Urban evolution: enyce’s petruzello on the changing streetwear market

by MR Magazine Staff

When Enyce introduced the iconic hibiscus woven shirt to the urban market in 1997, not only were they selling wovens when no one else was, but they stepped out on the Hawaiian print. This type of forward thinking and shattering of stereotypes is the foundation that’s made Enyce the successful brand it is today. Evan Davis, Tony Shellman and Lando Felix were the original founders of the company; today, only Felix remains, serving as EVP of marketing.

When Liz Claiborne acquired Enyce in 2003, a top priority was appointing Carmine Petruzello as president. Petruzello has 20-plus years of experience in both retail and wholesale and is known throughout the industry for his strategic thinking and sense of professionalism. At his most recent retail job with Federated (for more than seven years), he served as VP of Men’s Collections, YM and Boys. His wholesale experience includes stints at Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and Ecko.

“You have to really love this business to stay in it this long,” confides Petruzello, proud father of Brian, 23, Blair, 21, Jack, three, and Luke, six months. “It’s hard work!” Clearly, Petruzello is working hard, loving it, and already making a big difference in the direction of the company, and of the industry as a whole.

How would you describe the current state of young men’s business?

I think in the entire men’s complex, young men’s is the healthiest component. When I look at the zone we compete in there are new players coming in everyday as well as players like ourselves that have been in the zone for ten plus years. Most of us are realizing that this is a very healthy business. Enyce is a 10-year-old company averaging sell thrus of nine to 10 percent a week. In menswear in general, I would say a seven percent sell thru is a good spot to be in, so when you get into nine and 10 percent you’re in a very good place.

The one thing about our consumer that’s so different than the men’s customer is that our guy is probably shopping once or twice a week. Therefore, the product needs to evolve with the customer; you want to turn the product frequently and have something fresh on the floors at all times. Enyce is now looking at 11 deliveries a year.

What distinguishes retail winners from losers these days?

Those stores that are doing well share many similar traits: they’ve developed strong partnerships with the sales team, they’re open to listen and they run their businesses aggressively.

What have you learned from your retail experience that’s helped you run a wholesale business?

From my years working at Federated, I gained a strong understanding of what retailers need from wholesalers. This includes, first and foremost, brand or product differentiation. That’s why we at Enyce are very strict with our points of distribution policy within a given mall. The other success secret that I’m fanatic about, based on having worked at Federated, is having product that ships on time and allows retailers to attain their performance metrics.

What else accounts for the success of Enyce, and where do you go from here?

Enyce is about design integrity and quality for a fashion-forward consumer. But our real success is based on the fact that we show product before others show it. We’re not shy about stepping out on new trends. I would rather make a mistake on a new trend than beat a dead horse when we sense that something’s over. Going forward, we will continue to build on our two fundamental principals—design innovation and sustaining a price/value relationship.

Other than the famous hibiscus woven shirt that put Enyce on the map, can you give a more recent example of where you’ve successfully created or jumped on a new trend?

Yes. For the current spring/summer season, we aggressively went after preppy-inspired sportswear. We have a woven plaid plainfront short that’s seeing amazing sellthrus at $48 retail. In fact, we generally get much better sell-thrus at regular price than we do at promotional prices because our regular price business has been so strong that by the time we get to promotions, there’s no size integrity left….

How will Liz Claiborne take Encye to the next level?

Enyce is in a very good place regarding volume and distribution. At the moment, we’re not looking for additional doors to sell, but we do see considerable growth in existing doors. What’s more, to become a real lifestyle brand, we are now growing our adjacent businesses like juniors, international, licensing and big & tall.

But doesn’t working within a corporate structure detract from a brand’s “edge”?

Liz Claiborne, with approximately 46 brands under their umbrella, is very careful not to upset the DNA of any of their divisions, including Enyce. Brand clarity is essential to our success.

Who are your mentors and what have you learned from them?

From Ron Klein, I learned to think strategically and to be professional; from Allan Zwerner, I learned people skills and listening skills; and from Michael Freidheim, I learned to think like a merchant.

What advice would you give to industry newcomers?

Find something that you can be passionate about. There’s no success without passion.