i’m so thrilled about today’s taking the leap interview. i’m sure you’re all familiar with the uber-cool online store modcloth. they sell the most unique and fun vintage/retro inspired clothing items & accessories. plus they have created the absolutely genius “be the buyer” program, where customers get to decide what item will be carried in the store next.
basically susan from modcloth has been one of my idols and role models and i pretty much want to be her when i grow up! not to mention, she’s incredibly down-to-earth and was nice enough to respond to a question i had sent her after she did an interview with makeunder my life.
so it was with pure excitement that i had a chance to talk to susan over the phone to find out how she got started and get some insights and advice for those of us trying to start our own retail ventures! (i was furiously writing down notes, so i did my best to sum it up!)
susan said that she started modcloth when she was 17 and basically ran it out of her dorm room at first! she started with buying vintage items from thrift stores for herself but, because she couldn’t pass up such good deals, she’d also buy things that didn’t necessarily fit her. so she decided to sell these items online. at this point there wasn’t etsy, so she looked into sites like ebay. luckily her boyfriend at the time, eric (now her husband!) was knowledgeable with computers and web hosting so they were able to create an online site.
susan said it was definitely slow growing at first but that she was fortunate that she was a student at the time and wasn’t completely trying to support herself off the website. she also said that the first 2 years when she was running modcloth fulltime were a bit scary as they were still growing and there wasn’t a guaranteed paycheck to rely on. but they lived thriftily and always reinvested back into their business so they could continue growing it. susan said modcloth is now at the point where they have over 100 employees and are in the process of opening offices in san francisco and los angeles. (and btw, she’s managed to do this all at the tender age of 25 – absolutely amazing!)
susan really emphasized that it’s important to know who your customer is, as well as, your niche. she said this is where small businesses can go wrong if they try and appeal to everyone. it can be such a selling point to be a small business that only caters to a certain customer. that’s what makes you, as a small biz, unique. susan said you don’t have to feel that you need to portray yourself as bigger than you are. people value small businesses. people are looking for the story behind the store so that’s such a great advantage a small business has!
susan mentioned throughout the interview that it’s also important to start small. since you’re brand new at first and still learning who your customer is, as well as, the ins and outs of business, you want to make sure that you can grow and not fizzle out. she said it’s beneficial to start small – so you have time to grow. so for example, only order the minimum amounts, see what your customer reaction is and then you can always reorder. she started modcloth very small…it was out of her dorm room at first! and then she was able to grow it over time.
susan also said to play to your strengths. for example, if you’re not a writer and don’t enjoy doing that (susan mentioned that this was her!), then adding a blog to your store may not be the way to go. customers can tell when you’re passionate about something – so make sure to play to those strengths!
when you’re a small business just starting out, you’re still trying to figure out who your customer is. is it okay to start with yourself as a customer?
susan mentioned throughout the interview how important it is to know your customer and what she’s like. she talked about her own customer as if she was describing a friend. she spoke about her customer as a singular person and really had honed in on what “she” is like. she said you can definitely start with yourself as an example of what your customer is like (she did that as well). and then as the store grows, you’ll get a clearer vision of who this person is. you don’t have to go as far as naming her (unless you want to!), but really think about what she’s like and give descriptions to her (for example, female, intelligent, enjoys fashion)
what does a typical day look like for you? how do you manage work/life balance? what are some of your fave websites/blogs?
susan said that it depends on whether she’s traveling or not. when she travels, she’s attending trade shows, visiting designer show room and placing orders for new products for the site. when she’s in the office, she works alot with her creative teams such as the writing and designing teams. she said that that day, for instance, she had meetings on what the holiday guide will look like.
as for managing work/life balance, she said that it’s nice since she and her husband, eric, work together at modcloth. she said she finds that they’ll end up talking about the store even when they’re having dinner. in fact, the idea for their “be the buyer” came from them talking at the end of the day at home!
as for websites and blogs, susan was kind enough to give us a peek at her google reader! so check it out here. (she said one of her current goals is to add items to it more frequently!)
thanks susan for stopping by one sydney road and sharing with us!
you can find susan here: modcloth