Today I have a real gem for all you web business owners out there! I’m sure many of you are familiar (especially if you read fashion blogs) with the awesome web clothing and lifestyle site, Modcloth.com. I have been in awe of what the founders Susan and Eric have accomplished in such a short period of time! Their company has over 100 employees and they are just 25 years-old! It literally blows my mind and expands what I think is possible for all of our web shops.
I recently had the (amazingly) good fortune of chatting with Susan by phone about how she has grown her company and gotten some realistic insights on what we can do to make our businesses successful. Since we chatted for quite a while, I wasn’t able to write down what she said word for word. Instead, I took copious notes and I have summarized her thoughts below.
I love that you started your company at 17 years-old with your husband (then boyfriend), Eric. What was the vision for the company when you started?
Susan said that the site started out of her dorm room and she spent most of her time selling vintage clothing online. During one of Eric’s junior year marketing classes (they were both business majors), they did a survey of Modcloth.com customers and found that there was a large demand for vintage and new vintage inspired clothing. That later became the direction they headed in when they started to buy from current clothing companies and saw tremendous growth.
Eric handles most of the finance and business related tasks like HR and planning, while Susan stays in control of the branding, buying, and design aspects. They focused on Google rankings in the beginning, but she doesn’t see it as important today as she used to a few years ago, now that customers are looking for more “trusted resources” like review sites and blogs.
Though the company has seen outstanding growth year to year (400%-600% year to year!), they also had some tight months during their expansion in 2006/2007.
A lot of companies (myself included!) want to have a thriving online shop. What three things do you think most shop owners do wrong?
Susan said one of the main mistakes a small company can make is pretending to be bigger. Having a flashy site that appears like it has tons of employees confuses the customer when that is really not the case. She recommends making it clear on the site that the company is young or small and use it to their advantage. For example, if we are the ones filling the orders and packaging the goods, it should say that on the website. Susan feels that customers are looking for the story and aren’t afraid to buy from a young entrepreneur or a small business.
She also mentioned that companies shouldn’t try to market towards everyone and that they should know who their target customer is and really cater to that psycho-graphic. From talking to Susan during the interview, she mentioned the personality and interests of her target customer as if she was describing her a good friend. I really felt by the end of our talk that I needed to hone in on who is a “Jess LC customer” and make sure that what I did with the business really speaks to that person. For much of my own marketing is based on what I think I’d personally like and want to see as a customer, Susan seemed to have a broader perspective of who her target shopper is apart from her own personal preferences. One example of an upcoming marketing task is to create a Modcloth.com profile on Good Reads. After discussing with her marketing team, they feel strongly that their customers are interested in exchanging book recommendations and so they want to be there participating in the conversation.
The other piece of advice she had was to use social media differently for each platform. She cautioned not to use Facebook, Twitter, or blogging in the same ways but to be true to each one’s unique style of sharing and not repeat the same information on all sites. She also doesn’t feel that you can really compute a ROI (return on investment) from social media methods like blogging. To her, it’s not about blogging to get more sales it’s about investing in the community and benefiting the customer.
Along the same lines of social media, I found it fascinating that Susan talked about having a plethora of things for customers to do every day on their site, regardless of whether they have money to spend on any given day. Their initiatives like online contests and their Be the Buyer program allow customers regardless of shopping habits to interact, build their selection, and get involved. In fact, the Be the Buyer program has been such a success they are looking to expand this aspect in the future.
Now that your company is so large, what does your nomral day look like? What things do you delegate?
Susan said that she spends much of her time traveling for trade shows, visiting vendors, and buying new products for their site. When she is in the office in Pittsburgh, she spends her time going to meetings and giving final approval to marketing efforts. From time to time she also stops in to see photo shoots in progress and her evenings often involve answering emails. The thing she was most looking forward to delegating in the beginning was the writing and how they have a team of about eight writers which handle product descriptions, product naming, and blogging.
In summary, here’s what I took away from my conversation with Susan and how I hope to infuse some of her advice into Jess LC:
- Continue to make sure I keep each social media platform (FB, Twitter, blogging) differently and to consider expanding my social media activities to other sites I feel Jess LC customers might be active within.
- Define who a Jess LC customer is beyond my own personal interests and perspectives to better serve them.
- Don’t be afraid to delegate important aspects of the business to those who are more skilled.
- Dream bigger!