How Chubbies Went From A Cult Fave To A Highly Imitated Brand

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pants, jeans, color, cream

There are brands that claim to take the customer experience to the max — and then there are brands that redefine what exactly the max means. Chubbies is among the latter.

Chubbies takes its customer community seriously, and it makes it very clear that this is well beyond a marketing ploy. When one teenaged customer wrote to the brand to complain about his beloved Chubbies shorts, which had been pilfered from his locker by a local bully, Chubbies sprang into action. Yes, it could have just sent the customer a new pair of shorts, but it wanted to do more than just replace the shorts — Chubbies wanted to make its customer feel safe in the world again. So, it sent him to karate lessons.

Pity the fool who steals that kid’s next pair of shorts.

“It’s really important to treat the customers like friends,” said Rainer Castillo, founder of Chubbies, in a presentation at eTail West. “We bring customers to the forefront.”

And while short shorts for men might not seem like the most obvious place to build, the San Francisco firm is confident it makes the “raddest shorts in the Unites States.” Actually, to be fair, the brand claims that it makes both the “raddest shorts on the planet” and the “raddest shorts in the universe.”

The end point of that motto, of course, is, “most humble shorts company ever.”

Chubbies shorts were designed by four friends and Standford grads: Kyle Hency, Rainer Castillo, Preston Rutherford and Tom Montgomery who all shared a passion for bringing retro men’s shorts back into fashion. Though they entered the working world to take on tech, retail and finance, the passion never died and by 2011 they were ready to start living the dream.

The dream, as it turns out, was Chubbies — born when the four friends made themselves some shorts, brought them to a Fourth of July party and promptly sold out. As it turned out, the need for a shorter short was something men had been harboring for decades in secret.

And so in 2011 the website went up, the shorts sold out and Chubbies turned into a genuine word of mouth sensation. That sensation started as an online-only, direct-to-consumer brand, but according to Castillo, its eyes were always trained on the physical store. Chubbies polled its expansive customer community to find out just where its physical hubs should be built.

That feedback mechanism, according to Castillo, is the secret to the brand’s success. It has been a difficult transition, he noted, particularly as Chubbies is working to best develop its multichannel offerings. Its in-house education has been a bit on the fly and there are still hurdles to overcome in ironing out that consumer experience across all its channels.

All the more reason, he noted, to stay tightly connected to the customer community.

“We have a customer committee making sure the customer voice is in the conversation,” Castillo noted, adding that the firm also develops brand ambassadors by scouting local universities and its increasingly active community on social media — particularly Facebook.

“It was never a sales mechanism — it’s about content for the customer and it’s about the community,” said Castillo. “We want to own your weekend, building content and merchandising for weekend fun.”

Today, Chubbies — still full of the 5.5 inch inseam shorts that made it famous — is dedicated to be a much more robust menswear line, including swim trucks, workout shorts and T-shirts.

Where there is success, there are followers in mainstream retail. After spending years seeing just how long and low men’s shorts could go, big name brands like Gap, J.Crew and Vineyard Vines have all begun asking themselves “who wears short shorts?” The answer is a whole lot of people — if you give them a proper chance. As a result, the 5.5 inch inseam has been making a comeback in middle market retailers.

Chubbies now has 11 stores sprinkled throughout the major metros of the U.S., and consumers have almost trained themselves to stop into a Chubbies whenever they are going out of town and need some new steppin-out shorts.


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