Tommy Bahama New CEO Sees Women Market as Chance to Grow

Tommy Bahama, a company that evokes piña coladas and surf, will soon have a new CEO. And he doesn’t want to be known as just the Hawaiian shirt guy: He seeks to jostle the man-centric brand into appealing more to America’s premier clothing shoppers — women.

Doug Wood, the longtime executive who’ll move up when current CEO Terry Pillow retires in January, represents continuity. After all, he was hired as chief operating officer by the brand’s original founders in 2001, and became president in 2008.

He will oversee a continued push for evolution at a time when traditional retail is being challenged from all sides by e-commerce, fierce competition, and a big drop in foot traffic at malls. Meanwhile, sales growth at Tommy Bahama, which rose in brisk double-digit percentages in the wake of the recession, has cooled somewhat.

But Wood sees in women a clear avenue for growth. Women buy 70 to 80 percent of the apparel in America, yet 70 percent of what Tommy Bahama sells is geared to men.

“As long as I’m CEO, we’re going to have phenomenal printed menswear. I never want to back away from that,” Wood said in an interview in his office at the company’s spiffy, new headquarters in South Lake Union.

But he’s bent on changing the product mix and the company’s voice so it doesn’t “sound so masculine.” “If I can get women to be 50 percent of our clients, I’ll get all the growth I can handle,” he said.

That doesn’t sound like an easy task for a brand that started out with three guys asking themselves what a fictional fellow named Tommy Bahama would wear if he never had to step out of a life of leisure.

But Wood said there are promising foundations on which to build, such as the company’s successful women’s swimwear business, and a licensing deal that puts its name on furniture. Developing Tommy Bahama’s feminine side also means bringing a new sensibility to its core portfolio of “resort” wear.

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