How Bespoke Tailors Are Coming Into The Digital Age

Netscape founder and prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously wrote back in 2011 that “software is eating the world”, disrupting industries such as books, music, TV, and retail. His most dramatic example of “software eating a traditional business is the suicide of Borders and corresponding rise of Amazon.” He cites that “in 2001, Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant.” We all know now how that strategy worked out for Borders. When’s the last time you bought a book there instead of on Amazon?

In addition to the entertainment industries, Andreessen argues that “companies in every industry need to assume that a software revolution is coming.” And surely one is. In fact, we’re now starting to see even one of the most time-honored, most traditional, and non-techy industries – bespoke tailoring – being changed by and benefiting from this digital revolution.

Here’s how some bespoke tailors are coming into the digital age, and using software to better serve their clients, and improve their tailoring businesses:

Universal Tailors located in Bangkok, Thailand uses software to take orders online via an online product configurator. Customers can select their fabrics and styles and order them directly from their website. The shop’s proprietor, Ronnie, and his son Raj wanted to both standout from the sea of other tailors in Bangkok as well as better serve their customers. Their online shop makes it easier for their customers to place orders and purchase great clothing. For Universal, they have a unique need in that most of their client base is remote. They come to Bangkok on vacation and visit their shop where they get measured and place an order, but when they go back to their home countries, they don’t have a very good way to order more clothes. They were missing out on a lot of sales.  As a result of the online shop, they’ve seen a massive increase in sales.  What’s more is that their clients’ friends and family who were referred to Universal don’t have to travel all the way to Thailand to procure tailored clothing. They can just place their orders online from the convenience of their own homes. After nearly 10 years, about 40% of their total sales are conducted online. Because of their online shop’s success, they are investing more and more in the internet in things such as SEO and the like.

Toby Luper at Hemingway Tailors is a travelling tailor based in Leeds, England. He launched his website with a product configurator 18 months ago to not only stand out in a very competitive market, but also to show off his fabrics collection and all the different options available for bespoke tailoring. He says that his online shop is a better way to serve his clients. In addition, new clients can can get a better idea of what to expect about the process and the details of going bespoke before they meet with him.  Like the folks at Universal, Toby is also investing more and more in software in things like SEO and an even more integrated online shop. Toby explained that “I’m looking to do more online sales because it’s just a better way to do business.”

Mario Ravasi, the proprietor of Piacemolto used to operate a tailor shop in Milan, Italy, but in February, 2013, he closed it down to focus purely on online sales.  His online shop consists of a product configurator and a measurements form that enables his customers to tell him how the items should fit. But why would a tailor close down his shop which was aptly located right in the heart of the fashion world? To Mario, it was a no-brainer. He wanted to not only reduce his operational costs, but also increase the exposure of his brand to more customers.  An online shop costs just a fraction of what it costs to maintain a physical shop. There are no rents, and the extra staff needed to maintain a physical shop simply isn’t needed. Moreover, an online shop can be visited by customers from all over the world, not just the people within a limited distance of the shop. To be sure, these benefits do not come without new challenges though. Since most if his customers are web only and have never been to his shop, the customers aren’t familiar with his materials. So, in order to extinguish any fear of the unknown, he routinely sends out fabric swatches to customers who want to touch and feel the fabrics before they purchase them.  According to Mario, the future is bright for online sales.  “The next generations of tailored clothing buyers will absolutely buy them online,” he says.

Michael Beaumont from Beau & Co is launching a new online only brand called Henley Bond (launching February, 2014) to complement his offline brand. The reasoning behind the online brand is two-fold: convenience and scale. He wanted to provide a better service to his clients by enabling them to order at their own convenience, as well as be able to reach new consumers on a larger scale. Michael explains, “We decided to launch a separate custom shirting brand to compliment our existing offline brand, Beau & Co. to allow us to reach consumers on a larger scale. We’ve spent a long time to get the garments to where they are today, we’re really proud of what we create and we’d like to be able to share that with more people. With Beau & Co. we have a small team so we’re limited geographically and primarily work with clients on the East Coast (USA); by adding an online element via our new brand Henley Bond, we’re looking to be able to service a much wider base of clients. We’ve also heard from a number of our out of state clients that they’d love the opportunity to have us there right when they need a garment, vs. having to plan a fitting a few weeks out, when the need may have past. That’s another reason for us launching an online experience, new clients will be able to order what they want, 24 hours a day. It’s about convenience and scale.”

Employing a product configurator and an online shop isn’t the only way bespoke tailors are using software to help run their business. Lan Nguyen, the owner of Cao Vinh Tailors (Full disclosure: Cao Vinh is a Bespokeable customer.) uses her online shop as a point-of-sale inside her physical shop in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on laptops and tablets (and even a phone once!). When customers come into her shop and place orders using the product configurator and point-of-sale, she can learn a lot more about her business. It helps her manage her customers, inventory, referrals, and even allows her to appropriate discounts to her VIP clients. Her software system also alerts her and her staff when an order has been placed remotely directly by email. As a result, she is much more organized and on top of things. Like Universal Tailors, Cao Vinh Tailors also has a substantial percentage of their customer base living outside of the city that their physical shop is located. Her online shop enables those customers to order clothes from anywhere at anytime making the distance a non issue.  In addition to her online shop and point-of-sale, she also uses software for marketing purposes. She uses digital fabrics swatches as marketing materials to alert her customers about new fabrics and gives them a way to review them remotely and on their own time. If she knows a particular customer likes blue checked fabrics for example, she can send an email or a Twitter/Facebook message with a link to a new blue checked fabric that she just added to her shop, such as this. Her customer can then digitally design that fabric to see how it looks as a finished product, get opinions on it from people they trust, and even compare to other fabrics in their closet before placing the actual order. According to Ms. Lan, “The digital fabric swatches give my current customers, and new customers too, a new way to interact with my brand that wasn’t possible before.”

A software revolution it is!

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