What do you get when you combine premium-quality, stylish sneakers at prices much lower than the competition? The answer is GREATS Brand - a new direct to consumer ecommerce shoe company that's aiming to disrupt the shoe industry by become the Warby Parker of footwear.
The company is the brainchild of Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi, two shoe industry veterans who saw an opportunity to create a new sneaker brand powered by ecommerce.
Last week GREATS held a pop-up shop in Brooklyn. Below is the promo video they produced which shows the care and attention to detail they put into their brand experience.
We caught up with Ryan to find out more about how they've been so successful in such a short period of time.
Describe your business and product(s) in 1-3 sentences.
GREATS is an American footwear brand offering tastefully designed mens sneakers and eventually shoes, starting at $59. Greats offers value because we don't wholesale to 3rd party retailers, we sell direct to the customer and therefor can sell a higher quality sneaker/shoe at a lower price.
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How much revenue are you currently generating per month?
We don't discuss our revenue publicly but we surpassed our first months sales projections in 30 hours and we sold out of both sizes and colors within a week. Every week our sales are higher than the last, so that's a good thing.
How did you come up with the idea for your business/product(s)? What kind of market research did you undertake?
Jon and I come from the sneaker world, myself from Puma and Kswiss and Jon from DC Shoes and Gourmet. We knew that people have long been comfortable buying shoes online with the early success of Zappos yet no one had done a men's footwear BRAND online. I say BRAND because GREATS is a brand first and foremost.
We were heavily inspired by brands like Warby Parker and Everlane and knew the opportunity to do something similar within the men's footwear space was huge. So we left our companies and started GREATS.
It's been an insane six months with the last few months reading like all those crazy start ups you hear about. We knew we had a good idea we just didn't realize how good until we launched on Aug 6th, 2013. The feedback and interest in GREATS has been both humbling and flattering and for that we thank the customers.
How do you create, manufacture or source your products? What are some key lessons you've learned during this process?
Jon and I decide what style we are going to design and then sketch it up. We're adding six styles in 2014 to our original two, the Wilson and the Royale. Then we sample it using factories that we know make great product wherever they may be, Itlay, Mexico, Asia, etc.
We want to make great product so we go to the source that can do that for us. We use great materials (no pun intended) and great factories to make sure we're offering a quality sneaker. We weren't really surprised by much as Jon has been making sneakers for years. We kind of know what we're getting into.
How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?
We are a pure startup and there are still two of us running the show. Three if you count our Instagram beast.
We haven't spent 1 cent on marketing but we have gotten amazing press and word of mouth. That's where all the sales have come from. We know instagram is driving sales but you can't measure it an analytical way, we just know it's a good place for us to showcase what GREATS is about. But going from our first post on May 8th to just about 12,000 followers to date is a testament to how good a channel it is for us. I'd be surprised if none of our Instagram followers has become a customer.
We recently had an article in TechCrunch which is the official source of validating a start up haha. We sold a lot of sneakers that day as well.
How do you handle shipping and fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?
We knew logistics was going to be a potential pitfall for us. It's one thing to start a business and have to ship out a few items each day, which we could have managed on our own. But to have to ship 100's and 1000's, which is what we basically had to do essentially the day we launched was something we would have not been able to handle. So we partnered with a great 3pl called Shipwire and they've been amazing.
Chosing Shopify and Shipwire were two of the best decisions we've made so far.
What software, tools and resources are crucial to your business?
Being an online ecommerce brand we needed to make sure our transactions were going to work and not have bugs. After looking at all the major players it was clear that Shopify was the right platform for us. In addition, we knew we needed a good email marketing tool and good web design. Those are three things we things that come to mind.
We have so many ideas that we want to incorporate into our online experience but being a team of two we have limited bandwidth. But we think we've been able to accomplish a lot with these key tools so far but we're looking forward to continue to improve. That's the thing about an ecommerce brand, it's never over, you just keep refining and refining and refining.
What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money (if any)?
Well we didn't have money to waste haha so that didn't happen. We make mistakes all the time but none that we can't get through. Launching the site from 0 to launch in under 5 months was a bit of a challenge. That wasn't a mistake but it was unpleasant for about 4 weeks due to product and customs holding things up. Working with the best people we can find and afford has helped us along the way. We hope to continue that as we build the GREATS team.
What other key advice can you offer to entrepreneurs looking to start a successful ecommerce businesses?
Do your research, make sure you have passion and have a plan. And then realize that as soon as you launch, you'll have to adapt because your plan will change. That's the one thing we're learning. We did all this forecasting and had some really smart guys helping with things and in the end, we sold more in 30 hours than we thought we'd sell in 30 days.
That's a good mistake in the grand scheme of things but we were way off in planning. But that doesn't mean we stop or shut down, you just adapt and keep going. There's really no finish line.