Quizzes aren’t just a fun little activity you can use to engage your audience.
They can also be a powerful way to get emails, extend your social media reach, and capture customer data.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, Brittany Haas of Happily Ever Borrowed, a luxury e-commerce site that rents bridal accessories to brides, shares how she uses style quizzes to convert customers and collect highly useful customer data
Felix: Today I’m joined by Brittany Hass from Happilyeverborrowed.com. Happily Ever Borrowed is a luxury e-commerce site that rents bridal accessories to brides, was started in 2011 and based out of New York City. Welcome, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, nice to talk to you.
Felix: Excited to have you on and I was just discussing with you very quickly before we got on about how this is the first guest I’ve had on that rents products so I think it’s going to be really interesting. Tell us a little bit more about your store and how it all works.
Brittany: Sure. Happily Ever Borrowed, as you mentioned, started in 2011. We rent bridal accessories to brides for their wedding day. Everything from veils to headpieces to tiaras, everything except the dress basically. How we operate is we buy directly from the whole sale designers, just like any other brick and mortar store would except instead of selling the product to the brides, we rent the product to the brides. We offer four or eight day rentals and we prepare the brides for their wedding day by saving money and spending less on all of their bridal [encroachments 00:02:16].
Felix: Yeah, makes sense. I’m actually in the process right now of planning a wedding. My wedding’s in November so definitely understand the …
Felix: Yeah thanks. Definitely understand the need to keep an eye of the costs so I think you’re definitely in a good place just from potential customer talking to you. How did you come up with this idea? How did you recognize that there was a need for something like this?
Brittany: I was in college and I was actually a fashion design major at [Equinox 00:02:46] University. While I was there my sisters started to get engaged, I’m the youngest of four girls so lots of sisters, lots of weddings. As I was shopping around with them, realized the low quality and high prices of bridal gowns basically. When I saw how expensive these gowns were and upwards of, my sisters’ ranges was 2,000, 3,000 dollars on one gown that you’re wearing for five to six hours if you’re lucky.
After that they would need a veil and the jewelry and the sash and all of these extra pieces add an additional thousand dollars or more on to the total cost of their wedding day outfit. I put it in the back of my head of this doesn’t really make sense. When I graduated it was right around the time of the tech bubble in New York and Rent The Runway and Birchbox and all these female entrepreneur covered HBC start ups were happening and I just started thinking about the process and decided to start online with accessories and here we are today five years later.
Felix: Yeah. Did you always have the intention of renting or did you start off selling products or was it from the beginning that you knew you wanted to do rentals?
Brittany: We definitely started with the idea of rentals. My career otherwise has been in the luxury fashion industry and I can understand the concept of buying something like a purse or shoes that are really expensive and you can get your costs per wear down because you feel like it’s this piece that you’re buying that you’re going to wear for you life. When bridal came around it was really shocking to me that women were spending so much money on something that really they could only wear for a couple hours of their life. Rental was definitely always the concept, however we did start with an idea of doing bridal gowns in a brick and mortar store and renting that way.
I actually started the business with one of my very good friends in college, her name was Hayley Paige. She’s actually a big bridal designer these days. She and I conceptualized together because we were designing in college together and thought we could do rental gowns because we knew how to design the dresses and we knew how to fit the dresses and change the patterns and pick out the things that would make it easy to rent and to size. Then when we thought about the start up costs and like I said, it was right around the time when this tech bubble was starting, we thought e-commerce was the way to go and we decided to go with the non-sizable option of veils and accessories instead.
Felix: Makes sense. Last thing you want whenever you start a business is to have a ton of inventory and then try to hustle to off load it or in your case start renting them out. How did you get started? Did you have a large inventory, large catalog at first? Tell us a little bit more about, I guess, the beginning stages of creating, I guess, a catalog for people to rent from.
Brittany: Yeah. The original idea started and we really had to talk to the bridal designers themselves and get an idea of if it was something they were really even interested in. We sent a lot of cold emails to designers that we didn’t know and just asked them to discuss the concept and shockingly so many designers were willing to talk to us like Reem Acra and Angel Sanchez and all these great bridal designers. We just went in there and started talking about different ideas that we had. Everyone was on board with the idea that bridal was antiquated and needed to change.
