Welcome back to the fifth and final blog in our five-part series starring Alternative Apparel’s CEO, Evan Toporek! NuORDER’s CEO, Heath Wells, had the chance to (virtually) sit down with Evan and discuss sales strategy, how the retail industry is changing, inside sales as a big growth area, the importance of going digital, and strategies for successfully running an apparel brand.
Let’s get you all caught up here…
In our first blog post Heath and Evan discuss sales planning, forecasting, tracking and growth in retail. In our second blog post, they speak about what’s going on in retail today, how brands can deliver growth, and insight on trade shows. In our third blog post, Heath and Evan chat about the importance of inside sales and the key qualities of a strong sales leader. And in our fourth blog post, they talk about the importance of technology and how going digital will make your wholesale more successful all around.
In this post, Evan gives us the lowdown on his experience running an apparel company, some sound advice on being an entrepreneur, and an inside look at the biggest mistake he’s made and the lesson learned.
Heath: Let’s wind down here with a few management questions. You’ve been doing this a fair while, give me five pieces of advice you can offer someone running an apparel brand or thinking of starting one. What are Evan’s top five?
- From the moment you start, the brand is everything and it better live inside you. I see people saying “Oh, there's a huge opportunity to sell, I don't know, knee high socks. We could have a huge market.” But if they don't wear knee high socks, it's not authentic. And especially today, shoppers want to deal with companies that are delivering real experiences, not attacking a hot market. So the very first thing is whatever you're going to sell, you better be in love with your own brand and your own product. And your brand should be reflective of you. You can't fake it.
“From the moment you start, the brand is everything and it better live inside you.”EVAN TOPOREK, CEO OF ALTERNATIVE APPAREL
- The second thing is, I've already mentioned it, don't make false promises. You have to have equal effort in those beautiful samples you bring to the trade shows and the ability to be able to deliver them on time. Right?
“Don’t make false promises.”EVAN TOPOREK, CEO OF ALTERNATIVE APPAREL
- And then the third thing is from the beginning, build a culture of profitability. I know the software industry has other metrics they use. Start up businesses get excited by many metrics that could define whether or not they're doing well, but at the end of the day, the company's going to need to be profitable. And from the moment you start, or at any point you take over, you have to build a culture that goes throughout all of the employees that profitability is key.
“You have to build a culture that goes throughout all of the employees that profitability is key.”EVAN TOPOREK, CEO OF ALTERNATIVE APPAREL
- The last two things I would say. Listen to your customers. Sometimes when you hold your brand so tightly, you can be a snob and you can tune out your feedback when the easiest changes could really make a huge difference. So I would listen, don’t try to be all things to all people, but listen to your customers.
“Listen to your customers.”EVAN TOPOREK, CEO OF ALTERNATIVE APPAREL
- And the last thing is have a digital business. We're all in digital businesses. Build a digital business. If you're going to build a business, think about your digital presence above all. And that can be your website, how it appears in mobile, your social media voice and how you run that. Even emails, which we both know have excellent conversions. I just think that whatever you sell, you're in a digital business, and you should think of yourself that way first when building your business.
“If you're going to build a business, think about your digital presence above all.”EVAN TOPOREK, CEO OF ALTERNATIVE APPAREL
Heath: Great. So the question that I'm asking everyone is what’s the biggest mistake you've made and the lesson learned?
Evan: Yes, we tried to build into way too many fabrications. At one point we had a 100 different fabrics in our attempt to swim our brand upstream. We started designing much more higher priced products and we failed. With enough time maybe it would have worked, but it was a very expensive and costly exercise just to find out that our customers loved us for who we were, which is a great basic company. And that we should not be ashamed of being proud of who we are.
So about two years ago we called back the fabrications and the fashion we were working on and said, “We're going to be the greatest fashion basics company we can. We're going to stand loud and proud and tell people that.” And ironically enough, our customers said “well duh, that's what you guys should have been doing the whole time.” Not only did it become an easier business to run, an easier message to deliver, but it was like a sigh of relief that you could just sit back and say, "Rag & Bone? Fantastic. We're not Rag & Bone. We are a great affordable fashion basics company.”
We hope you enjoyed this series of NuORDER Chat with Evan Toporek. Stay tuned for our next guest!