Duluth Trading Company

How to Fix Plumber’s Butt: The Duluth Trading Company Brand Story

We can choose to view marketing as very complex or very simple. In truth it is both, but at its simplest, good marketing is about connecting people around a true story told well. No company has done this better than Duluth Trading Company — a company that has grown from $100 million to $500 million in net sales in the past five years behind the strength of a strong business model, good products, and a great brand story told well.

An authentic brand story

Duluth Trading Co. had its origins in the construction trades beginning in 1991. The core of their line is still a range of products for hard-working tradespeople. Every product is tested by their Duluth Trades Panel, described as a group of construction workers, dock hands, cycle riders, hippies and hard-as-nails yahoos. From the start, they have maintained a total commitment to customer satisfaction, which they call their No Bull Guarantee.

Products that prove the story

One of the pillars of Duluth Trading Co. is what they call solution-based design. This means that every product solves a specific functional problem in a clever way. I don’t get too excited about much, but I can personally attest to their Buck Naked Underwear as the greatest underwear I’ve ever worn. You’ve got to try them! They have built their whole brand experience around this kind of customer satisfaction (91% customer satisfaction vs. 77% for LL Bean or 59% for Eddie Bauer).

A distinctive brand persona that makes you smile

It’s one thing to have a great story. It’s another thing to tell the story in a great way. Duluth Trading Co.’s catalogs and advertising are very funny, very clear and very accessible. It is a great execution of the story told in a way that is different from what you would expect, which makes the communication memorable. Even their product naming makes you smile. Their Longtail T-shirt is three inches longer in the back to solve the Plumber’s Butt problem. Their Ballroom Jeans give you more space in the crotch, and their Buck Naked Underwear are so comfortable they make you feel like you’re wearing nothing at all.

This kind of storytelling doesn’t happen without strong players behind the scene. In this case, kudos go to Duluth Trading Co.’s visionary CEO, Stephanie Pugliese, for having the vision and courage to inspire this kind of communication, and to their agency, Planet Propaganda, for having the creativity to bring this story to life so brilliantly.

At Brandgarten, we believe people don’t buy things, but rather the story about the thing. And brands get the best long-term results when they consistently tell archetypal stories, such as the story of the hero, or the rebel, or the regular guy. Duluth Trading Co. is a great example of the regular guy archetypal story told extremely well.



Fritz Grutzner is president and founder of Brandgarten, a firm that specializes in uncovering the emotional drivers behind consumer behavior and using deep human insights to build powerful brand strategies. He can be reached at fgrutzner@brandgarten.com.