I think we started more in a way that was more traditional in the sense that we were purchasing inventory up front, stocking it in our apartment and really picking what we thought that brides would love and like. Over time I’ve shifted my buying style into really testing the market before we really purchase the product. Most of our brides are not renting their product days before their wedding, most of the time it’s about two to three weeks out. We’ll put a lot of images up on the site of product that we’re not physically owning and then once we received a rental on it we’ll purchase the product from the designer. We’re saving ourselves a bit that way and not actually purchasing the inventory up front.
Felix: Yeah, that’s great that your business almost has a built in lag time in it where you don’t have to purchase the inventory right off the bat because these people that are customers that are buying, sorry renting from you don’t expect the products until two to three months after they put in their purchase.
Felix: That’s cool. When you started to build this catalog you said that you weren’t testing it out initially at first. What was your process behind that? Were you just buying whatever you thought that the market wanted, going off of your own intuition, or what was the process for that?
Brittany: Yeah, I think bridal is great in the sense that it’s not quite like the fashion industry where things change every six months. Bridal trends, they change over time but, obviously Felix maybe this isn’t your forte, but if you think about the past ten years of bridal style like strapless dresses were in for the longest time until Princess Kate got married and then all of a sudden sleeves were back in. It took ten years for the style to really change. We’re lucky in the sense that things evolve a little bit more slowly in the bridal industry versus the fashion industry. We try to keep ahead of trends.
Something that we’ve done recently now is we’ve implemented a style quiz that we created and we just made a type form basically and had brides pick pictures, different images of things that they liked or didn’t like to evaluate what their bridal style was. Whether it was more classic or boho or beachy or glamorous. Based on the responses that we got is helping us really figure out what trends are really happening with brides. Then this way we can focus the pieces that we’re purchasing better or even the images that we’re putting on the site better. We’ve even categorized it on the site so that based on the response that you get on the quiz you can shop by your style. We’re really trying to be smarter about how we’re buying and really basically pulling our customers before we’re even purchasing the product.
Felix: Yeah, definitely want to talk about your style quiz in a bit. When you told me about it I think it’s a very smart way to, not just get data from your customers, but also help them out at the same time. We’ll dive into that in a second.
I want to talk about getting your first customers though. Once you had this inventory built out, what was the marketing plan early on? How were you able to start actually getting some revenue, some sales through the door?
Brittany: I think, as I mentioned earlier, bridal is a little bit behind the times when it comes to technology and it’s sped up a little bit over time, five years ago even. It was basically when you got engaged the first thing you did was you ran to the news stand and bought every bridal magazine you could because that’s the first time that you’re actually allowed to not feel shamed for buying bridal magazines without being engaged.
It’s shocking but a page in a bridal magazine is ten grand, couple, couple dozen grand to get in there. We had to be a little bit more creative on how we got the word out. We did a lot of just pushing to every bridal editor we could find. We did a lot of research and just pushed the concept out there and we were really lucky because a lot of those designers that we had talked to early on were really helpful in connecting us with editors of bridal magazines and bridal blogs.
Even five years ago, as soon as five years ago, there weren’t as many bridal blogs as there are now so because we were basically e-commerce we really tried to push on blogs and editorial and really get the word out that way back then. Before Instagram or Pinterest even existed. It was really early on in the tech space to get the word out. It was pretty grassroots.
Felix: Yeah, definitely makes sense. Was this something you were working on at that time too? Was it part time or did you dive in full time focusing on this? How did this fit into your lifestyle at that time?
Brittany: Yeah it was part time. I, at the time, was a fashion buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue. Honestly it was really excited by all of the tech industry that was happening in New York. I spent a lot of my time going to meet ups just basically to talk to people to see what they were doing, to get ideas, to learn how to online market because I was a little bit better versed in the financials and the buying process but wasn’t as creative when it came to marketing. I really just had to get out there and learn from other people how to really do this.
At that time right before we launched my friend Hayley, who I’d mentioned who I’d started the business with, got offered to get her own line, which is what she has now. That was going to be full time for her and she was already in the bridal industry it was a bit of a conflict of interest. Basically the month before we launched the site she stepped out. It became just me part time. Actually still I’m moon lighting. Happily Ever Borrowed is done on nights and weekends.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of listeners out there can certainly relate to moon lighting their business. When you started early on you said that you went to these meet ups to learn a little bit more about online marketing and just, I guess, the tech scene in general. How did you work these networking events because I think this is also another sometimes under utilized aspect just going offline and meeting people in person. Tell us a little bit more about your experience and what you got out of meeting people in person at these tech meet ups.
