Clothing rental subscriptions make a lot of sense. Customers are happy, because they receive regular deliveries of new items to wear. They also get to benefit from the expertise of professional stylists.
When a customer gets tired of a particular item, they can easily send it back for somebody else to enjoy. That means less waste and fewer items sitting forgotten in the back of cupboards.
I recently spoke to one such business owner, Vladimir Paniouchkine, the CEO and Co-Founder of The Mr Collection, a clothing rental subscription business for men.
Vladimir gave me some great insights into the origins and experience of running The Mr Collection and its sister business The Ms Collection.
Kirby: How did you first come up with the idea for The Mr Collection?
Vladimir: It actually stems from a need for myself. I had a real lack of style back in the college day. I didn’t like shopping too much.
I [would] walk into a store and look at a mannequin and [think]: “Alright, I like what he’s wearing.” Somebody [had] styled them up pretty well.
But then I’d look at each piece and how much it cost. I’d put it together and it was just way too expensive.
My girlfriend at the time [now wife and business partner, Victoria] thought there had to be a better way to solve that issue. So, in came The Mr Collection.
Kirby: So The Mr Collection came before The Ms Collection?
Vladimir: Correct. We initially focussed on guys, because we thought that guys had a bit of a harder time shopping. They didn’t like the experience. We wanted to solve that kind of pain point and provide somebody who would style an outfit for them.
Kirby: How did you find suppliers in the beginning?
Vladimir: Initially we did a lot of discount [shopping]. We shopped every discount we could find.
But now we’ve introduced a grand partnership program that allows us to find the lesser known brands, the Up-and-Comers, so to speak. They contact us and we give them the ability to reach a bigger market. This allows us to ship our customers [pieces] they haven’t worn or received before.
Kirby: How much did you have to learn about fashion?
Vladimir: Myself, quite a bit. Like I said, I was not the typical fashion person. I didn’t know almost anything. But to my wife it came naturally.
She spearheaded the fashion on our end, what styles we should focus on, what trends we should focus on. Whether it needs leather accents, or [if] sheer [was] in last year, or this colour [is in] this year.
Kirby: How did you get your first customers?
Vladimir: Our first customers were [acquired through] a lot of advertisements. Then our SEO kicked in and [we started] reaching out to bloggers. Now the customers are finding us through targeted key searchers and referrals.
We’re actually about to introduce a Refer a Friend program with the help of WooCommerce.
Kirby: Did you fund it yourself or receive some investment?
Vladimir: We were self-funded. We were a bootstrap company, which is why we chose WooCommerce, because it was free and all the other services out there cost a pretty penny, which we didn’t want.
I’ve started a few companies before this one, so I wanted to take the approach of spend zero money as much as possible, and have the customers help you grow the business.
Now we’re in the stage of looking for funding, so we’ll be attracting investors.
Kirby: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Vladimir: The initial challenge was finding customers, but now it’s keeping up with demand. Sourcing material and inventory for them and keeping up with their styles. Demand right now is pretty high.
Kirby: How many people are in the team now?
Vladimir: Right now we’ve grown to 20. 15 are style consultants and the rest are the labour force of packing and shipping.
Kirby: What’s your favourite thing about WooCommerce?
Vladimir: My favourite thing was that it was free, initially.
[Secondly] it included a subscription model. All the solutions I was looking at initially didn’t integrate with subscriptions at all. They had either a way to take you away from the website [and] out of the buying experience, or they were too complicated to set up. I needed something very simple, very easy to integrate, WooCommerce plus Subscriptions fit for us.
Kirby: Can you talk a bit more about your experience offering subscriptions for renting out the clothes?
Vladimir: Ours is a little bit [of a] different model than most subscription companies out there, like Birchbox and other services like the Trunk Club. We are a rental service, so our inventory needs to come back to us. We don’t send it out and forget about it.
We need to track inventory and other active accounts [to know]: if they’re still going to be sent to this month; or if they have their packages out with them this month; if we should bypass them for the packaging.
So the integration with WooCommerce was kind of a no brainer, where it allowed us to easily see who’s active, who’s on hold, why they’re on hold. It’s laid out very nicely so we rely on it pretty heavily.
Kirby: Have you made any mistakes using WooCommerce that you’d like to share, so that other people can avoid making the same mistakes?
Vladimir: I was trying to rack my brain for any mistakes that we initially made early on, and they were so minor that they didn’t even really pop onto my radar.
Any issues that I’ve had, I’ve just contacted [WooThemes’] support and they walked me through anything that I needed to customise or fix.
Kirby: What has eCommerce allowed you to do that you couldn’t have otherwise done?
Vladimir: Well, basically reach everybody in the US and outside, we ship to Hawaii and Alaska. A bricks and mortar store would not allow us to reach this many customers this quickly.
Kirby: Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
Vladimir: Listen to your customers and adjust accordingly. We initially started out with an unlimited model and that got a little too hectic, so we went monthly shipments.
[Also] keep going, it’s going to be a tough road ahead, but don’t give up. If you know that the idea is going to work and you’re confident, stick with it.
Kirby: Do you have any plans for the future at The Mr Collection?
Vladimir: Yeah, we’re growing.
For the girls [The Ms Collection], we just introduced combo packs where they’re allowed to combine play and business and details and combinations like that. Guys have had that for a while, we’ve been testing it with the guy side.
Now we’re just introducing a new site design on the girl side, which we’ve just emailed out yesterday I believe.
Other services to come are friend referral programs, which we’re introducing with WooCommerce’s help.
And then other growth factors are a more personalised styling service on a one-to-one basis with a style professional, who will more deeply understand what you’re looking for.
The Mr Collection is solving a number of problems.
Customers can keep up with the latest fashions without spending a fortune. It’s also easier to pop the items back in the post regularly than it is to do a massive closet clean out every year or so.
For those of us who are mystified by fashion, The Mr (and Ms) Collections provides a way to get some much needed style advice.
What’s more, there are less wasted items of clothing and up-and-coming designers find a way to reach a new set of customers.
It’s wonderful to hear that The Mr Collection is growing and we wish Vladimir and the rest of the team the best of luck!