I recently noticed that you are in the initial stages of developing or have just recently launched a new apparel brand catering towards the young prep market. Congratulations on taking the plunge into owning your own business, it is truly part of the American dream. However, before you get excited and let images of swimming in pools of money like Scrooge McDuck run rampant in your mind, let me give you some friendly advice.
I received my bachelor’s degree in marketing and have worked on both the product side and the advertising/promotional side, so, while I may be young, I know a thing or two about the process. Consider also that writing this blog forces me to continuously examine and compare companies catering to your target market, so I’ve seen what works and what can be improved. I also happen to be in your target market so I understand what your potential customer is looking for. While I’m not promising you riches or guaranteeing that following this advice will work, I believe it is something you should consider and it should improve your chances of succeeding.
Firstly, do not name yourself Southern _______. The market is already saturated with Proper, Marsh, Point, Dignity and Ties and it’s quite possible I am leaving some off. These are great names, but with each new Southern ________ it becomes harder and harder to tell each apart. Be original. Even if you plan to cater towards the South, figure out a way to differentiate yourself so you don’t just blend in. Realize, too, that aligning yourself with one part of the country is going to limit your ability to connect with people in other areas and will restrict your customer base. This doesn’t just apply to the South, but also the Midwest, New England, etcetera, etcetera. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing but just something to think about. There are a lot of great brands out there that cater to one specific locale and are doing perfectly fine. The key is that they realize where their appeal is greatest and concentrate their efforts there. Are you satisfied with cornering a niche market or do you have dreams of expanding into all corners of the country or even the world? There is no right answer here but you must realize the opportunity cost of either choice.
Differentiate yourself. It is amazing how many brands think that if they just come up with a catchy name and a snazzy logo and slap it on a t-shirt or a polo, people will buy it. Sorry, but my closet already has more animals in it than a zoo. Why should I buy your product when the only thing different is the name on the tag and the logo on the chest? Sure, some people will buy it, but the competition out there is fierce and it will be tough to retain your customers. Think about why you purchase a brand more than once. It may have to do with better fit, better quality, better customer service or values and an image you want to perpetuate. I would strongly recommend against differentiating yourself solely on price. It’s always easy for the next guy to come along and undercut you and then you’re stuck with a ho-hum product at a higher price. If you are going to focus on price, make sure there is another element that differentiates you as well.
Create a consistent image and engage with your customers. Customer service is the best way you can differentiate from the competition. Everybody has a “better-fitting” polo these days, so there has to be something else to attract the customer. Give your brand personality. Brands like Chubbies and Bonobos have mastered the art of not taking themselves too seriously, filling their sites with witty copy and transferring that attitude to their products. Brands like Loggerhead Apparel and Kiel James Patrick are proud of being American made. Cash Robinson focuses on horse racing and bourbon. You don’t have to be witty or geographically focused, but you do need an image that differentiates you from your competition.
Connect with your customers. Make them feel like you personally care about each and every one of them. With the rise of social media, it’s easier than ever to do this but you’d be surprised at how ineffective most brands are at this. If you want a model to pattern your social media strategy after, I would highly suggest Brooks Brothers. It may be an old brand rooted in years of tradition but it has molded a social media strategy that makes it feel like the new kid on the block trying to still win over customers. Use social media to listen to what people are saying about your brand and respond accordingly. Answer their questions, help them solve their problems. Pose questions regarding product design to your followers. You may think you know what they want but you may find out they want something entirely different. At the least it lets them feel like the brand cares. Give each order a personal touch. Include a handwritten letter. It takes hardly any time at all but can make a lasting impression.
Listen to this advice and I can’t guarantee you millions or even success, but I can guarantee that you will at least have a better chance at each. If you ever want to bounce ideas off of me or get my honest feedback, feel free to send me an e-mail. There’s a handy link on the sidebar. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.
Great Lakes Prep