Brittany: Yeah. I think especially being on the outside I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that I needed help and insight from other people to really get this started. I think for anyone who knows what it’s like to start a business on the side it’s exhausting to work a full day, try to work on your start up at the same time, then at six p.m. be ready to go out and put yourself out there and talk to people and just get ideas.
I forced myself to go to at least three to four meet ups per week and really just learn and talk to people. I honestly had no idea what it meant to start an e-commerce site. From everything, from coding and Shopify was really great in that I didn’t need to know too much code. Even five years ago Shopify there was a lot that you had to figure out on your own. I can’t express how invaluable it was to just talk to people because every night you met at least one person who gave you a tid bit of something that you didn’t know before. Even if it was something that you maybe wouldn’t use, it was at least something that you knew you didn’t have to do going forward. I think it’s a really great way to talk to people, to learn from them, especially when you’re not as well versed in the industry.
Felix: Yeah, when you do go out and you’re trying to, especially someone in your situation like you’re saying, you were on the outside. There’s just, I’m sure you thought this too at the time, there’s just so much to learn, so many things that you don’t even know you don’t know. Did you have a certain approach to trying to learn this whole new industry that, I guess at that time you were relatively clueless? How did you approach figuring out what you had to actually learn?
Brittany: I think there was different stages that I went through to figure out what I needed to really know. For instance, at the beginning when we still thought we were going to do a brick and mortar store with bridal gowns, we knew we would have to raise capital. I went to a lot of meet ups or even classes at General Assembly, I think they had just opened at the time on how to raise capital, how to talk to angel investors, how to really navigate that whole part of industry. Which again, is something that obviously I knew nothing about. I think after I got through that then it became the phase of building the website, the different resources you could use for that. Then transitioned into online marketing and how to read Google Analytics and how to do Facebook ads and I think I tried to immerse myself in different meet ups and different experiences as far as learning as I went through the process.
Felix: I think that’s really important that you figured out what you need to know at that particular stage because sometimes when you don’t know what you’re getting involved in, you spend so much time consuming information trying to learn everything. A lot of the stuff you learn is not going to be applicable right away. I think that those couple things that hurt you in a couple ways, one, it’s potentially a waste of time. Two, could just get you … Looks more daunting when you have so much ahead of you. I like the process you’ve taken where you figured out, okay I’m in the fund raising stage so let me go take some classes, let me network with people that can teach me more about this. Then when you went to more the side of the development phase, you focus more on learning more on technical aspects. I think that’s really important for a lot of, especially if you don’t have a lot of time or a lot of energy and you are moon lighting, it’s really important that you spend your time wisely and figure out what you actually need to learn and what you can maybe hold off on learning for a bit.
Speaking of moon lighting, you’ve been moon lighting for, this business started in 2011, for five years now. How do you, I think this is a long time to be … Not a long time but I think it could be a long time to be balancing multiple jobs essentially. How do you balance your time or balance your energy to make sure that you don’t burn out, especially now that you’re five years into it?
Brittany: I definitely should be getting more sleep than I do. Five years, as you said, it’s a long time to keep doing both. I think over time there has been so many moments in my life where I’ve really wanted to either sell the company or find another co-founder, someone to help pitch in more. Not going to lie, it’s been rough.
I think it’s really helpful being the nature of my business in that we have a busy season. There is engagement season which is November through February, basically Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, which are those big holiday moments where people often get engaged. Then there’s bridal season which is April through September where people are actually getting married. I think over time I’ve grown to know those different seasons and know when I’m going to have to exert myself a little more versus when I have a little more time.
Thankfully it’s balanced out with my life in the fashion industry in the sense that in the summer in the fashion industry, especially I work for a French brand. They’re very slow. I have a lot more time to work on Happily Ever Borrowed and I have a lot of weddings in the summer. Whereas during fashion week now that we’re in the fall and towards winder, it’s more about marketing and not so much about orders and I have less time because I’m working at my full time job a little bit more. I’m not worried about getting packages out on time.
I think that it’s just been really lucky for me to have this natural flow between the two. I don’t think it’s that easy for everyone.
