Robert Mullaney Of RG Barry Corporation On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

September 27, 2023
9 min read
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Aspart of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Mullaney.

As President and CEO of the RG Barry Corporation, Bob Mullaney is responsible for the vision, leadership, and growth of the company’s portfolio: Dearfoams, Baggallini, Columbus Product Group, Planet A, and RG Barry Innovations.

Bob’s strategic vision to change the standards of comfort and sustainability through consumer driven, data informed, digital centric, and earth-first brands has positioned RG Barry Brands for exceptional growth. Under Bob’s leadership, the portfolio company has invested in a digital brand management platform that has transformed its performance, positioning, and ecological innovation. This is accelerating the current brands to new heights and creating new opportunities.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Incollege, I studied business and was an athlete. I knew I wanted to take these passions and apply them to my career, which led me to a highly competitive Department Store Executive training program. It was there that I discovered my love for the intricacies of product and consumer behavior. After a few years, I pursued my MBA and transitioned my knowledge and experience to the wholesale side of the business at Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger. I held various positions in sales planning, inventory management, and sales management. Over the next decade, I took on general management and president roles with P&L responsibility, providing broader oversight of brand and product creation, as well as sales and marketing. As the President of the Americas for adidas-owned The Rockport Company, my team and I successfully turned around a declining business of over 10 years and positioned it for sale to Berkshire Partners. Following that, I became the President of IAC-owned During my tenure, we acquired the name, expanded the range of footwear brands, and successfully repositioned and reversed a declining trend. This attracted Walmart and to acquire, enabling them to compete against Amazon in their eCommerce growth strategy. In 2017, I was enlisted as CEO and President by Mill Road and Blackstone Capital to develop a plan and vision to transform RGB and its underappreciated, yet impressive, heritage brands into a growth company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

My first job after receiving my bachelor’s degree from Babson College, I was as an Executive Trainee at May Department Stores. My training buyer in men’s sports shirts assigned me my first task which was to go to the flagship store floor and bring back the 3 most unattractive shirts. Diligently, I retrieved and proudly presented my choices: a paisley silk shirt, a mixed material denim/chambray/plaid banded collar shirt, and a wine and green medallion print woven button-down shirt. My buyer was quick to point out these styles were all best-selling items, concluding that personal judgements (or eye for taste) should be put aside and to always listen to the consumer and what they want from performance assessment.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Besides my parents’ guidance and commitment to my education, Dick Waldron gave me a chance in high school and mentored me at what is now Verizon (then New England Telephone merging with New York, NYNEX). In 1987, I was a 15-year-old sophomore data entry summer temp. By the time I graduated high school at 17, I was briefing upgrades to a proprietary IT system, authoring a user manual, and training existing and new employees. Although I would have rather ditched the shirt and tie to be a lifeguard, the experience and mentorship he afforded me was invaluable.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Business books that have made an impact on me include Peter Drucker’s ‘Managing for Results’, James Collins and Jerry Porras’s ‘Built to Last’, and Peter Senge’s ‘5th Discipline’.

Reading Richard Russo’s ‘Empire Falls’ influenced me to examine the legacy of industrialism. It laid a foundation for how I perceive sustainability, the effects of carbon, and the lifecycle of products.

During the pandemic, Apple TV’s ‘Ted Lasso’, was truly helpful. The show addresses various takeaways, considerations, and social constructs. One significant lesson I learned was that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. This aspect had the most profound impact on me. ‘Ted Lasso’ embraces imperfection, countering the unrealistic portrayal of others’ lives often perpetuated on social media. Onward, forward.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Florence Zacks Melton founded R.G. Barry Corporation in 1946, where she invented the world’s first foam-soled, soft washable slipper, which eventually became Dearfoams. Working until 2005, her innovation was a driving force in the organization, leading to the filing of 19 patents for consumer products. Her commitment to improving consumers’ lives through innovation is a foundation of RGB. She is an inspiration to us as both an innovator and a trailblazing female founder.

We have evolved the company, expanding into more brands and categories, utilizing a double-meaning acronym that better reflects our growth: Responsible Growth Brands (RGB). Our commitment to consumer-driven, data-informed, digitally centric, and earth-first brands succinctly explains our evolution and expansion as a portfolio company over the past five years.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

There is a substantial opportunity ahead for RGB. We are continuously evolving our Digital Brand Management Platform, which follows a strategy and operational business model dedicated to consumer-driven, data-informed, digital-centric, and earth-first brands.

