Marcello Leone: RYU (Respect your Universe) CEO and president talks about his love of tribes, both at work and at home.
FPM: How has the apparel market changed during your career?
Leone: I started selling shoes when I was 14 years old so I’ve seen a number of trends. I’m 51 now, but back then, I was carrying my little Adidas bag and the only track pants we had were those cotton grey ones — no shape, no form, no tailoring, no nothing. We probably wore a suit six days of the week when we had to and then we went home, took it off and put something comfortable on. That was our generation. This generation wants value, they want comfort, they want to feel good and they don’t want to wear a suit and tie all day. The old days are finished.
FPM: How can a brand be unique, but have broad appeal?
Leone: It goes without saying that all of the components of product — the proprietary patents that we’ve developed for our performance products to be functional, comfortable and completely different from everyone else — you have to have. Brands are built on tribes, communities, purpose and emotional connections, and everything has to be real, authentic, exciting and experiential.
FPM: What’s next for RYU?
Leone: I looked at our first 26 months in business as beta for us to see what kind of pull, what kind of effect we have in the community. The beta period suggests the pull is very strong. We’ll have nine stores by the end of this fiscal year, six in Canada and three in the United States, and we’ll have methodical growth in the urban cities to about 29 locations by the end of 2022. We could also be looking at some international joint-venture partnerships outside North America.
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FPM: How did you get into rescuing dogs?
Leone: My wife was visiting her parents in Texas, went to a gas station and there were these two little Chihuahuas there. The gentleman who was working there said to my wife, “Hey I’ve got a couple of dogs over here, are you interested?” She called me and said, “Honey, there are these two little dogs at the gas station and they don’t want them.” I said take them and bring them home. Now they’re with us in Vancouver and they are precious.
FPM: You have three Chihuahuas, where did the third come from?
Leone: I had a very special dog, her name was Trace and we got her from a breeder in British Columbia. She was also a little Chihuahua and it was run over by a car about a year ago. We called the breeder and asked if there was another Chihuahua and she actually had my dog’s sister, was done breeding her and they didn’t want the dog anymore. For me, they are part of my family. Humanity and animals, there’s no difference in my opinion.
FPM: What appeals to you about dogs?
Leone: They’re such innocent souls, such beautiful animals, they touch an emotional chord. What a beautiful thing it is when you come home and they hug you and kiss you and it’s so unconditional. I work quite a bit, usually start at five in the morning and we go hard till very late in the evening. They put me at peace.
FPM: What motivates you?
Leone: When I was young, I kind of went through a lot of bullying. My teachers used to tell me the other kids were just teasing me. But that continued on until high school: you’re never going to be successful, a lot of negative statements, et cetera. I know life is difficult, nothing is easy, but when I put my mind to something, I want to execute and get it done. Going through the bullying when I was young motivates me even more. It’s in my DNA.
FPM: What’s your management style?
Leone: I’m a big believer in entrepreneurial environments. I’m a big believer in hiring great people to help you build the business, not ones who you have to tell what to do every minute. I’m more macro; I don’t like to micro. I like to empower people to execute. Execution is critical, because if we don’t execute, we can’t make a difference in the world.
FPM: Biggest lesson?
Leone: I’m going to tell you straight up, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there will be adversity, there will bumps along the way. Success is never straight, but the hardest part is that until you have positive cash flow, you have to raise capital if you don’t have all the capital yourself. Certainly, the banks aren’t going to help you until you’re making money.