Felix: Yeah, I think you do get to this stage where you are thinking about selling the business or trying to find a co-founder. Those are precarious times because once that thought enters your brain you start thinking, man my life could be different, maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way. If you sell the company of find someone else to help you run it.
When you’re going through these periods of time where you are I guess a little more checked out from the business, a little more checked out from entrepreneurship, what did you do to bring yourself back in?
Brittany: I think the orders bring me back in. I’m lucky with that. I think technology changes so quickly and I think it’s always exciting when you own your own business because there’s all these other things you want to try. As Pinterest started getting ads and as Instagram started getting ads and when I realized Type Form for the style quiz. There was all these different things that happened that engage me back into the business and get me excited about how I can push forward.
Even as I see the bridal industry evolving and people maybe not wanting to spend as much money on their wedding or as I see brides become more resourceful, I think that is what inspires me to really push forward with my business.
Felix: Yeah, definitely makes sense, that once customers are knocking at your door it’s a lot harder to just run and hide. Do people know that you can rent these kind of products? The [inaudible 00:21:11], the veils, the jewelry, the headpieces that you’re putting out for rentals? Is this a known option for your customers essentially or how do you educate the market on this potential option?
Brittany: I think it’s been great to watch it evolve over time. I think in the beginning I heard from so many people constantly,“Oh my god, I wish I knew about you when I was getting married. I totally would of rented.” Now five years later I can say I don’t hear that as much which is good and bad. I think we got the word out enough that it’s a possibility and to be honest we don’t have many competitors, if any. I think brides are finding us now because a. We have a lot more designers and some great exclusive partnerships.
If a bride feels like she either can’t afford the dream accessory she wants or she just doesn’t value that one time wear item, a lot of the time they’re just Googling the name of the piece that they want and we’ll pop up. They find out about us that way. We’ve also had a lot of great [crass 00:22:22]. We find that now that we naturally have become one of these things on the list of fifty ways to save on your wedding and people say, rent your accessories or check out pre-owned options. We’ve been lucky to be a staple I would say in the business now.
Felix: I think when you do have this unique business model it does make it a lot easier to pitch to the press, to these editors that you are approaching earlier on. Can you tell us a little bit about your approach, what was successful for you to get them to pay attention and eventually cover your business?
Brittany: Yeah. It’s interesting because bridal is tricky because you need to continually market yourself. Even if brides know about you, there’s only so much of a life span. Hopefully they’re not getting remarried within a year or two. We don’t have a lot of repeat customers. It’s difficult because you have to continually put yourself out there and continually pay for that space to be in their face and know that you exist. Even for editors it’s pretty tough because it probably feels very repetitive to them to give the same tips over and over again.
As a reminder you have a whole new crop of people getting engaged every single year. I think it’s actually been a little bit easier for us in that sense. I think for traditional advertising or traditional editorial you feel like once you’ve been in a specific magazine they’re probably not going to feature you for a long time. Whereas in bridal they have new subscribers every three months and they don’t have to feel like it’s an old story. It becomes new again all of the time.
Felix: One of the things that you mentioned in some of the pre-interview questions was about validating new products. You mentioned that many of the products on the site you first test with images. Then how does it work after that? How do these images that you post on a site prior to having it available in your inventory, how they help you determine if it’s worth investing in the particular piece or particular line?
Brittany: Yeah. We post a lot of pictures from the designers that we work with on the site of things that we’re not keeping in our inventory because as we mentioned most of the time, the lead time that we have is about two or three months before we actually have to fulfill the order. We’re really lucky in the fact that we get to put these images up on the site and see, not only how many orders we’re getting on the piece, but also we can see how much traction we’re getting.
Shopify has been really helpful because they have implemented a lot of tools just on the dash board that show you how often people are looking at the product or how that product is trending in comparison to other pieces. We’ll take a lot of care in looking at that and seeing how often people are clicking through or really looking at the product on deciding whether we buy it or not up front.
Felix: Yeah, I guess essentially what you’re doing is pre-orders. You’re getting people to pay up front and then delivering at a later time. Even if a [list 00:25:37] out there doesn’t have an industry or doesn’t have a business that allows them to take the money and then the customer not expect anything for two, three months. You can still replicate this by taking on pre-orders to determine if it’s actually something worth you investing your money in the inventory.
You also mentioned earlier on about the style quiz. I think this is a really interesting approach that you’ve taken. Tell us more about the style quiz. What does it look like and how does it work for an actual customer of yours?
