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Institchu founders talk expansion amid custom-made boom

Jo-Anne, editor of Internet Retailing’s sister publication Inside Retail, caught up with Institchu’s James Wakefield and Robin McGowan to talk about everything from their entry into the US to the Australian personalisation boom. Below is an excerpt from the broader interview, published in Inside Retail Weekly this week.

Jo-Anne: What were some of the highlights of 2017 for InStitchu?

RM: We achieved a lot as a brand from an international standpoint – we opened in New York and we’re really happy with the way things are progressing. But we’re also continuing to expand in Australia and offer our customers a good showroom experience and bring on good staff, styles and improve our technology.

JW: We completely rebuilt our entire stack – the front-end, back-end – everything. We found the limitations of other ecommerce platforms just weren’t right for our business. We’re not selling a product, we’re selling customisation lists, designs, fabrics and measurements and sending them off to the supplier. It was a big task and we brought all the tech in-house.

We previously worked with developers externally. Now we’ve got a dedicated team of soon to be four developers in-house, which has been game-changing for us. It has allowed us to  directly integrate our system into our supplier system, so we can get real-time status updates, which we can relay back to our customers as well. The technology development we did ourselves has really translated into a better experience for our staff and customers through real-time live updates.

RM: Because our website is also used in-store for us to transact with customers who are buying offline, a big focus focus for the year was getting it right and making sure our showrooms and tech were up to speed.

JW: We also partnered with Woolmark, so now all of the suiting fabrics that we offer are 100 per cent Australian merino Woolmark-certified. I think the Australian customer understands the importance of fabrics. It allows us to have confidence in the quality that we provide for our customers.

JHM: For a lot of customisation businesses, the big focus for them now is around speed of delivery and manufacturing. Is that the case for InStitchu?

RM: The goal is to get our production time down to three days in the next two years and the most important part is working closely with our manufacturing facilities to ensure we’re helping each other achieve those targets, giving each other feedback, improving the tech and just communicating – t’s such an important piece delivery imre in the modern day of retailing.

JHM: Do you consider yourselves pureplay or omnichannel?

JW: We definitely are omnichannel, through the fact that customers are coming to our showroom getting measured and placing their order through the frontend of the website. The showroom experience combined with online does make us a true omnichannel business in a sense.

RM: At the end of the day, it’s all retail – it’s all blended together and you really have to be wherever your customer wants you to be, if they want to shop online or if they want to drop into the store. You have to be present wherever.

JW: That’s where technology is key. The customer who is coming into your store, doesn’t want all the interaction he’s already done online just thrown out the window. And the customer who is shopping online doesn’t want all that interaction he had in-store with the garments and choice of fabrics just thrown out, so you need technology to create that one experience.

When the customer comes in-store, our consultant can see where that lead originated from, whether it was a referral or an article or Facebook – they can see things like age, where they live and what kind of garments they’re looking at or designing. Our consultants can then leverage that information to create a better shopping experience for the customer.

JHM: How would you describe the customisation landscape in Australia? There are a few other online suiting players out there like InStitchu.

JW:It’s still a niche industry. I think most guys in Australia are still buying their suits from traditional department stores and suit shops, then compromising on fit, style, price and getting that garment altered. Then if they want to buy a suit again, they have to go through that whole process again.

So really, we see anything that happens in the customisation space, especially suiting, as a benefit to create awareness of this niche industry, to get people away from traditional off-the-rack suiting shops and towards businesses like us where they just get a better experience.

This is part of a larger interview with Institchu published in Inside Retail Weekly this week, you can checkout the publication here.

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