Should You Discount?

It’s been a little over two years since we launched Mizzen+Main with the goal of becoming the next great American brand. I get asked a lot of questions about starting a company, about bringing performance fabrics to the world of traditional menswear, and why we’ve chosen to keep our product American made. One of the most frequent questions I get? “Hey — can I get a discount?” or “Do you guys have discounts?”

There is no shortage of reasons why people want or expect a discount: first time buyer, second time buyer, it’s Tuesday, it’s Columbus Day (seriously?), it’s the Fourth of July, it’s the third Friday of a summer month, it’s hot outside, it’s cold outside, it’s October, it’s February, or they’re not sure about a new product so require 10% off to try it, or…well… just because.

The real reason people want a discount? Because nearly every single company offers them. American consumers (I cannot speak for international consumers) have been very effectively trained to expect discounts at pretty much any given time. Give us your email address? 10% off. First time buyer? 25% off. It’s Tuesday? 70% off. What does it say about a company’s product that they can only get people to buy it if they trick them? That’s what nearly all companies who play the discount game are doing. They set their prices higher knowing they will sell x% at full retail and quickly move to discount for whatever the discount-du-jour is. Oh wow — 10% off? Sure I’ll buy!

Why do companies consistently discount?

The simple answer is because it works (sort of).

Discounting, for companies and consumers, is like a drug. A very powerful, very addictive drug that completely alters one’s perspective by making  it almost impossible to function without it.

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Most companies will use discounts to get things “moving” when they start off. There certainly are no shortage of websites that exclusively compile lists of companies offering discounted products. Once a company starts discounting or listing on those sites, it becomes virtually impossible to stop discounting  altogether because consumer and company alike become addicted to the boost (revenue for the company, savings for the consumer). The long term damage to the brand is almost instant. The need to further manipulate their consumers is never ending and almost always needs to grow. How many 70% off signs have you seen? It probably started with 10% off for a first time buyer, then graduated to 25% for an email address before jumping to 50% off because it’s a hot Tuesday in February. That’s a short road to an absurd 70% off. Clearly, a valuable product.

Most of the stuff people buy on those steep discounts are poorly made imports that will fall apart within a season. Our addiction to cheap crap has a myriad of costs: from the inhumane side of unscrupulous foreign manufacturing to the volume of waste we produce as a society throwing away seemingly disposable clothing..

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There are indeed companies who live an addict-free lifestyle. They are few and far between, and there’s something really interesting about how people perceive those companies and their products. People view them as inherently better, more respectable, and, to be frank, worth the spend. Apple. Lululemon. CrossFit boxes (most of them). People understand it’s a high value, high quality product or service that is worth their hard earned dollars. The proof couldn’t be clearer: Have you ever heard of a sale on an Apple product? Not since the iPod era began. No, in fact, people line up for days to buy their products at full price. The “sale” rack at lululemon features odd sizes from two seasons ago, and, with rare exceptions, CrossFit box memberships are non-negotiable.

Think about restaurants who use Groupon. Now think about that favorite of yours where you can never get a table. Your favorite spot may only go so far as $2 off specials during happy hour on Monday through Wednesday, right? The same standard and theory holds true for services and software companies.

mizzen and main street style usa apparel

When it came to Mizzen+Main, I drew a line in the sand early. Believe me, it was hard to turn down the opportunity for a quick boost in sales when I was trying to build the brand from the ground up. Very hard.

Those flash sale sites? Company XYZ sold 1,000 units! Think of what we could do! One thing is certain: we’d never recover and our customers would know our product wasn’t worth what we were charging.

made in apparel apparel mizzen and main

At $125 for a dress shirt, our product is neither cheap nor in the truly expensive range of dress shirts from $190-$400 (Yes, there are dress shirts that cost $400.). We offer a high quality, proudly American Made product that is unlike anything ever seen before. We’re bringing advanced performance fabrics to traditional menswear, indistinguishable in appearance to some of the most well known dress shirt companies out there. Our customers don’t have to iron or dry clean their shirts anymore (nice little cost and time savings there too), and the feedback we hear again and again is, “I’m going to replace my entire closet with Mizzen+Main. Why has no one done this before?”

custom tailor made American apparel

So no, we don’t discount, because we believe in the quality of our product, our commitment to our supply chain, and delivering the best customer service experience possible.

There are people who don’t ask for discounts: our incredibly loyal, repeat customers. We offer three and five pack pricing on shirts as a thank you to our customers who want to fill out their wardrobe with our products.

mizzen and main duffel bag american made

Our customers appreciate knowing we’ve set a fair price, don’t play games, and deliver on our promises.

More and more, we’ve been getting  incredibly positive responses towards are no-discount policy. We’re a long way off from being that next great American brand and definitely aren’t in the leagues of Apple or Lululemon, but we’ll stick to our principles and try to set the best example we can.

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  • https://www.facebook.com/TheSourcingDistrict?ref=br_rs Jay Arbetman

    I believe that this is a strategy that only works on direct to consumer lines. If you tried to wholesale your shirts, you would find it to be very rough sledding.

    Two of the fabric companies that I sell for are rock solid on pricing no matter the quantity. They can’t be too far off. One is in business 65 years an the other for 80 years.

    At the end of the day, you can’t get what they have for less and you probably cannot buy shirts with your features for less.

  • David Yokelson

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jen.

    Another approach to the “discounting dilemna” is multi-tiered pricing, which in some cases can be “the best of both worlds”. If a company can produce a line with some, but not all, of the features of it’s premium line, it can sell to all those who truly cannot afford the creme de la creme, without ruining the company reputation or cannibalizing margins.

    That can also ward off competitors/potential competitors who might consider trying to create a product similar to yours at a better price point.

  • Patrick

    You had me right until “cross fit boxes”……