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EPISODE 14

How Anomalie is Disrupting Tailored, Personalized, Physical Experiences One Wedding Dress at a Time

With Leslie Voorhees Means, the Co-Founder & CEO of Anomalie

Making the switch to online shopping has been easier in some cases than others. Buying laundry detergent online, sight unseen doesn’t feel quite as high-risk as a larger purchase like say a car or a house. It makes sense, then, that certain industries have been slower to fully embrace the Ecommerce experience. Bridal is one of those industries, but Leslie Voorhees Means thinks that it’s time to shake things up. Leslie is the co-founder and CEO of Anomalie, an online-only custom wedding dress company, and on this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Leslie explains why she thinks her model is going to be the one to disrupt the market. Thanks to a blend of tech and human stylists all focused on customization and personalization as well as taking control of the supply chain, Leslie says that Anomalie has found a way to solve many of the pain points brides run into during a traditional wedding dress shopping experience. Thousands of customers agree so far, and as growth continues, Leslie has her eyes set on new technologies that she believes will lead to a sea of change in the entire Ecommerce world.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding and owning your supply chain is becoming more of a focus for D2C brands and it will be a differentiator moving forward. Building a strong supply chain presence allows you to have more flexibility, agility, and ability to scale
  • Transparency and communication is a business advantage when competing against bigger brands
  • When tailoring custom unique experiences, tech can’t completely replace a human element

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“The first couple dozen requests were coming from women who said they wanted something really special, and really different, and really unique. And in reality, the dresses looked very, very similar. People were almost ordering the same dress because wedding dresses are uniquely low variable. It’s white, it’s ivory, has lace or no lace, there are limited silhouettes, there are limited styles It has a longer product life cycle than a lot of garments and fashion. And so there were the seeds of this idea for mass customization that was really exciting to me as an engineer to think about how we could scale this to give tons and tons of options to brides, but on the operations side be really efficient and be able to have the benefits of scale by thinking about these modules that can be customized.”

“A couple of years ago, it would have been crazy to say that you’re buying your eyeglasses, or mattresses, or TVs, or books, or whatever online. And it’s still a little bit crazy to say that with wedding dresses, but I think that’s exactly why I was so interested in it because it felt new and different. I think that that’s the making of a really good startup, a good, crazy idea.”

“We found partners that were aligned with our vision of entrepreneurship and scale, but we really had to sell the vision probably similar to fundraising and selling the ideas to venture capitalists to get funding. We had to sell the idea to the workshop managers as well to buy into this idea because we did not have massive amounts of orders at the beginning. And so, definitely alignment on a strategy of customization and a strategy around scaling through tech and having technology-enabled operations to be able to get bigger and better. That helped a lot to be able to find some partners that were really, really aligned with that vision.”

“The biggest advantage we have is we can offer dramatic advantages with customization of the design because we can bring together any element that a woman wants. More often than not, we hear a bride say, ‘I tried on dresses, I have a Pinterest board with all my dream wedding dresses, and I love this element of this dress and this element of this dress. I love this skirt and I love this top and I wish I could make it long sleeves.’ Or, ‘I wish I could swap out the lace.’ And so, from a supply chain perspective, that’s exactly how we’re thinking about building every single dress is with those modular components to be customized. And because we don’t have to hold inventory, we can offer literally billions of permutations of designs to bring together all of the parts of different dresses that brides want. We’re really empowering brides to discover and then also create the exact product that they want. And then that tech is supplemented by a human component, which is still really important to have a stylist on the other side of the phone to bounce ideas off of, talk about pros and cons of different design elements, and really reaffirm the decisions.”

“The question is always the same, which is, I want this dress to fit, I want this dress to look beautiful and flattering on me. And that is a problem that we can solve with tech and with data. We’re collecting hundreds of thousands of custom measurements right now, and developing IP around pattern making and fit … We feel confident that we can tackle the challenges with not having an in-store experience, but actually offer much, much more value through better price and sizing and fit. And then also that customization element.”

“I’ve always really, really admired startups and D2C startups in particular that have this differentiation with tech, or data, or supply chain, or operations…. Stitch Fix famously has said they employ more data scientists and engineers than they do merchandisers, and they’re a fashion company. I think they recognized really early how much leaning into that data strategy can help them scale and get really, really good at what their core value proposition is, which is similar to ours in terms of personalization.”

“We have our sights set on taking that big of a share of the market similar to David’s Bridal. And we think we’re really well set up to do that because we’re doing it in a direct to consumer way. We’re not burdened by the cost of having a retail presence.”

