This is what retail brick-and-mortar heartbreak looks like…
Girl meets dress. Girl loves dress. Dress isn’t in girl’s size. So — because she can pull up a nearly identical style on her phone and order the right size to be delivered in less than two-days (all with just a few clicks) — girl leaves store, never to return again.
It’s a horror story playing out on Main Streets everywhere leaving thousands of owners wondering: Is the death of traditional retail imminent?
Now consider how it could get even worse for approximately 2,800 high-end specialty stores catering to affluent women when they hear the following: a long time wholesale partner with a wildly popular product has decided to build a brand and sell direct to consumer.
Is this a retail bloodbath …
Or one of the most generous life preservers ever thrown to brick-and-mortar retail by a couple of guys with absolutely no women’s fashion experience?
Is it even possible to walk a tightrope this thin?
To launch an online brand and sell direct, without alienating or even harming the specialty boutiques that have been loyal wholesale customers for nearly a decade?
That’s the dilemma Peter Daneyko and partner Joe Werner found themselves confronted with when reinventing the all-over-print brand they co-founded as Whimsy Rose, a print on demand women’s apparel brand that invites customers to become part of the design process and create personalized pieces and express themselves through fashion.
As Daneyko explains:
We want to give women choice they’ve never had before. It’s possible that when a customer creates an item with Whimsy Rose that it may be the only one just like it in the world.
It’s an ambitious goal…
One that might leave the specialty shops that have carried Whimsy Rose’s patented all-over-print fashions under a different name brand for years, concerned or even shaken. Especially when you consider the Whimsy Rose business model looks like this:
- Allow customers to select the style they want
- Then allow them to select the print they want on their style
- Print the garment on demand and deliver it to the customer within five days
Not to worry though, Daneyko told his long time wholesale customers to trust that he could do both; sell direct and help brick & mortar stores thrive. “They were skeptical when we launched the new brand,” Daneyko says. “But we wanted to be loyal to our long time wholesale customers and help them compete with the web and make more money.”
It’s generous and sincere. Daneyko and Werner had secretly been masterminding a plan that might even Amazon-proof his retail partners.
Too bad executing would be too slow and exhausting unless...
Exhausting Product Uploads
The idea powering Whimsy Rose is custom personalization.
To celebrate the artistic spirit in each of its customers, Whimsy Rose offers women the ability to choose their favorite styles and their favorite prints and manufacture them on demand. Besides offering this online, Whimsy Rose wanted to offer it in the 2,800 specialty stores with which it partnered. The objective was to solve several of the major challenges impacting brick & mortar retail:
- How to help stores win back purchases increasingly being made online
- How to help stores purchase only prints that will sell and avoid being stuck with a glut of inventory no one wants
“We print individual orders rather than large garment runs,” Daneyko says. “We can print a thousand orders a day and it makes no difference to us whether that’s a thousand unique garments or a thousand of the same item. The economies of scale are the same for us either way which is a real competitive advantage.”
To position brick & mortar retailers to leverage Whimsy Rose’s technology, Daneyko and Werner wanted to launch the Shop-Local Partner Program, an effort designed to help independent boutique owners combat unwanted or excess inventory and competition from Amazon or even Whimsy Rose itself. Specifically, the program would allow merchants that do not have exactly what a customer wants to use an iPad to custom order from the Whimsy Rose site but get paid for the sale as if it happened solely in the physical store.
But Daneyko’s vision was in jeopardy.
The problem was that Whimsy Rose could actually print garments faster than it could upload products to its website.
For instance, if Whimsy Rose were to add a single print to its site, it would create one hundred new SKUs when combined with all of the different garment styles and sizes on which it might be printed.
Unfortunately, Daneyko says the Magento platform underpinning the business simply wouldn’t allow him to upload that amount of product fast enough:
It would take us weeks to upload products on Magento. It was exhausting and we needed a much more efficient way to be able to upload products.
To keep up with rapidly changing fashion trends and tastes, Whimsy Rose would need to be just as fast.
Find the Winners
“Stores want choice,” Daneyko says. “They may not get fashion right all of the time because prints are personal for people. They’re subjective and very much like art.”
To better serve boutiques scattered across the United States, the team's vision included a Whimsy Rose flagship store in St. Louis where the company could regularly run tests and refine its approach to creating a hybrid experience for boutiques that merges the digital and physical worlds.
In Daneyko's words:
We needed an elegant system that could easily integrate with our backend systems. But we also needed a system with a front end that was easy to customize which is why we are ecstatic about migrating to Shopify Plus.
Importantly, Daneyko credits the Shopify API with empowering Whimsy Rose to build a custom product uploader. Instead of manually uploading styles, prints, or the thousands of potentially new SKUs created from new style-print combinations, the Whimsy Rose product uploader allows Daneyko’s team to quickly offer customers and boutique owners:
- Unlimited aisles of personally customizable styles and prints
- More than 2,000 SKUs that are customizable on demand in-store and online
- A streamlined process that simultaneously routes style-print orders to the Whimsy Rose printer which enables delivery within five days
“What used to take us weeks on Magento now takes us days on Shopify,” Daneyko says. “The business benefit is significant and allows us to test prints, products, and marketing almost in real time.”
For instance, Daneyko and the Whimsy Rose team recently tested a print on behalf of a boutique that few internally thought would become a commercial success. However, the print quickly became wildly popular and resulted in the sale of seven-thousand units.
“Remember we print on demand,” Daneyko explains. “Shopify allows us to experiment fast so we can find the winners based upon what women want in diverse regions of the country.”
The ability to experiment quickly is paying off at the checkout:
Since launching the Whimsy Rose site, average order value (AOV) has increased 20%:
We credit the platform and the support. Ava Nguyen is our Merchant Success Manager is extremely responsive and helps us solve a lot of problems.
Separately, with Shopify’s POS system connecting Whimsy Roses’s physical store with its digital store, Daneyko also regularly runs experiments that allow him to better understand in-store customer behavior which positions him to better serve boutique store partners.
“We’re a just-in-time manufacturer and a retailer,” Daneyko says. “No one is doing what we’re doing for retailers.”
Fashion Design Bars
Whimsy Rose will soon introduce twenty new prints that allow for four hundred new fashion combinations. It means the Whimsy Rose design bars some boutique partners have set up in-store are positioning merchants to offer an even larger digital-physical collection without taking an inventory position.
Remember, boutiques benefit even when they don’t have the exact fashion combination an in-store customer desires. Boutique partners can use iPads to place custom orders via the Whimsy Rose website for items customers want but aren’t in stock in the physical store and:
- The boutique still gets paid as if it had the inventory in stock
- If a customer leaves the boutique without making a purchase but later purchases from Whimsy Rose online, they can enter a special code at the checkout that credits the local brick & mortar retailers with the purchase
It’s all part of the Shop-Local Partner Program Daneyko envisioned and has made Whimsy Rose arguably the best friend specialty brick & mortar retailers have. “It is refreshing to see a manufacturer responding to current market trends in an innovative, creative and mutually collaborative manner,” says Shawn Hazan of UBM Fashion, which organizes trade shows that connect fashion buyers and sellers.
Whimsy Rose is also building an affiliate program that further bridges the digital- physical divide in retail. For instance, merchants can use Whimsy Rose discount codes redeemable online to generate incremental sales. Offline, Whimsy Rose arms brick & mortar retailers with physical gift cards they can box, wrap, and send VIP customers who often respond to such treatment:
The customer feedback has been phenomenal. Store owners thank us over and over and tell us they can’t believe we’re doing all of this for them.