Brittany: Yeah. We started with just a Type Form. I was really impressed with the UX and the UI the Type Form was using and that it was so clean and so simple and so easy. Basically our customer comes in, we actually the way that we’ve been doing it, we can go and elaborate a little more later, but we had a Pinterest ad to encourage brides to find their bridal style through the style quiz. People will click through and we have a series of pictures and different questions that say, based on what you want for your wedding or what you think your bridal style is click on the picture that best reflects that. It could be flowers, it could be gowns, it could be the groom’s style, it could be the cake, and a whole bunch of different things that lead them through different pictures and different thoughts to what they want to feel on their wedding day. Based on those series of questions and answers it will pop up with your bridal style and once you get to the end you click through and it will bring you straight to the collection on the page where you can see all of the different accessories that would fit within your bridal style and allows them to shop right there.
As they finish the quiz they get emailed a specific free shipping code for their order. It’s great data for us because not only are we collecting emails but we’re also finding out what bridal styles are the most popular and that helps us with our buying process and which pieces we should buy going forward.
Felix: Yeah. I really love this funnel, this Pinterest ad to this quiz. Then there’s pictures and questions and then as they answer them you give them something of value for free and then lead them to a place where they can purchase. I’m not sure if you read this book but there’s a book called Ask by Ryan Levesque, I think, and we’ll put that in the show notes. He built many business on this model of first getting questionnaire in front of potential customers and then based on their answers giving them something of value, giving some direction on which products they should purchase from you.
I think one of the best ways to build an e-commerce business, a store is to replicate the offline experience as much as possible. By having this quiz you’re essentially almost being there in person, like a rep at a store asking the customer a bunch of questions and then directing them to the product that makes the most sense. I think this is a very valuable funnel, a very valuable approach that pretty much any business can replicate.
You use Type Form for this, so you can actually set up some kind of logic to determine what to show them based on their answers?
Brittany: Yes. It took a little bit of manipulating. The longer the quiz gets, the more difficult it becomes. Actually Type Form was really great, they have a post right on there, FAQs about how they do that. You have to figure out the output and what the output means into what they call the “exit page” it brings you to. It was pretty simple to set up.
Felix: Once the customer takes the quiz and they see the results from the quiz, are they directed to a customized landing page of products? What do they see after they exit the quiz?
Brittany: Exactly. We have collections on our Shopify site that shows you what type of bride you are. Once they finish the quiz it directs them directly to that collection page so they can see types of accessories that would fit their bridal style.
Felix: When you started off on this and I really want to stay on this topic, when you started doing this and for anyone out there that’s thinking about starting for a first time, how many I guess results do you need? Do you need twenty different potential results? Can you start with something smaller? What was your approach?
Brittany: Yeah. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I think of course you could come up with many nuances of different bridal styles but I think we have about six answers. I think even the Type Form faq, I think there’s was maybe three or four answers that it gets you to and we expanded it to about six or seven. I don’t think you need so many different options. I think if anything it becomes a little clearer and easier the smaller it is.
Felix: Is this the highest converting sales channel for you to drive people from this quiz to a collections page?
Brittany: I think Pinterest in general has been the biggest sales channel for us. The style quiz has been really great for us to, as I mentioned, collect emails and once we do that we have some great email marketing as well. We were really shocked to see how amazing Pinterest ads were for us. Something I actually learned from this podcast earlier, I can’t remember which episode it was with you, but someone was mentioning ads and how you should really educate the customer and walk them through. They were mentioning different ways to really talk to your customer and one of them was education.
One of our Pinterest ads is just how much you could save by renting instead of buying. We have just an info-graphic of if you rent your veil instead of purchase it, you could spend five hundred dollars by buying it or you could spend one hundred dollars by renting it. With that extra four hundred dollars you could upgrade to first class for your honey moon or invite four extra guests or get an extra tier on your cake. We did the budget for them of what four hundred dollars really means in the terms of your wedding. That’s another ad that has just done really really well for us because I think Pinterest in general is so great for us.
In general for brides and maybe not even brides but future brides, there is lots of women out there who are collecting lots of data and information for their wedding or future wedding. Even if they’re not getting married within the next year or even if they’re not engaged, now they have this visual reminder on their Pinterest board to come find us when they are engaged. I think it’s a really great way and a really great marketing tool for us and the wedding industry in general.
