the brand and our brick and mortar partners.”

The other common mistake that executives in distressed companies make is to put their personal signature on things.  Moore went the opposite way.  In restyling everything, he kept to the playbook.  No New Coke here.  Instead, Moore reinvented with the same materials.  The result is an update that is in lockstep with the brand’s tradition.

Tradition is something Moore embraces in all areas of his life.   With his daughter, he fox hunts almost every weekend.  I did not know the following:

1. No one even carries a gun

2. Nothing gets killed

Instead, these fox hunts, for which they dress, are all about the hounds and the ride.

“The foxes are too smart, they hide and you can’t find them.  The coyotes are too fast, and you can’t catch them.  The joy is in the ride.  You aren’t riding on a path, you are following our pack of hounds over stone walls, through water, whatever.  The hounds chase the fox, you chase the hounds, and when everyone is tired out, you break out the flask and head back for a big hunt breakfast.  My daughter is an excellent rider, a joy to ride with and it is great just to watch her.”

Moore is an avid supporter of the arts, and historic preservation and that aesthetic weaves its way into a lot of his life, from the classic Ivy way he dresses to the font choice on his website.   He is on the road a lot at trade shows, which makes sense.  Moore is extraordinarily affable and a great storyteller.  If I were turning around SJBR, I would lead with him, too.

In the trad category, tales of corporate recovery are littered with bankruptcy filings, frantic redirections, and an ultimate cycle of repeating the same mistakes.  It is wonderful to see a reinvigorated brand that is walking perfectly the line between knowing how to talk to a new audience and staying in its lane.   We can all think of other companies that could use this style of leadership.

In addition to SJBR, Moore serves on the board of several trad companies, and I for one can think of a few others who should give him a call.

33 Comments on "An Example Of How To Do… Just About Everything."

  1. Perfect description of foxhunting (at least in the US). We foxhunt down here in the Piedmont and often never see a fox – following the hounds as Rhys says.

    Trad companies follow the cycle you describe because they are usually highly distressed when a transaction occurs and aren’t in a position for a covenant-lite deal, resulting in “the debt service business” becoming paramount, as you generally note.

  2. I have to say I am perhaps a bit more interested in the company’s history and the product itself rather than an extended explainer on turnaround strategies, which I notice is not really something he mentions at all other than generally alluding to countering some of the marketplace’s perceptions about the product.

    “Moore is not interested in impressing you with himself. In fact, it took some doing to even get him to agree to a profile. Moore wants to talk about the product.”

    Seems like a decent guy, and I think there are some people who could definitely stand to take a page from this philosophy.

  3. On the store locator, there is a retailer not far from me, one that I did not know about. I will try to get over there tomorrow.

  4. St. John’s Bay Rum makes a man smell smart.

  5. Dressing a little bit better than necessary for a fall semester kick-off workshop I am leading with three others tomorrow on campus. I’ve the navy blazer, vintage Madras necktie, light blue OCBD collar shirt, khakis, loafers, etc. all ready to go. I fully expect the other two men on the team to be in t-shirts and shorts. No doubt, I will seem overdressed. Sigh.

    Kind Sartorial regards,

    H-U

    • It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Those other two will have to assume they were not invited to the “thing” later.

  6. Great article. With any luck, St. Johns will continue to thrive with such close proximity to JB’s expertise! Kudos to you, John!

  7. David St. Hubbins | August 26, 2022 at 4:00 am | Reply

    Always enjoy reading about interesting characters and good to see a fellow with a more thoughtful and modern approach to fox hunting. The sport still has negative connotations from my time at uni, which is a longer story, but this gentleman seems to set a fine example.

    I too would love to hear more about their products and could probably do without the extended lesson on economics, which seems oddly off-topic.

    Thank you.

    • We cover the business of Ivy pretty frequently here David. I like to tell the story of good people working hard and smart when I can find it. And if you think THIS was an extended lesson in economics, you should try having a 14 year old 🙂

      • David St. Hubbins | August 26, 2022 at 1:05 pm | Reply

        Certainly. Only saying that I am personally more interested in learning about the company’s offerings rather than the reasoning behind Mr. Moore’s business decisions which, for what it’s worth and as someone mentioned above, seemed to be the good gentleman’s desire as well. As someone that lives in the U.K. where this brand is less known, it’s also less clear to me why these perfumes are Ivy. Just curious. Thanks for sharing in any event.

    • David, the approach to Foxhunting described is the approach applied across the US, not solely the approach Mr. Moore (or his hunt) takes.

  8. I recently purchased a bottle of their Vetiver line. Having read this article, I am delighted to support their local vendor and the larger company. A great product which I recently discovered!

  9. Great background story. And a guy I could listen to all day!
    Thanks JB

  10. So, I’m prepared to accept this post won’t survive JB’s editing. If so, all good. If not, fine. After all, St. John’s is an advertiser/supporter of this site. I get it.

