Most of the Shopify store owners in our community usually operate in smaller, obscure niches that have little competition. This has its advantages mainly in terms of breathing room in marketing and customer acquisition.
But if you’ve ever wondered how larger stores run their business in a competitive niche or vertical, here’s your chance at an inside look!
Today, we sit down with Syed Obaid of The Jacket Maker and discuss how his e-commerce store came to be. We talk about the company’s history, their operations, and the strategies they used to find success in this highly competitive market.
Here’s our Q&A in full
Harris: For our readers, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I’m Syed Obaid, CEO and Co-Founder of ‘The Jacket Maker’, a one-of-a-kind startup combining years old bespoke tailoring with e-commerce to make finest quality custom & ready-to-wear leather jackets.
The idea is based on the belief that everyone should own a jacket that they truly desire, with the design they want, color they prefer, and details they love. Up till now, The Jacket Maker has received over 20,000 custom order requests and served over 10,000 customers in more than 50 countries across the globe.
Harris: What’s the story of you getting into the e-commerce industry? How did you guys get started?
Syed Obaid: Right after graduating, I started my career with Rocket Internet, one of world’s biggest e-commerce incubators. During my time at Rocket Internet, I learned about the potential and shortcomings in e-commerce industry. That’s where I realized there are still major gaps in this sector which can be filled, especially in fashion. So, I teamed up with three of my school friends to start The Jacket Maker.
In 2013, we started as an online retail store for leather jackets, with a small division for custom orders. Since day one, we didn’t believe in the middlemen theory, and didn’t like the way the fashion industry functioned; with a plethora of middlemen in between the manufacturer and customer. We initiated by being the manufacturer and the retailer of our products; a humble customer-centric brand, making top notch jackets.The idea was, if we could cut the long supply chain, we would be able to offer exceptional value to our customers.
Harris: How did you go about building your brand and products’ identity in a saturated market?
Syed Obaid: We are a group of young, exciting individuals looking to disrupt outerwear industry. We are changing the rules of fashion retail by shaping personalization in leather outerwear. Our new rules empower customers and give them control over what they choose to wear. We started the bespoke service keeping in mind simple solutions to three problems:
Bespoke has always existed but contrary to fast-fashion, it has never been accessible to all. Our custom leather jackets starting at $350 being as affordable as mass-produced leather jackets is the best solution to bespoke accessibility.
We wanted to make bespoke process as easy and convenient as possible. With The Jacket Maker you get a dedicated design consultant to work on your custom project without any charges and final commitment to purchase.
How often do you find a product which you like but there is something you want to change about in it. We believe you should never settle for anything almost perfect.
Harris: What was the e-commerce strategy that worked best for you, and how did you guys find it?
Syed Obaid: Marketplaces, including Amazon really helped us in the initial phases. We realized that there are four things one needs to get right for a business taking direct-to-customer approach to be successful, especially for a fashion brand taking D2C approach:
This is the starting point, everything else follows. You have to come up with a compelling story, as to why people would care about you and your product offering.
Based on your story, you have to create great products. What are great products? Which are totally in sync with your philosophy and provide exceptional value.
Even if you have a great story and great product, how do you communicate that to your target audience? You would need to create great content that promotes your brand. When we say content, we are referring to everything audio, visual, textual. Anything you are using to communicate to your customers.
You have a great story, products that provide value and content to market your product, but how do you get people to see your products. The integral point to understand here is that coverage comes at a cost. You have to spend money to get people to your website and marketplaces solve this issue and provide free coverage. If you are planning to launch a fashion brand and taking it directly to customer, marketplaces enable to focus on the top three characteristics and solve the coverage issue.
Harris: What’s the biggest challenge facing your business today?
Syed Obaid: There have been many different challenges at different point in times. The answer would change based on different timeframes. The biggest problem for now is achieving scalability. Bespoke orders require special attention to details, not only in production but in communication as well, and therefore scalability becomes an issue.
Automation could be a possible solution to achieve scalability.We could come up with an online tool, which allows people to design their products themselves instead of consulting with our design consultants. But at the same time, we have to make sure that with automation we don’t lose the bespoke essence, which is personalized product and personalized support as well.
Also, digital world is becoming competitive day by day and cost of acquiring new customers is getting higher as more and more advertisers come in. We will have our work cut out to acquire new customers without spending extravagantly.
Harris: What are you doing for future growth and scaling?
Syed Obaid: For future growth we are always working to create new opportunities. We started from ready-made jackets, and then we put extra emphasis on custom jackets, now we are also offering bags and accessories. We are always looking to add more value to our offerings for our customers.
Harris: Any unforeseen problems that you ran into that people wouldn’t normally think about or be prepared for?
Syed Obaid: Before starting, I understood e-commerce and especially digital marketing inside out. What I realized later is that it is not skills in e-commerce alone that comprise the recipe of a successful online business.
There are multiple things you need to get absolutely right in parallel to be successful. For instance, we have to deal with a lot of external vendors for our operations i.e. to make jackets. If there is any problem with any one of them, the entire system halts; so we always have to be on our ‘A’ game.
Harris: What’s the biggest success story at your company? (e.g. a particular campaign, idea or strategy that worked well)
Syed Obaid: I won’t call it a strategy but rather a simple principle or idea of being obsessed with creating value for the customer has helped us grow exponentially. In terms of strategy, we’re not afraid to test new things like category diversification & product diversification.
Harris: How did you scale your business to what it is today?
By focusing on the following:
- Clear Value Proposition: Right from the start, I was clear in what I was doing. I was selling the finest quality leather at an affordable pricing. I would make sure thatwe, as a small team, understood this clearly and were also able to convey this to our customers clearly.
- Using Marketplace as the launch-Pad: Using them as launchpad besides the website.
- Investing in Photography and Content: We knew that with the limited resources we had, we have to get the photography right and define what we are offering very clearly.
- Customer Support: Being very responsive to messages we received from potential customers. We would get back to most of the emails and messages with in a couple of hours. The first 10 sales are hardest to get so we made sure we provided best customer support we could.
- Paid Ads: By using Google ads, albeit on a limited budget.
Harris: Lastly, any advice for struggling entrepreneurs looking to break into the ecommerce business?
Syed Obaid: People who are not from online and e-commerce background get too focused on technicalities.
E-commerce is just another point of sale; main principles of business and marketing remains the same. You have to create value for the customers, and it remains constant in brick and mortar or e-commerce. Be obsessed with creating value for the customers and everything else would follow. Value could be anything from affordable products to high quality products.