Felix: Yeah, definitely an amazing sales channel. My fiance was actually just showing me a Pinterest board today so I think that’s a great market for you guys, a great place to put your message out there. I want to talk a little bit about this Pinterest strategy that you have. It sounded like you had an ad that you run for the quiz but then also the pinning strategy that you have is to educate them through info-graphics. Is that the two prong approach to Pinterest for you guys?
Brittany: Yeah, we’ve tried a lot of different things. What we found is that education one and the style quiz had been the most successful for us. We tried one that was a little more generic and just said Happily Ever Borrowed is the place where you can rent accessories for ninety percent off the retail price with a pretty picture and it did well but really what we found is the style quiz is amazing. People want to find their bridal style and I think people go on Pinterest a lot to find out their style in general. It’s a very natural occurrence. Then, as I mentioned, the education of something that people are always looking for ways, especially on Pinterest to save money on their wedding. It was a very successful pin for us.
I actually took a look before I came on the podcast and we’re so impressed because we did try Instagram ads as well versus Pinterest ads. The CPC for our Pinterest ads is twenty-one cents and the CPC for the Instagram ads was a dollar. It’s such a huge difference. The reach we were getting with Instagram was 16,000 and the reach we were getting with Pinterest was 46,000. Not only are we reaching more people and getting more clicks and more saves but we’re getting more for our money. We really immediately nixed Instagram ads and realized that Pinterest was the way to go for us.
Felix: Yeah, I think in general, I’m not too surprised about your results from the different types of Pinterest ads you ran because the less you make an ad look like an ad, I think the more effective it’s going to be. Even though it’s a quiz it’s still a very much an educational angle, right? You’re trying to educate, you’re trying to give some free vale back to the customer, that’s always the very best way to first bring them down your funnel. Tell us a little bit about the content that you create. How did you know what you should be educating your customers on? How did you know the particular topics that you cover were the topics that they wanted to learn the most about?
Brittany: I think to the point that you brought up earlier, do people know that they can even rent their bridal accessories? I think that was the angle we really needed to start with. From there also just explaining how much money they could actually save. I think a lot of people, and Felix you know this as you’re planning your wedding, they don’t really think about the budget, they don’t really think about how much it costs until they’re in it. Then they realize how much it really is a financial burden. I think that’s when people frantically start Pinteresting on how to save money.
I think we really like to think of it in the big picture. It’s not about renting your bridal accessory, it’s not about only having it for the weekend or even being environmental, it’s about, in the bigger scheme of things it’s about saving money but not really saving money, it’s about spending your money more wisely. Like I mentioned about you could buy this veil and own it or you could rent it and invite two to three more guests at your wedding and what does that actually mean to you? There’s all these different ways that you could spend those dollars better. It just doesn’t make sense to own this piece that you will never wear again. We really wanted to get that across and I think the info-graphic was the best way to do it.
Felix: Do you create most info-graphics or was this just the one that you had that demonstrated the potential ways they could spend their money?
Brittany: We created a couple but we found one that we just really loved and saw the best success with and we’ve kept up with that.
Felix: Was this designed in house or, the info-graphic that is, was this designed in house or did you outsource it?
Brittany: In house.
Felix: Okay, cool. I think this is a great piece of content for other people, other entrepreneurs out there that might be interested in doing something like this. Any tips or any software tools that you used specifically to create the info-graphics?
Brittany: I guess I was lucky in the sense that I went to school for design so I had a little bit of background. I use Photoshop for everything. I guess, like I mentioned, I’m a little lucky because I have some knowledge in that. Photoshop for us is just the best way. One thing I did do was do a little research and due diligence into Pinterest ads and what the best ratio was. It changes all the time but I guess longer and thinner is the better way to go. I just Googled the best ratio and made sure to fit our ad within that spectrum.
Felix: Makes sense. When it comes to running these ads, for anyone out there that is thinking about running on Pinterest but has never gotten started, what kind of targeting is available? How did you determine, you don’t have to get into specifics about it, but how do you determine how to target ads on Pinterest?
Brittany: There was a lot of different ways that they have it on there. You can now specifically look by audience. You can even import your list of customers and either exclude or include them and find like people. We are able to be a little bit more generic, people naturally think of Pinterest and think of weddings. We’ve been able to be really specific and not just say, targeting people who are looking for weddings, but looking for wedding accessories or wedding veils or budget brides and we’ve be able to really target by key word and find the best ways to reach those people.
