New Owner of ‘Frank And Oak’ to Expand Brand with Stores in Canada and Globally After Restructuring: President Interview

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Months after acquiring the retail brand Frank And Oak, the new owner, Unified Commerce Group, has big plans for the retailer which went through the bankruptcy protection process last year.

The retailer was acquired by the new owner in October 2020.

Dustin Jones, President of UCG Canada Holdings and founder and CEO of Unified Commerce Group, said UCG will provide Frank And Oak with the necessary resources to continue to nurture the brand’s strong following within Canada as well as fuel its expansion into the United States and its growth into new markets, including Asia.

Dustin Jones

“There’s so many things we loved about the brand but ultimately it’s about nine and a half years old as a brand and we found it to be one of the most well-recognized Canadian brands that had the strongest potential for global scale,” said Jones.

“The brand itself, its purpose is material science and solving the pollution and the areas of the fashion industry that a lot of people don’t like to talk about. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in terms of effect towards the climate crisis that we’re facing.

“Frank And Oak has always been based in this terrific material science that really looks at how we can take the things that we consume today and how we can be kinder to our product and our people and our planet as a function of those things.”

Unified Commerce Group was officially launched in September 2019. Jones is a lifetime retailer with expertise in digitization. He has spent his entire retail career, just over 20 years, digitizing different areas of retail. His first 14 years was spent building and building Macy’s omnichannel. Then he moved to China for about five years working with the Alibaba group and a fashion portfolio group which owned 26 fashion brands.

Unified Commerce Group was founded by Jones and Wall Street veteran Greg Freihofner to build a portfolio of purpose-driven brands that connect with consumers on a global scale, and in the world’s most dynamic markets. The company has headquarters in New York, Montreal and China.

Greg Freihofner

“We focus on supporting founder created brands. Not necessarily brands that were started by some retail professional like myself but brands that were started by passionate founders with purpose. Brands that have real purpose and real commitment to something bigger than product and as a function of their purpose they end up creating product,” said Jones.

“We believe this is going to be the post COVID trend in terms of brand loyalty and consumer loyalty. And so purpose doesn’t have to be cause oriented. It can also be activity based, but at the end of the day the content is about the purpose not necessarily about just selling a sweater.

“And for somebody in retail who’s been part of the designer trend, the luxury trend, the fast fashion trend, the athleisure trend, for me the next phase of my career I really wanted to get behind supporting these purpose led brands. And I had spent a lot of time studying them pre COVID and we built Unified Commerce Group so we could embrace these companies and help them get from the wonderful place that they had gotten to today to a new frontier that allows them to be a globally relevant and powerful brand.”

Frank and Oak product tag
Frank and Oak product tag – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

UCG’s tech-enabled platform drives scale for its brands through unified services; harmonizing strategy and execution to design, operate, and push boundaries in retail.

Launched in 2012 by long-time friends Hicham Ratnani and Ethan Song, alongside a small group of passionate creatives, Frank And Oak designs men’s and women’s apparel and accessories from its Montreal headquarters that are made to last with the highest standards to keep up with demanding lifestyles, while ensuring minimal impact on the planet.

A certified B Corporation, Frank And Oak is beloved in Canada and the US for its core values of sustainability, transparency, and functionality that are reflected in both its products and business practices, said UCG.

Like many retail brands worldwide, Frank And Oak was significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and, as a result, filed a notice of intention to make a proposal in June 2020.

Jones said the brand had about 20 stores in Canada leading into COVID. Today there are 11.

“We have a large expansion plan that’s underway. In near term we’ll open up a new portfolio of stores to go along with the existing portfolio,” he said.

“We’re in the process. We’ll go through a large PR campaign in about a month, maybe a month and a half, where we’re going to speak very broadly about what the strategy is and all the investments we’ve made in the company,” said Jones.

Over the past nine months, Jones said UCG wanted to get to know the organization well to protect the brand, the values of the brand and the talent it had worked so hard to cultivate.

It also spent time looking at efficiencies in how the brand operates. It also looked at the customer experience. The omnichannel experience is a critical investment to make and connecting that experience into one seamless, loyalty based customer flow. A new loyalty program will also be launched this fall.

Frank and Oak at CF Toronto Eaton Centre
Frank and Oak at CF Toronto Eaton Centre – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

“We have really strong ambitions for the brand. For us we think more about communities than we do stores. Where are we not saturated and where do we have existing consumers that want to belong to our brand in a more loyal way? We have also very strong customers in the United States and so you’ll hear us talk about later this year where our expansion plan looks like in the different communities in the United States. Our approach to that which isn’t just digital and physical but a combined effort. We’ll also talk in September about our expansion plans outside of North America which are well under way,” said Jones.

“We have very large numbers for our store portfolio. It will definitely be more than double the existing. But in terms of a specific number I probably wouldn’t give you one but it’s definitely far more significant than the 11 stores we have today and it takes us three or four years to really build out the fleet.

“We believe stores have to be redesigned and COVID taught everyone that they have to be redesigned and so our process isn’t looking at sales per square foot it’s looking at experience per square foot. So our stores have to go through a redesign. So the 11 we have today will also have to be redesigned. The first redesign happens in August and September and that really is about technology and enablement of our associates and connecting with our consumer and connecting with the consumer journey of the brand while in our store. But the long term will be about how do we design more experience and more community into these store environments and how these stores become a window to the brand lifestyle.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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