Keeping Things Comfortable For Over 100 Years

Stanfield’s Limited

Canadian underwear leader Stanfield’s was established in 1856 when Charles Stanfield immigrated to Prince Edward Island from Britain. In 1882, Stanfield’s settled on its current site in Truro where the company stands to this day some 130 years later.

Fifth generation president of the company, Jon Stanfield, shared with me some of his humble beginnings. When he was 13 years of age, Jon kept himself quite busy in the factory doing various odd jobs, such as cleaning and operating the knitting machines in addition to some stockroom duties. During his formative teen years, Jon worked in the general office area and then proceeded to get involved with the marketing side of the business during his university years in Toronto. By 1994, Jon decided that this was what he wanted to be doing with his life and he feels it is an honour to be following in his father’s footsteps. Although this position may have appeared to be passed down to him, after his father successfully ran the business for 44 years, Jon still had to prove his worth.

Every successful company has to learn to overcome challenges. Jon explains, “We have re-engineered the factory as far as making it more efficient and cutting waste to deal with the competitive pressures that occurred during the Free Trade Agreements and then subsequently the North American Free Trade Agreement, which initiated a lot of cost saving processes within our factory’s setup. The challenges today include our aim to be a domestic manufacturer. Stanfield’s continues to produce the majority of its products in Canada, as it is not only good for our brand but good for our customer base as well. So our main challenge is to convince our customers that ‘Made in Canada’ matters and it’s not all about price all the time. As we evolve into the next twenty years the challenge is to balance imports and domestic manufacturing and what level or percentage we need to sustain a good base here in Truro, Nova Scotia.”

On the manufacturing side of things, the company has seen a reduction in local textile supplier availability in Nova Scotia. “The textile industry in Canada is nowhere near as big as it used to be, as a lot of suppliers have either gone offshore or have disappeared,” explains Jon. “With that comes less of a supply base which has caused us to renegotiate our supply chain as a lot of our suppliers now are no longer able to produce from here in Canada. A good portion of our waistbands, for example, used to come from Canada but now these once domestic suppliers have moved their factories. In Nova Scotia, we still have Maritime Paper, which is our corrugated paper and cardboard supplier, and Farnell Packaging but we have changed the way we have designed our packaging. Some suppliers are not willing to invest in what we need to make our product presentation better, so unfortunately we have to make the choice to look elsewhere.

“Stanfield’s is a niche brand in Canada but all foreign brands are competitors such as Calvin Klein, Jockey, Fruit of The Loom and Hanes, which are all very large companies… Staying ahead in this industry is tough, as you always need to be creative and innovative – whether it is with a new fabric or a level of expertise in manufacturing. We need to take concepts to market to try and get ahead and see if we can get it out there before everyone else. We feel we provide great value when people purchase our brand; not necessarily just in cost, but we pride ourselves on quality of fabric and durability. A consumer may pay slightly more for a product at the onset, but it will wear considerably better and people will get more out of their dollars spent. In the long run, Canadians just keep coming back to Stanfield’s.”

Another example of the company’s focus on innovation is its present carbon footprint project to assess energy consumption. “It’s really the usage of the fossil fuel side of the business [that we’re looking at]. What this has allowed us to do is capture the data and make reference to it when we are talking to our customers, and this will allow us to improve our footprint. If customers wish to have the discussion on where we stand, we will have that information to give to them and we’ll be ready. We have a benchmark; we can improve on it and we can measure against that.”

So, do men ask each other the famous question; briefs or boxers? Or do they have the best of both worlds now with the ever rising in popularity boxer-briefs? Jon was happy to clarify, “Stanfield’s bestselling item would be briefs, but boxer briefs have certainly grown and are more in vogue. We also have a very strong position in winter base layers.” This category is significant in the market, as it is important to layer clothing for comfort and protection against Canada’s long and harsh winters and for transitioning through the changing of our seasons.

In the underwear industry, keeping things light with a touch of humour in advertising piques the interest of today’s modern consumers. A good balance of wit and whim in video and audio advertisements is used to express the Stanfield’s point of view while also bringing awareness to the charitable causes and disease research proudly supported by the company. According to Jon, “We are basically all digital now, versus traditional media such as TV and billboards. We do search engine optimization that directs good traffic to our website. We also do Social Media stunts to help get people involved in what we are about as a company and what we stand for. Lightheartedness is important, as you need to attract people using all kinds of angles. Being in the underwear business, you can’t take yourself that seriously.”

Jon continues with a chuckle, “We want to have fun and have our brand resonate with the people. “The humour is incorporated and is unexpected, and customers will call up or buy product based on the advertising and some of the stunts they may have seen. We try to do unique and memorable things to leave impressions and ultimately boost sales and brand awareness. We did the stunt with the man at home in Toronto living in his condo in his underwear for 30 days. We were hoping to hit 25,000 people participating with this awareness campaign, and said we would donate $25,000 to testicular cancer research; within five days, we were able to do this and ended up with 50,000 people participating, so this was incredible to be able to donate $50,000!”

Stanfield’s has some truly unique advertising, with new cause-related social media stunts and campaigns involving the community coming out this November.

Having recently purchased women’s underwear brands Elita and Hanna, Stanfield’s is well on its way to being even bigger and better. Jon shares, “We have traditionally struggled on the women’s side of things so we recently bought a platform that allows us to take our expertise in manufacturing, executive leadership and customer relationships and expand on that in a different category. We are always looking for companies that would add value to Stanfield’s. The business is challenging but we have strongly built our business on several brands.”

“Our long term strategy is to build brands and to build up the back shop in Truro. We have to find good brands and good relationships and make them grow. The last few years have been tough for everybody. We are trying to build a new a platform with new ways of thinking and a business that is going to be different from the last 25 years. We are re-engineering the business to position things for the future, and of course reforming for success down the road.”

December 16, 2018, 7:59 PM EST

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