“[Our marketing strategy] doesn’t help to gloss over the fact that you’re not going to be trying on the dress until it arrives, but having an honest conversation with our customers around that has always helped. And what also helps is that we’ve got a lot going for us in terms of the price and being able to bring together all these design elements that you could never find in a store.”

“This is not a typical e-commerce experience where you drop something into your cart and purchase it. This is your wedding dress. And so, making sure that we’re delivering a really positive high-quality customer experience and making sure brides are feeling good before they make that final decision is important.”

Bio:

Leslie Voorhees Means is the co-founder and CEO of Anomalie. Founded on Leslie’s extensive background in mechanical engineering, and career in supply chain management for Nike and Apple, Anomalie is pioneering a new model in retail supply chains uniquely fit for expansive customization at mass scale. Prior to Anomalie, Leslie managed international manufacturing engineering and supply chain operations at Nike in the Sportswear and Running Footwear teams, and at Apple, launching the Apple Watch 2. Leslie received a B.S.E in Mechanical Engineering from Duke University in 2008, and her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2015. Leslie and her co-founder and husband Calley live in San Francisco, but split time across Anomalie’s offices in Scottsdale, Arizona and Hong Kong.

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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone, welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is Stephanie Postles, your host. And today we have Leslie Vorhees on the show, co-founder and CEO at Anomalie. Leslie, thanks for coming on.

Leslie:

Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Stephanie:

Yeah, we’re really excited. So, where are you located at right now? What are you up to?

Leslie:

We are in San Francisco. So, the company was founded and is headquartered here, but we have a couple offices around the U.S and the world. We’ve got our customer service stylist operations in Scottsdale, Arizona. And then we’ve got a team that manages our supply chain operations in Hong Kong.

Stephanie:

Oh, very cool. Hong Kong sounds awesome. So, I’d love to hear a little bit about Anomalie then. We’re jumping into it quick, but yeah, talking about offices in Hong Kong, it sounds like it’s expanded quickly and grown from where you started. So, I’d love to hear a little bit of the background there and what brought you to Anomalie.

Leslie:

Yeah, for sure. So, I never actually expected to be founding a company and was not expecting to be in bridal. This idea for the company came about through my own frustration when I got engaged and shopped around for my perfect wedding dress and had a really, really hard time finding, I had this picture of a dress that I really wanted and couldn’t find it in boutiques and was pretty horrified by the prices.

Leslie:

My background is in mechanical engineering and manufacturing. I’ve always worked for big companies. Started my career at Nike and fell in love with the factory environment and product development and being able to create real physical products. And was working at Apple at the time that I got engaged and was working on the launch of the Apple Watch and was in China quite a bit. Did a little bit of research because I knew co-workers of mine had custom clothing made, mostly men’s shirts and suits and things.

Leslie:

And ended up finding Suzhou, China, which is outside of Shanghai, which makes most of the world’s wedding dresses. 80% of the world’s wedding dresses are made in and around this amazing supply chain hub of expertise and craft. And worked directly with one of the workshops there when I was out in China for work and was just absolutely floored by the price but also the quality and the levels of customization.

Leslie:

I could pick out everything from the lace to have it be custom-tailored to my body. And mentioned it to a couple of friends and almost immediately started getting requests for orders before this was even really a company and realized pretty quickly that other women felt the same frustrations that I was feeling around not quite finding what they want for, arguably, the most important garment that you’re ever going to wear.

Leslie:

And then another interesting insight besides just the virality of those original orders was the first couple dozen requests were coming from women that said they wanted something really special, and really different, and really unique. And in reality, the dresses looked very, very similar. People were like almost ordering the same dress because wedding dresses are uniquely low variable. It’s white, it’s ivory, has lace or no lace, there’s limited silhouettes, there’s limited styles, has a longer product life cycle than a lot of garments and fashion.

Leslie:

And so, there were the seeds of this idea for mass customization that was really exciting to me as an engineer to think about how we could scale this to give tons and tons of options to brides, but on the operations side be really efficient and be able to have the benefits of scale by thinking about these modules that can be customized. So, the skirt, or the neckline, or the straps, or the sleeves, et cetera.

Leslie:

So, we’ve thought about that a lot as we’ve grown in the past. So, that was about three years ago, a little over three years ago that we started and since then have grown to serve thousands and thousands of brides. And are building, from the technology side, a way to be able to visualize the dress in an easy and fun way, given that we don’t have brick and mortar shops.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. Yeah. It’s very interesting hearing the story of your background of being like, “I need a wedding dress,” and actually going to the district in China where they’re made. I can’t think of many people who would solve their own problem like that. Was there any surprises when you were going and meeting these companies there and just thinking through, “Hey, this could actually be a business,” or any findings when you went there that you weren’t expecting?