Felix: Makes sense. When it comes to running a business like this that’s rental, a rental business, there are obviously going to be more challenges that are different than someone that’s just selling a product and done with it in terms of the seller angle. These products are being used over and over again. How do you protect yourself or how do you insure that your inventory’s not getting damaged or worn down faster than you’d like?
Brittany: This is definitely something we’ve had to learn and deal with over time. I think the biggest hurdle for us has always been shipping. It’s obviously a very time sensitive business and not only USPS but UPS or Fedex can always drop the ball and packages get lost and it does happen. It’s a bit of a tragedy every time it does. I have to say our brides have always been very careful with their product. I think maybe only once or twice in the five years that we’ve been up and running have we had a bride that really ruined something. Most of the time they were super honest, I think every time they’ve been super honest and have emailed us and said … We had one girl who had dyed her hair the day before the wedding and she’s like, “The veil is black now.” I had a girl even last week who said, “We had a mud accident with the veil, if it doesn’t come out please let me know and I will pay you for the cleaning or for the veil.” Our brides are very very honest.
The only time I would say we’ve had real issues is when we lend our products out for styled shoots. This is something that is maybe a little bit more specific to the wedding or retail industry. A lot of the time photographers will do these styled shoots where they’ll ask a whole bunch of different vendors to collaborate. They’ll do a mock wedding, if you will. Then they send those images to different blogs or magazines for editorial. We participate a lot in those because it’s free advertising for us. That’s where I think sometimes you run into people who aren’t as careful with the pieces or aren’t treated them with the respect that they need to be treated with. We do run into that sometimes. I think for the most part jewelry, headpieces, these are sterling silver pieces that are pretty sturdy. I think it’s the veils that are a little more sensitive. We build that into our PNL and we’re thinking about how often we need to replenish those pieces versus these pieces like jewelry or headpieces that can last a little bit longer.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned, I think in the pre-interview as well, that you buy directly from the designers at whole sale prices. Typically when an e-commerce business out there, any business out there is buying whole sale there are minimum order quantities that need to be met. Do you run into these issues when it comes to your lines? Are you buying large quantities that you’re able to get whole sale margins or whole sale pricing? How do you work out these rates?
Brittany: I think we’ve been really lucky in the sense that when we started five years ago, we created these relationships with the vendors. A lot of them did have initial orders or order minimums that we needed to meet. I think naturally over time we’ve created this relationship with each of our vendors where they know the nature of our business and they’re not looking for us to really push for these minimum orders each month. I think they’re getting that from their brick and mortar retailers. For us and what we’ve explained to them and how we’ve set ourselves up in the market is that we are reaching those brides that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach because those brides can’t afford their product anyway.
For them it’s more profitable to sell to us at whole sale, they’re making the same margin they are on us as they are from someone else who’s selling it full price because they’re just selling it at whole sale. They’re getting more exposure because if the bride isn’t able to purchase it because it’s too expensive, she’s not probably going to take out an extra loan to purchase that piece, she’s just going to find something cheaper. For them they’re excited because more people get to wear their product and more people know about it.
Felix: Did you have to convince them of this or I guess, pitch that angle to them because it makes sense when you talk about but I do wonder if there’s some old school business logic where they don’t want you even entertaining the idea of renting out their products because it might eat into their margins even though your explanation makes perfect sense?
Brittany: Yeah. Definitely even more so in the beginning there was a lot of convincing and we had a lot of vendors who wanted to start with just exclusive product only. Things that would only be online that they couldn’t get in the stores as to not compete with the brick and mortar. Which for us, we found great. We love exclusive. We were trying with that. Certain vendors would say, “Okay, we’ll sell you product but only stuff that’s discontinued so that it doesn’t compete with the brick and mortar.” I think most of the time, nine times out of ten, the vendors we’re working with realized over time that it’s not competing with those brides who just want to purchase the piece.
I’m in that stage of my life where everyone’s getting married, all of my friends. I even have best friends who haven’t rented from me and it drives me nuts because how could you not borrow? I have a whole entire place where you can borrow and they say, “I was in the store and I bought the dress and they put the veil on and I just wanted it. I wanted that specific piece in that moment and I had to have it.” There’s always that feeling and that purchase is never going to go away. We’re really just exposing their product to the people who don’t want to spend that.