    Were it not for the ‘destruction’ part of ‘capitalism-as-creative destruction’ (Schumpeter, among others), we’d would still be seeking innovate approaches toward the wheel-and-axle vis a vis carts and horse (or mule)-drawn wagons (and carriages). So, three cheers for innovation-driven capitalism, I say as I drive my six cylinder engine-powered Jeep to the grocery store–

    — so far as it (innovation) goes. There are limits. And important provisos and amendments.

    This is a fervently “anti-capitalist” moment in America (hell, the world), and no wonder. We’ve been heading in this direction for a long time, and no amount of Reaganism, Thatcherism, or MBA-girded “executive leadership” will derail the train. Lots of overpaid executives (including CEOs) are draining companies dry, and, I’m sorry to say, this includes embedded turnaround types. You don’t have to be a Marxist to understand why, as the 21st century progresses, workers (at all levels, especially middle management and sales) are finally waking up to the harsh, exceedingly unfair realities. It seems to me it’s not so much “anti-capitalist” as it is a shift to/toward smaller-and-local.

    This here is a lot of brand development by way of packaging and advertising. A lot. I speak as a longtime Bay Rum connoisseur: I think there are better (stronger) Bay Rums for the $ out there, and I’ve been making my own (Bay Leaf oil and witch hazel) for a long time. I like it so much, and happy to support very small businesses, some of them very local.

    I’m not sure how “anti-capitalist” the DIY movement is (I mean, money is changing hands for goods and services), but it’s growing like May flowers in my part of the world. In a sense, some of the better businesses in the trad universe are smallish and home grown, and we can only hope they’ll resist the temptation to expand (“innovate”). This includes Mercer and Sons.

    • Unless it is a personal attack on me or someone else, or a curse word, or religious/political, it passes. Club rules. 🙂

      • Respectfully, does contradicting something you’ve written count as a “personal attack”? I’ve seen quite a number of comments get disappeared on this site that don’t fall into any of those categories, which I think is also evidenced by this comment that S.E. was “prepared to accept this post won’t survive JB’s editing.”

        (I’m saying “Respectfully” to increase the likelihood that it doesn’t get deleted lol)

        • I tried to email you. Can you cite an example? Or maybe use your real email so that you could send it to me personally, and be productive, rather than try to get a dopamine hit this way?

    • If innovation results in an as good or better product at a reduced cost to the producer, consumer, or both, then I’m all for it. When innovation results in a “cheaper”product with no reduction in expense to the consumer, then consumers cut back, profits stagnate, and wages are reduced. No Ph.D in economics or political science required.

  11. SJBR products are a much better buy than all the over-priced designer-brand colognes.

  12. I will note, in case there is interest, that in addition to the current piece, there are a few older articles in the I-S archive on bay rum in general, and on St John in particular. For those wondering how/why bay rum came to be perceived as Ivy, I recommend this past I-S article on the “scent of Madison Avenue”:

    https://www.ivy-style.com/bay-rum-the-scent-of-madison-avenue.html

  13. Great piece. Love hearing about the good folks quietly pursuing excellence.

    “On Hunting” is one of my favorite books by Roger Scruton. Delightful read and a lovely introduction to hunting. Hunting is one of the ways that man most closely participates within nature. If you’ve hunted with animals you know it is a form of communion with those creatures.

    Also, all proper hunting has an excellent wardrobe associated with the sport.

  14. I found the retailer, a great guy. He has a small trad shop. He made a call and an 8 oz bottle of Bay Rum splash is en route as we speak. Meanwhile, he’s fixing a couple of burn holes and adjusting the cuffs on a pair of suit trousers.

  15. After knowing about this brand for many years, I finally bought my first bottle of St. John Bay Rum earlier this year. What took me so long? I don’t know, but an earlier article on this site persuaded me that it was time to finally give it a try and I’m glad I did.
    This was a great read!
    On the matter of the tagline, “Unapologetically Masculine,” I appreciate your remark alluding to fluidity and change. If gender is a spectrum, no one on any point on that spectrum need apologize for the place they occupy, whether that place moves to and fro or not. It’s just saying what it is.

  16. Prescott Forbes | August 28, 2022 at 12:30 am | Reply

    “The Classics are for Everyone” but unfortunately not everyone is for the classics.

  17. JESSE NORRIS BARNES III | August 28, 2022 at 8:34 am | Reply

    Show me a winner, and I’ll show you someone who’s lost a few times. Kudos to a survivor and a Prince of background in turnaround.

    From an admirer with a closer view than most – father-in-law.

  18. I like the soap — and have used it for shaving. With the right brush, it lathers up well.

    I’m gonna try the West Indian Lime. Placing an order today.

  19. I talked to Rhys today to place an order, what a nice man. Have been using Lime for over50 years love the stuff. Much better then Royal Lime

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