How a partnership kickstarted Curvy’s growth
When Wes Blundy started an online bra business, Curvy, in 2014, he didn’t know much about the bra industry or even retail more generally. But he saw an opportunity to disrupt both.
Bras are one of the most inventory-heavy apparel products, next to jeans. Because bra sizes involve two components (cup and band), an individual bra can have more than 95 possible sizes.
But most bricks-and-mortar retailers carry only a tiny fraction of sizes, typically A-D cups, leaving the 40 per cent of Australian women who are bigger than a D-cup largely unsupported.
“I saw potential for an online business to tackle this problem,” Blundy, whose uncle Brett Blundy owns Bras N Things, told Internet Retailing.
“Amazon are the best example for doing this with books. A bookstore might sell just one copy of a particular title a year, but they have multiple copies on the shelf of every store. Amazon only has to invest in inventory for a single warehouse that serves the whole country. That’s the thinking behind Curvy.”
Blundy pitched the idea to Bras N Things, which operates over 180 bricks-and-mortar stores across Australia. He figured he could learn the ins-and-outs of the bra business from the experts, while helping the bigger retailer reach more customers.
“The biggest appeal was their marketing reach and the opportunity to get customer referrals. Thousands of customers are walking into their stores and asking for sizes they don’t carry. Having those customers referred on to us from day one helped us hit the ground running,” said Blundy, who didn’t draw a salary for six months to make the offer more appealing.
He also leveraged Bras N Things’ existing infrastructure, including office and warehouse space, and staff to fulfil orders. This allowed him to focus on growing the business rather than making the myriad operational decisions that “suck up a founder’s time”.
About 18 months ago, Blundy decided to buy back Bras N Things’ 50 per cent share of the business.
“It was a tough decision. Turning off access to customer referrals and big marketing benefits was daunting, but Curvy is now bigger in every measure than when we were together,” he said.
Today, the e-commerce company carries major international brands, such as Triumph and Curvy Kate, and has expanded into swimwear, activewear and sleepwear. According to Blundy, the last 6-12 months have seen major bra brands approaching Curvy, compared to the early days, when the opposite was true.
Underpinning this growth is Curvy’s commitment to delivering above-average customer service, Blundy explained.
“Part of it has been really trying to give anyone who comes our way really memorable, great-not-good service, so they’ll come back and tell their friends and family.”
As founder, however, Blundy didn’t simply tell his team to deliver great customer service and let them figure out how. He has developed internal systems and tools that make it easy.
For instance, Curvy offers a $10 voucher for first-time customers, but some customers forget to use the voucher or don’t know how to redeem it at checkout. It was a hassle to renew the voucher every time this happened, so Blundy created a canned response in the company’s ticket management tool.
Team members can resolve the issue with one click, and customers are surprised and delighted by the positive response.
“Returns are expensive”
Offering free, unlimited returns is another important part of the customer experience, since bras are notoriously tricky to fit.
“We’ve got the mentality in our team that we will spend as long as it takes to help customers find the right fit, because if we can make them happy, they will continue shopping with us,” Blundy said.
“There have been occasions where an order goes back and forth four or five times. It’s a challenge because returns are expensive for us,” he added.
Curvy is currently looking for ways to bring the cost of returns down, including improving its size guide and fit videos.
“The best way to solve the issue is to try to get them into right bra the first time around.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Curvy sells Prima Donna bras. The retailer no longer carries that brand. The article has been updated to reflect this.