Felix: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. When you purchase these products at whole sale prices, how often do you have to rent the products out before you are breaking even?
Brittany: Two times.
Felix: Okay, yeah pretty quickly then. Do you ever get in situation where, I guess most of your products are going to be profitable pretty quickly. Have there been, after five years, have there been products that you have in your inventory that just stop getting, I guess as many rentals? What do you do in those cases?
Brittany: Definitely. I think in the beginning, as I mentioned, we had to purchase a lot more product up front. At the beginning there was definitely less profitability on pieces because as much as I might love something it might not resonate with brides or it might of not photographed well. People might of not felt the same way about it. Now that we’ve shifted to more of these image focused purchasing patterns where we’re usually getting a rental straight off the bat before even purchasing the product. There’s definitely been times when things have slowed down or over time we’ve had unprofitable product.
We’ve tried a couple of different things. We’ve done sample sales on the site which haven’t really worked that well for us. I think now what we love doing the most is we found a charity locally in New York City that will take our products from us and it’s a tax write off for us but it’s also a really great way for us to help brides who are in need. That’s where our unprofitable pieces, as well as our gently used pieces go after they’ve been through the whole rental cycle.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned earlier that you pretty much run this business solo. I think in the pre-interview questions you mentioned that you have had social media interns in the past. Tell us a little bit about this. First of all, what were they responsible for doing, these interns? How do you begin working or finding interns to help you with your business?
Brittany: Yeah, I think over time I knew that social media was one of the most important ways to get the word out. We felt like we needed a presence on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and now Snapchat but I’m still not wrapping my head around that one. Especially now that Instagram has stories. We just went out there, I think there was a lot of … There’s Internship.com and there’s lots of different ways that you can find interns. I always work remotely but then I found, especially with social media it’s so easy to schedule out and create content calendars and really encourage them to work together on a shared document to say for instance, I don’t know if you know but today is National Guacamole Day.
Felix: Did not know that.
Brittany: Yeah, we had some at the office today. There are some funny silly holidays like that or more regular content like Tuesday Shoesday on Instagram where we had lots of these different little things that we can put on a calender. The intern can work on to create the content and schedule it out on all of our different platforms so that we’re on the same page about what is going out there into the world.
Felix: I think when you are working with interns or just hiring in general, you also have to position yourself to be attractive for these interns. You can’t just say, “Hey, I have an internship,” or “Hey, I have this new job,” and then expect the best quality candidates to apply. Any tips on how to make your internship more attractive to higher quality applicants?
Brittany: I think it goes both ways. You want to help people learn and you want them to have a good experience but at the same time it’s always easier to have someone start up right away and know a little bit about what you need them to do. I always did a lot of sample testing before they became our intern. I would ask them to do a sample post or a sample Instagram or I would ask them to send me their personal social media channels so that I could check out what their voice is. I think I’m always willing to help and coach them through. I think most of the people that we’ve had as interns, while they’re doing social media, probably had some interest in the fashion industry in general, which I have a bit of a background in. I think offering that personal mentorship and really asking them what they want to do with their career and where they want to go and how I can help is the way that you really make yourself attractive to finding good interns and wanting them to really work hard for you.
Felix: Makes sense. Can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today?
Brittany: Sure. Over the past five years we’ve helped over five hundred brides rent their accessories. We’re having a really great year this year. We’re on track to do about 20k in revenue.
Felix: Very cool. What are the future plans for the business? What do you have planned for the next year of business?
Brittany: I think we’ve been testing all of these different ad venues and we’re really excited to see the return of our investment on those. I think we’re really excited about the inventory situation that we’re in and the fact that we’re able to really collect all this data information to make better purchasing decisions. We’re just continuing to get the word out and to really let brides know that rental is a possibility.
Felix: Very cool. Thanks so much Brittany. HappilyEverBorrowed.com again’s the website. Anywhere else you recommend the folks check out if they want to follow along with what you’re up to or see what’s available for rentals?
Brittany: Sure. You can check us out on Instagram, we’re @HappilyEverBorrowed. You can search for us on Pinterest at HappilyEverBorrowed. Yeah, I think those are the best channels to find us at.
Felix: Awesome, thanks so much Brittany.
Brittany: Thank you Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended thirty day free trial.
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