Henry Stafford | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Henry Stafford


Launched in 2018, Pittsburgh-based Revtown is a new denim brand founded by three former Under Armour executives. Revtown jeans are made from Decade Denim, the company’s patented fabric that’s infused with four-way stretch and constructed with the strongest fibers available in apparel design today, according to Revtown. Henry Stafford served as chief merchandising officer at American Eagle Outfitters before overseeing Under Armour’s North American business through 2016.

The Mistake:

A lack of focus on a number of different levels.

My goal was more about trying to attack the world, or expanding product lines, or simply doing things quickly. I should have had a maniacal focus on a strategy and on making sure that strategy has sound logic. I’ve learned over time that execution of that strategy is incredibly important.

Most every company I’ve been involved in, 90 percent of the revenue comes from 10 percent of the styles you offer. And over 100 percent of the profits come from 10 percent of the styles you offer. Yet brand after brand continues to expand their product lines and go after more things.

I’ve learned there’s a significant cost to that. It could be a financial cost. It could be a cost to the team in terms of what they’re working on. It could be a hiring cost and the necessity of adding more people to the team. But it all ultimately leads to confusion for the customer and confusion about what you stand for, which leads to reduced profits.

For me, part of that lack of focus resulted in not being a great listener. When you’re going from tactic to tactic, and jumping from strategy to strategy, sometimes you need to slow down and really listen to your partners and your consumers. Looking back, there were times when I wasn’t a great listener.

I wasn’t a great listener to my partners because I was convinced that what I was doing was right. I would be so convinced in my strategies that I would want to just take bets. I’d take massive bets and convince myself and others that what we’re doing is right.

More importantly, I wasn’t listening to how the consumers were judging us. I wasn’t listening to where the consumer wanted to go. That affects everything. When you have focus and really open yourself up to listening, you can be much more adaptive and much more flexible in how you position things.

A focus, and a maniacal focus, really helps you achieve great results.

The Lesson:

When you’re focused you have the opportunity to clearly lay out what your vision is, including some very key strategies and objectives. You can lay out a number of tactics that you can actually execute, and have key performance indicators that you can measure yourself against.

When I lacked this focus and was trying to go after everything, I was in 100 percent tactical mode. I wasn’t clear on what the vision was, and on what my strategies and objectives were. Therefore I was leading a team to go ditch to ditch and tactic to tactic to try to get ahead of where the market was going.

A lack of focus affects so many parts of everything you do, from how you develop products, to how you market things, to how you train your employees, to how you tell the consumer what you’re about. When you’re highly focused, all of those things are done in a much better fashion.

In my current business today, we really want to focus on specific product lines, and in particular jeans. Going forward, I want to focus on the 10 percent that does the 90 percent. A focus, and a maniacal focus, really helps you achieve great results.

I learned through great partners and folks I was working with that gave me great feedback throughout the years. To me, whether you’re at the senior level of an organization or just getting started, you have to make sure you clearly understand and communicate what your vision is, what your objectives are, and what your strategies are before you go into tactic mode.

Revtown is on Twitter at @revtown.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.