Duluth Trading Company Nails Positioning for Tradesmen Clothes

Source: Planet Propaganda (Duluth Agency)

It’s exciting to find hidden examples of terrific marketing.

I never heard of Duluth Trading Company until this past weekend.  During a college football broadcast, I saw a commercial for Fire Hose Work Pants that featured an animated beaver unsuccessfully trying to bite into a pair of work pants.  Check it out.

Here’s why I’m impressed with Duluth Trading Company:

  • Super-clear Positioning

It just takes one quick look at the company website to get the gist of what they’re all about:  “Workwear Designed and Tested by Tradesmen.”

The company history sums up their positioning idea quite nicely: “Innovation for the job site. Every product was field tested on job sites by a grizzly bunch of construction workers, dock hands, cycle riders, old hippies and other hard-as-nails characters. If those guys couldn’t break it, the brothers added it to the line. Everything Duluth Trading offered was designed and tested by tradesmen.”

  • Content Marketing That Actually Communicates and is Fun to Watch

First, the company has articulated a clear go-to-market platform that drives its marketing communications:  “What makes Duluth different? Ingenious solutions for the working man — and a sense of humor while showing them off.”

Second, the Duluth website is smartly designed and easy to navigate.

Third, there are video demos for all the key products that actually tell you why the products are great and show what they’re designed to do.  This is especially important since Duluth sells primarily online (they do have three stores in Wisconsin).

Who would think of making a product demo for underwear?  Duluth would.  Here’s their pitch for Buck Naked Underwear (by the way, cool name that fits the company personality):

Here’s the demo for the company’s Longtail T to solve the infamous plumber’s butt problem (this product fueled the company’s growth):

Duluth even makes work gloves interesting!

The company’s success factors were nicely crystallized by the CEO earlier this year in an InformationWeek interview:

“Duluth Trading Company CEO Steve Schlecht points to two things at the heart of his retail company’s success: creating one-of-a kind work clothes, and being “great storytellers” about those products.”

Talk about marketing power:  I’m not a trade worker, but  I’m tempted to buy some stuff anyway, just because of the cool functionality.

The only point I can question is expanding into women’s clothing, but of course, there’s no reason not to cater to women who need better-performing, high-quality outdoor attire.  I suspect that making this move was a difficult decision, given that the company’s positioning, personality and overall messaging are so male-oriented and focused.  Note:  target expansion is often a challenge for one-brand companies.

I wonder how Duluth’s message resonates with women.  To help make sure it does, the company has copied key elements of its go-to-market formula by creating a women’s testing panel to extend its authenticity to the working ladies.  And, they’re putting at least some marketing support behind the line, as evidenced by the title of this recent press release:  “What a Woman Wants: Duluth Trading Company Reveals Top Women’s Holiday Gifts That’ll Keep on Giving.”

Apparently, business has been good for the privately held firm.  Duluth’s agency, Planet Propaganda, talks about the results achieved from the marketing communications:  “A serious uptick in all key metrics including site visits, orders, gasps, and guffaws.”


Marketing basics do work.  If you can get your positioning and personality easily defined, you’ve got a solid platform to reach customers, especially when your product line backs it up.  Then, as Duluth Trading Company demonstrates, become a great story-teller.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

4 thoughts on “Duluth Trading Company Nails Positioning for Tradesmen Clothes

  1. I just bought a coat from Duluth and didn’t realize where it was made until it came to me. I paid $150 because I thought it was specifically made here in the USA… very disappointed and I’m glad they have a “no bull” return policy because I’ll be sending it back to spend the money here at home on something not made over seas.


  2. this Company is a future glimpse of what the fate of American Industry and Economy is to become. They are cleverly deceptive in their Catalog, each good has an “Imported” origin. In actuality almost all of the goods are from Asia and much from China (yes I know it is technically Imported). Maybe they should be more “truthful” and state the Country of origin instead of a blanket “Imported” information, thinking customers won’t give it another thought. Decent quality goods sold at “Made in America” prices (except none are). Their Marketing is completely mis-leading. You would think a Lumberjack is making the goods in his Log Cabin (he does not). If you like paying high prices for low foreign labor cost goods, then do business with this Company. If you don’t think they are serving their own Country well by doing this, then don’t do business with them. I for one will never step foot in their store again. It is a glimpse of a Future that I don’t want.

    If you are going to charge the high prices anyway, what is the excuse to not have any Domestic made products (or sorely few from what I could see) ?

    Pure Old Fashioned Greed is the only answer I can come up with . Let’s play a game and tally the number of Jobs they have created in Asia vs. the number they created in their own Country. Anyone care to play this game ?

    How many people does it take to run a Factory vs. the number it takes to do some Marketing and Accounting ?

    What level of skill and creativity are required for each endeavor ?
    Which skills are more valuable ?

    I know what the Chinese believe the right answers to be. They will soon do the Marketing and Accounting for themselves and finish their job by putting Marketing and Accounting out of business as well.

    How long will it take for people to figure out what is the “right thing to do”,
    and what is “the wrong thing to do” ?

    Duluth Trading Company is “doing the wrong thing”.


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