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Bonobos, Walmart & Greek Life

“This screams, ‘we have no idea who our customer is.’ Good luck.” - Tim Richison

On June 16, 2017 Bonobos announced, via their Facebook page, that they would be acquired by Walmart for $310 million.  As you may expect, the news was not well received.  With over 1,000 reactions and the majority of those being “angry” we can clearly see that consumers are not excited about the acquisition.

The Bonobos Facebook page has thousands of comments.  Some people are sharing, in great detail their disgust, and others are keeping it short and sweet.

Erik Tefteller “We all get that this was a move based on economies of scale. But it's also a move that your loyal customer base sees as the ends justifying the means. You're joining an organization that millennials, your core consumers, loath and vilify as destructive, unethical, and cheap - essentially the polar opposite when previously thinking about Bonobos. In doing so you've alienated the voice of your customer - that which heavily contributed to the Bonobos brand initial success. In the mind of the consumer, the connection has been made and the perspective of quality tarnished.”

Tim Richison “This screams, ‘we have no idea who our customer is.’ Good luck.”

Essentially their thought is, Walmart is the worst of the worst and Bonobos was created to offer a space where people could shop without patronizing the nightmare that is Walmart.

So, right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, “what does this have to do with Recruitment?!”

In many ways recruiting and retaining members for a fraternity or sorority is similar to recruiting and retaining customers for a company.  Let’s look at the missteps Bonobos made and what we can learn from them.


They announced a major change to their core operations through social media.  This is being universally slammed by marketing and business experts abroad.  Can you think of a time that your organization or another fraternal organization shared something on social media that they later regretted?  You need to think twice about the message you’re sending, and how you’re sending it.  You need to make sure your members, all of them, understand the repercussions of using inappropriate or upsetting content on social media.


Bonobos bills themselves as an alternative to their big box rivals.  Joining them is a fundamental change in their core operation.  When do fraternities and sororities do this?  Think of every headline concerning our hazing epidemic, over drinking at our events, and sexual assault running rampant throughout our communities.  When we claim we are focus on brotherhood, sisterhood, friendship, etc. but are seen destroying those values, aren’t we visibly shifting away from our core focus?  Instead of always preaching the wonderful experience that we provide, we need to focus on ending the negative aspects we perpetuate as well.


Time will tell if Walmart can attract new customers to ensure the survival of the Bonobos brand.  The biggest fear right now is that the current customer base will abandon the brand rapidly which will kill the line completely.  When chapters have major rifts or issues that cause the current membership to walk away the impact can be so detrimental that the chapter is unable to move forward.  In essence, they fizzle out and die.  We need to listen to our current members and meet their needs.  Yes, we want to innovate and change, but not at the expense of members.  Listen before you act.  Seek to understand before you try to explain.


When Sears bought Lands’ End in 2002 they thought they had struck gold.  The loyal customers who had bought Lands’ End for generations could now go into a Sears to make their purchases.  In reality, the Lands’ End brand was heavily damaged and they bought themselves back in 2014.  Quaker Oats bought Snapple, 2 years later they sold it off at a $1.6 billion loss.  A simple Google search reveals how many times chapters are closed for repeated offenses ranging from hazing, to racist chants, and more.  Companies seem to fail to realize that buying another brand tends to end poorly and we as the fraternal community fail to realize our repeated actions continue to bring heartbreak and finality to our organizations.