Ruby Ribbon, Ready for Launch

When Clint McKinlay joined Ruby Ribbon in January 2020, he was ready to take the steps necessary to launch the company in a new direction—with the goal to become a $100 million premium brand. Little did he know that the challenges of 2020 would accelerate those steps and ignite even more positive change, propelling Ruby Ribbon into an exciting season of growth and crystal-clear vision.

Change and Challenges

There was never any doubt that 2020 would be a big year for shapewear and apparel company Ruby Ribbon. Since its launch in 2011, the company had grown slowly and steadily but was clearly preparing for a new chapter in recent years with additions to the board of directors and the senior leadership team. With Clint McKinlay’s appointment to Chief Executive Officer in early January 2020, the company was poised for a game-changing year.

And then 2020 showed its cards. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped nearly all industries in their tracks, instantly shifting everyone’s plans, including McKinlay’s.

“I started on January 6th,” he shares. “I saw big potential. I saw a company that ought to be four or five times bigger than it was—and with the right amount of execution, it could be there. I knew we would need to make changes in year one, but I also knew that the first couple of months weren’t the time to start banging loud, distracting drums. Right about the time where I started feeling ready to start making personnel changes and put everything into motion, that’s when the pandemic really picked up in March.”

Luckily, McKinlay had a partner to help him navigate the crisis that would define everyone’s year. Before the pandemic hit, he’d been actively recruiting longtime colleague Michelle Sanft.

“I knew I needed a partner like Michelle,” he says. “She really changed the game when she came on board, as it relates to finance and operations. She’s a very high-level executive. And for a company this size to have someone like her, a lot of things were going to change quickly.”

While she was actively consulting throughout the first quarter, Sanft officially joined the company as Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer in June.

“When I first started understanding the business, I realized immediately that Ruby Ribbon offered amazing product,” says Sanft. “Our Stylists love this product. The industry size is in the billions with significant topline opportunity and operationally, there is plenty of room for big gains in both EBITDA and cash flows.”

One of the first challenges the pair and the home office team faced together was transitioning a company that had traditionally sold its apparel collection through in-person fittings to a completely virtual model. While some stylists had been working their businesses through virtual trunk shows, many had only sold in face-to-face settings.

“We were primarily an in-person company,” explains McKinlay. “Our Stylist onboarding was all written for person-to-person sales. Even though some Stylists were doing well online at the time, the company was lagging behind the field. But once the pandemic sent us all home, there was no more time to lag. It was immediate pivoting into action. So we redesigned our sales program to be all virtual. And so far, it’s been positive.”

As things were moving virtual, Loly Hlade, Chief Marketing Officer, joined McKinlay and Sanft. Hlade has led the evolution of the Ruby Ribbon brand and its new product development efforts within intimates, both key to the company’s growth plans. Ruby Ribbon remains a body-positive company, offering intimate solutions for “every woman’s body.”

Finding the Right Fit

The Ruby Ribbon sales field of stylists faced more than a new virtual selling model. A new leadership team meant changes to the company’s compensation plan, inventory strategy, marketing and more, this time with a male CEO at the helm. McKinlay was eager to drive these changes but wanted to earn the trust of both the corporate team and field.

“As a man, there is only one way in—as an ally and an advocate,” he explains. And as a company that believes in empowering women, we all felt we needed a new vision, mission, and values for a new day. I’m grateful to have those values that we believe in because it ultimately helps guide our decision making.

Understanding that a new set of guiding principles would profoundly affect the culture of Ruby Ribbon, McKinlay and his team worked closely with a group of employees and stylists in the field to come up with values that would drive their programs and economic model. This collaboration has resulted in a stronger field organization, as the new values have resonated with stylists and helped them understand the purpose behind the many changes still rippling through the organization.

“We’ve enacted a lot of change in year one. It hasn’t been easy—because these are hard conversations that get to our identity—who we are as a company and why we do what we do,” says McKinlay. “But it has been totally worth it. We envision a world of empowered women, and we believe that care, comfort, and confidence empower real solutions.

New Ruby Ribbon stylists can join the company with one of four kit options, ranging from $59 to $719, which include everything needed to launch successful businesses. The stylist base is growing rapidly from coast to coast, with strong teams expanding in places like California, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Shaping the Future

While 2020 might not have been the ideal timing for a complete reinvigoration of Ruby Ribbon, McKinlay and Sanft wouldn’t change a thing. The year’s uncertainty and overall instability forced the team to make tough and quick decisions that seem to have resulted in a stronger organization in less time than anyone would have imagined.

“This unstable year has delivered some sweet irony—it has been the year of stabilizing the business and turning the ship,” says McKinlay. “With Michelle’s operational leadership, the effort of our committed home office team, and the response of our field leadership, we’ve been able to accomplish that this year. I feel like we’ve gotten to a place where we can dream big because we’ve fixed some of those basic things that, until you fix them, you really can’t go hog wild. You have to have enough predictability in your business for the system to be stable.”

Building on the foundation shored up over the last 12 months, McKinlay and his team are focusing on new initiatives for 2021. With more women working at home and significant growth in the athleisure market, Ruby Ribbon has responded by investing in product development to expand the consumer base and the breadth of the product lines. As Hlade explains, “Going beyond our original cami into more leggings, bottoms, and even lingerie allows us to offer solutions to women of all shapes and sizes for more occasions than ever before. And we are arming our stylists with more digital communications to expand their sales efforts and increase their ultimate success.” By improving the stylist experience and empowering women, Ruby Ribbon is providing new opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial businesses and succeed on their own terms, namely enhancing the stylist experience in ways that align with the vision of empowering women.

“When a woman is financially empowered, the world changes,” says McKinlay. “This is about giving a woman the power to make choices—to own her life, to live where she wants to live, to have more freedom in her relationship choices. I feel strongly about this. I have three daughters. I want to support them in discovering what they are passionate about in this life, whatever that is. No limits. I want that world for them.”

To launch these initiatives, the company is reimagining its regional strategy to put more training in place at events throughout the country, using a hybrid events approach currently in development.

“We’re looking forward to a very stable environment in the coming year with higher levels of productivity,” adds Sanft. “The programs we’re developing are so important to growing the stylist base and providing them with tools to engage with their customers and downline in a more meaningful way.”

With a fresh foundation, new team members and new strategies all around, Ruby Ribbon is positioned for an exciting next chapter.

“We’re looking for women who want to sell, who can get it done,” says McKinlay. “As the stylist base grows, the brand promise starts to be fulfilled in new ways. As company stewards, that’s very exciting for us.”