Through our DBMP, we have successfully expanded Dearfoams beyond being a market leader in slippers, transforming it into a multi-category comfort lifestyle brand. We now offer a diverse range of footwear and other licensed product categories from four partners. Additionally, we have introduced Fireside, an affordable luxury boot and slipper brand crafted from 100% genuine Australian Shearling.

The DBMP has also enabled Baggallini to accelerate new product collections to a broader consumer base, going beyond the limitations of the traditional wholesale business model. This has resulted in more than doubling the business over the past year and accelerating the brand’s eCommerce penetration.

Moving forward, we will remain committed to investing in our Digital Brand Management Platform. Later this year, we will be launching Planet A, an ecologically focused internet native brand, and we are actively pursuing additional brand acquisitions in the future. Additionally, our RGB Innovations division will continue to address our ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 through continuous supply chain evaluation and improvements. The entire company, including its leadership team, is embracing the responsibility of caring for the planet and addressing the pressing issue of end-of-life products.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is using technology to operate more efficiently and effectively to deliver customer value. Technology enables organizations to capture knowledge and adapt in a changing environment for continual transformation.

Practically speaking, it allows companies to embrace a continuous learning organization and adoption across all functional areas and disciplines. It is critical to welcome informed change and a test and learn business model that only digital capabilities can unlock with speed and accuracy.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Any company who has the consumer as the focus needs to do things more efficiently, especially with labor at a premium in the US. At RGB, we have modernized our legacy systems and have implemented many additional cloud-based tools to enable our team to be more effective. These range from a new data warehouse to product catalog management and transmission into commerce networks, as well as re-platforming our own websites. We have stronger reporting, planning, and forecasting. We syndicate our catalog to a range of retailers and marketplaces.

Our website re-platform (currently underway) is expected to improve our customers’ purchase path with significant cart improvements and greater payment options, as well as allow our site merchants flexibility to curate and adjust offerings in real time.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Our merchandising and design team previously had many new concepts and collections to elevate and evolve our brands, however, the ideas were largely unsubstantiated or not adopted due to retailer limitations. We committed to ecommerce and utilizing DTC or 3rd party marketplaces to present these concepts directly to consumers. Here we gain their validation and don’t have to rely on only 1st party data. Additionally, we utilize multiple consumer research platforms to edit the assortment, refine the product, define the go to market strategy and inform the marketing plan.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

At RGB, we have updated or implemented 50+ new technologies and software programs in the past 12 months alone. Classic example of being right but not effective. The task list was done, but adoption in some cases was low. We are investing further in training, development, and change management, and embracing a more agile project pace.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Apply Digital Brand Management — Bring your products to market with a consumer- driven focus and strategically manage your brand across all touchpoints.
  2. Commit to Data Analytics — Aggregate and optimize your business performance across multiple vectors.
  3. Invest in Automation and System Enablement — Upgrade technology, utilize cloud-based software, and enhance visibility to real time information.
  4. Lead with Strategic Planning — Develop a vision and a roadmap that incorporates tools, processes, and discipline to enable profitable go-to-market and product sell-through
  5. Build The Right Team — Assemble collaborative subject matter leaders and their associates who can guide continuous improvement and facilitate consumer adoption.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Always keep the customer as the North Star and embrace the opportunity to approach challenges with a fresh perspective. Our RGB Innovations team constantly examines the status quo as a thought leader in the company, inspiring others to reevaluate how we currently serve our customers and explore ways to enhance their experience, thereby making a greater impact on critical purchase criteria. Our brands’ satisfaction and repurchase intent scores approach 90% and 95% for Dearfoams and Baggallini, respectively, serving as strong indicators that our product and brand efforts are highly appreciated.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am offering three to help fully characterize my personal philosophy of sorts:

  1. The positivity of creativity, consideration, and vision.
  • “Dwell in possibility.” Emily Dickinson

2. Enjoy the journey.

  • “Oh, the places you’ll go.” Dr. Suess

3. Embrace challenges as opportunities with grit and perseverance.

  • “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is Nothing.” Muhammad Ali.

How can our readers further follow your work? or RG Barry LinkedIn

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!