A primer on expanding beyond brick-and-mortar
If you’re like most custom clothiers you’ve been doing business the same way since you started. The old moniker, “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” still stands true and you know your business and what your customers like. The problem is getting new customers in the door and growing your business over time. Over the last ten years shoppers have changed in two distinct ways:
Your shopper now has a smartphone in their pocket
More people are shopping online for clothes than ever before
Rewind back to 2005 and your shopper wouldn’t think twice about buying in-person, now they’re conditioned to buying online. You might think that custom clothing is something that consumers still expect to buy in-store but thanks to companies like Indochino, Trumaker, Proper Cloth and many more, shoppers know custom has gone digital and they have come to expect it.
One of the #1 questions we get from custom clothiers is – how can I bring my custom clothing business online? So our team has taken three years of data and research and compiled the perfect primer for custom clothiers looking to expand online. To make it easy we’ve broken the process into four steps:
Step 1: Hire a Developer with apparel eCommerce experience
This is not something you can do on your own, you’ll need to bring in a person, or many times a company that has expertise building eCommerce websites for apparel retailers and brands. While many eCommerce platforms might advertise that you can do it all yourself, for custom you really do need to bring in someone with experience given the experience that you want to provide.
Of course this brings the question of budget. You should plan on spending somewhere in the $10,000 – $20,000 for a good starter site. If this is out of your budget then now might not be the right time to expand online, focus on getting your brick-and-mortar business into a place where you’ll have the budget to expand online.
Make sure to do your homework before hiring a developer. We recommend interviewing at least three different developers/agencies and getting quotes from each. Avoid hourly billing and try to get a fixed price for the project as a whole. Ask to speak with other companies they have built sites for so you can better understand their experience. The more work you do vetting before you get started the less surprises there will be along the way.
Expected Costs: $10,000 – $20,000
Step 2: Hire a photographer
One of the most overlooked pieces of the puzzle is photography. From fabrics to finished shirts, the quality of the photography on your site can easily make-or-break the experience for your shoppers. This is especially critical for custom clothiers as you’re likely used to sitting down with your customers and walking through fabric swatches.
The good news is, photography has become a lot less expensive over time, but just like hiring a developer it’s important to make sure you find a photographer that has experience taking photographs for the web. It may sound trivial but taking photographs that look good on a website means setting things up just right.
Expect to spend $2,500 – $5,000 to get the photography right for launch and make sure to have a budget going forward when you want to add new fabric or new finished shirt photos. Whatever you do, don’t try to do this yourself because getting the colors right and getting images to look clean on a white background is something that people spend years perfecting their skills in.
Expected Costs: $2,500 – $5,000
Step 3: Secure a good domain name
It can be easy to overlook this step but it is an important one that directly impacts how people find you online. Just like you wouldn’t put your shop in the middle of the desert, you don’t want your brand to be lost by some meaningless name like MyTailor128.com that people have to write down to remember.
Ideally you would like to find a domain name that matches your business name, and luckily there are a lot more options than .COM out there now so there’s a good chance you can get it even if the .COM is taken. Options like .CO, .ME, .CLUB and many more domain name extensions are now available and at a price that any business can afford.
If you can’t register the domain name you want there is a chance that the owner will sell it to you if they aren’t using it. You can use a service like DomainTools.com to get the email address and phone number of the owner. Don’t expect to pay $10 for a domain name that’s owned by someone else but something in the $1,000 – $1,500 range might be enough to get them to part with it.
Expected Costs: $10 – $1,500
Step 4: Launching your site and getting customers
So at this point you should have a shiny new eCommerce website with beautiful photography on an easy to remember (and spell) domain name. That’s it right?
No, you’ve just made it to the starting line, the marathon is ahead of you. Think of a new website on the Internet like a store with no roads pointing to it. Just because you put money into a great website doesn’t mean that people are more likely to find it right-away.
Think back to when you first started your custom clothing business – was your store flooded with people on day one? Probably not. In most-likely took you years to get to the number of customers you have today. Luckily this work did not go to waste and will likely be the cheapest, easiest way to get new customers to your site.
One of the best ways to get new customers without spending a dime is to reach-out to your existing customers and offer them some kind of a discount (say $20) for every customer they send to your site. Since your business is no longer geographically restricted, they can email 5-10 of their friends anywhere in the US.
Suppose you have 200 customers, if each of them sends five new shoppers to your site then you’ll have your first 1,000 visitors, even if only 10% of those become customers you’ll have 100 new customers on your website. Offer this same deal to them and let them invite their friends, rinse and repeat.
This is the quickest way to get customers to your site and since your existing customers already know and love you, they are your best advocates. There’s a good chance your business has been mostly word-of-mouth since you started and it will probably feel very familiar growing your business in this way as you move forward.
If you’ve followed the steps above you have officially moved your custom clothing business from the 1800’s to 2016 and expanded your market beyond the city you are currently located in. Like any new business, it will take time for your online sales to take-off but with the help of existing customers you can leverage the great business you have built to attract a whole new audience.
By Fashion Metrics