Inside Scoop: Preparing for Launch
The Inside Scoop is a series that chronicles the ups and downs of starting a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) apparel company from scratch...in the middle of a pandemic.
Hello Frankly Fam! It's been...a while...since our last blog post. Such is the life of a two person company! But we're back! And today's post is a fun one: planning for launch FINALLY.
Eight weeks ago, we started selling DTC on our website (this website, hey thanks for visiting!). We are so excited to finally have our product out in the world, to hear from customers, and to start making money instead of just spending it. Launch day is a huge milestone for any brand. We felt a little bit more prepared this time around, thanks to the launch of our Kickstarter, but it was still a huge undertaking. In this post, we will share our high level preparations and experiences from launch.
Here is a condensed, high level list of all the things you need to consider for launch:
- Customer Acquisition / Growth
- Social Media
- Finance + Taxes
Now let's dive in...
Your customers need somewhere to buy your clothes! For us, and likely for you, this is a website. We built our website on the Shopify platform ourselves. This was the most cost-efficient plan, although we were frustrated by some of Shopify's (and our own) limitations. The goal is for the website to be aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate, and fully functional. We did look into hiring someone to build this for us, but it was pricey!! We will likely go through a full custom web build within the next year, but for now, we settled for "good enough." P.S. Let us know if you think we did not hit the mark...
You might also think about doing some sort of in-person activations, whether that's getting your product into stores, hosting your own pop-up or launch party, or doing a little roadshow. We didn't do any of these due to the uncertainty of vaccinations at the time of our launch, but I am sure we will in the future.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hopefully, you already know what you're selling and have it in stock. Here are a few questions that you may not have considered yet:
- Do you have hangtags for your clothing?
- Will / did your manufacturer individually package each item or do you need to do that once orders are placed?
- How are you organizing your products to make pick and pack easy when orders come in?
- Are you only selling in-stock items or are you doing pre-orders?
- Have you counted, re-counted, and then triple checked your inventory levels?
PRO TIP: consider holding back one or two units per size+color from your inventory on Shopify just in case you accidentally miscounted. Better to have an extra unit to sell later than accidentally sell a unit you don't have.
- What happens if you sell out right away? Are you prepared with more "newness" to give customers something to buy?
The first question for packaging is whether you will use mailers or boxes. We have both. Mailers are by far the more cost-effective option. But boxes can be a really nice branding element and unboxing experience. Beyond that, you also need to think about what goes inside your packaging. Originally, we wanted to wrap everything in tissue, handwrite a thank you note, and seal it with a sticker. After packing our 300+ Kickstarter orders, we said "NOPE" to that pretty fast! Instead, we chose to include a printed thank you postcard with our sustainability facts, as well as a fun, custom Frankly sticker!
One thing to know: if you want custom mailers or boxes, plan far in advance. The lead times are really long due to COVID-19, so you need to order several months before you need them. These lead times increase in the fall as brands rush to order packaging for the holiday season.
So a customer placed an order on your website - HOORAY! Now you have to fulfill the order. While you might already have a third-party logistics team (commonly called a 3PL or just "a warehouse"), more likely you are fulfilling the orders yourselves. That's what we did! Our Shopify feeds into a shipping system called ShipStation, but there are tons of options in this space (Shippo, Pirate Ship, etc.). Basically, you set up an account for a monthly fee and pay for your postage through the platform. Then you print the shipping label, package up your goods and take them to the post office. Make sure that you set up your Shopify emails to notify customers when orders have been shipped and delivered. You also need to consider returns and exchanges. Look at existing brands policies to get the language right for your site. You can manually fulfill these via email with your customers or you can use a platform like Returnly or Happy Returns.
Finding new customers is the #1 job for a new brand, and there are tons of ways to go about it. For the sake of simplicity, we are going to focus on paid advertising in this section. The honest truth is that iOS14 has paid ads really messed up right now. Facebook and Instagram conversions are so expensive and even the biggest brands with the best talent are still trying to figure it out. If you have limited funds, we recommend you use them elsewhere. Just know that, eventually, you will have to do some paid spend. Right now, 80% of our traffic is organic. Find out where your customer is spending his/her/their time and think of how you can tie that into your marketing strategy. Before you launch, you might be making an educated guess on where that would be. Make sure to re-evaluate your customer base post-launch and refine your marketing to match who is actually purchasing.
Social media is a full-time job for a DTC brand!! It can get overwhelming very, very fast. Based on our own experiences, we recommend that you choose one or two primary channels that seem to resonate most with your customer. For us, that is Instagram and TikTok. We still have a Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but they get a lot less love, and that's OK! The key in your chosen channels is to be consistent. Try to post once a day (we are so bad at this), and make your content a good mix of fun, educational, and promotion. Jane and I both took the negative comments on social media really hard, even though there was so much positive feedback, too. This brand is our baby and it was hard not to take the criticism personally. If you love the social media aspect of the job, go for it! But if you find it exhausting, it's OK to pass that part of the company off to someone else. This is a great area for (paid!!) interns or freelancers to help you out. You can also work out agreements with influencers to use their content in exchange for payment. Launch is going to be a hectic time, so try to plan all of your content for launch week in advance. This will make your life a lot easier.
Ah, PR. Jane and I were unsuccessful in self-advocating during our Kickstarter, so we hired a PR agency for launch instead. It's also totally valid to de-prioritize PR for now. If you do hire an agency, look for one that specializes in brands like yours - they will leverage the same connections at the various outlets. Influencers often falls into the PR world, so consider your influencer strategy. Lastly, remember that for both editorial and influencer PR, you will be gifting units to the content creators. Plan accordingly.
FINANCE & TAXES
Once you start bringing in and recognizing revenue, your finances get a lot more complicated. You need to account for inventory on hand, pay your sales tax, and so much more. It's easy to accidentally make a mistake. This is especially true if you have any complicating factors like Kickstarter donations or pre-orders. Honestly, we just recommend you hire an accountant for this one. And we say that with a former investment banker on the team. Do it early - the longer you wait, the more tangled your finances will become.
Our best launch advice: take time to enjoy the moment. There is so much to love about being live: real customer with real feedback, tangible results for your months or years of hard work, and the high of good reviews! You should be prepared that being an operating company will mean a drastic shift in your day-to-day work. If pre-launch is about strategy and planning, post-launch is about executing and growing. You might find that you like one way of working better than the other. Pay attention to what brings you energy and what saps it.
Happy launching, friends!!!