Leslie:

Yeah. I think one thing that was really stark that I noticed right away was I was the only foreigner in this area. It was very apparent that Chinese women knew that this is where you can get really high quality, almost like haute couture type of like custom garments. But I was the only foreigner, the only white person walking around getting a lot of stares.

Leslie:

I think that was really representative that there was a secret that was being uncovered. That was how I was thinking of it was, this is something that can be untapped. And just given my conversations with friends, and then friends of friends, and then friends of friends of friends, as the idea started growing was, women really want to be able to tap into that but need a trusted source.

Leslie:

There’s a lot of direct from China websites and horror stories about women ordering a dress and then when it actually shows up it’s low quality or not what they were expecting at all. And given, again, this is a very emotional important purchase. Having someone that you know and trust on the ground, I thought was something that was going to be really important and that has remained important the entire history of the company.

Leslie:

And then I think the other thing that was surprising was just the breadth of quality in Suzhou. It was, you could get everything from a very, very, very inexpensive cheap wedding dress for a couple of bucks all the way up to dresses that were almost as much as it would cost in America and wide ranges of quality.

Leslie:

I remember I vetted probably a hundred or so factories when we were first starting up and it was pretty apparent the ones that didn’t take quality as seriously. There was one factory that I remember where everyone in the factory was smoking cigarettes-

Stephanie:

Oh my God.

Leslie:

… which is not something that you would want in a high quality [crosstalk 00:07:03].

Stephanie:

What’s their reviews on Amazon? People are like, “Hey, it smells smoky. I wonder why. Now we know.”

Leslie:

Yeah, exactly. So, that one was an easy one to cross off the list. But then on the flip side, there were a lot of really, really sophisticated entrepreneurial factories that we met with that I think could feel the shift that’s happening in bridal, which is that it’s one of the, I think, last verticals that hasn’t really been disrupted by an online presence. Wedding dresses are still 95% brick and mortar in the U.S.

Leslie:

And a couple of years ago, it would have been crazy to say that you’re buying your eyeglasses, or mattresses, or TVs, or books, or whatever on online. And it’s still a little bit crazy to say that with wedding dresses, but I think that’s exactly why I was so interested in it because it felt new and different. I think that that’s the making of a really good startup, a good, crazy idea.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah. I completely agree. It seems like there could be a lot of D2C opportunities that go directly to the source like you did. Because a lot of them, people are coming online. They want not go through someone else to sell right now. Is there any other areas that you can see going direct to actually help with the business model, or maybe friends, or mentors in the industry where they realize, hey, there’s a lot of opportunity if you go directly to the factories and see how they make it and develop your own relationship, instead of always relying on a wholesaler, or drop-shipping, or whatever it may be?

Leslie:

Yeah. I have to credit my internship when I was in business school. I was really, really lucky enough to be a part of the core founding team of M.Gemi, which is direct to consumer high, high quality Italian footwear. And I was able to go with the founder over to Italy that summer-

Stephanie:

Wow.

Leslie:

… which was the coolest internship ever. Much more glamorous than some of the factories in China.

Stephanie:

Wow. I want that internship now.

Leslie:

Yeah, exactly.

Stephanie:

Can I sign up for that?

Leslie:

It might be the coolest job I’ve ever had. But it was really, really interesting because they had set up relationships with these Italian craftsmen that make shoes for, I mean, the factories we saw were for Yves Saint Laurent, and Prada, and Valentino. And the same hands that were making those shoes had extra capacity to make high quality shoes that didn’t have the designer label and then designer price tag.

Leslie:

And tapping into that direct to the workshop and direct to the craft idea was something that I got to see that M.Gemi was doing and is apparent all over e-commerce with, I know Away luggage, I think, started with making partnerships directly with the workshops and, I’m trying to think of another. Oh, the mattress, a lot of the mattress companies are… There are these pockets of expertise and by being able to sell direct to consumer, it cuts out the middlemen and obviously cuts out a lot of the costs.

Leslie:

And then also for us, especially being able to centralize stylist operations, and tech, and our finances, and all of that allows us to scale nationwide without having those costly retail footprints. And then also we can scale the experience from a customer experience side.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, if you’re looking back now on picking factories and workshops to work with directly, what were some of the lessons that you took away from it where you were like, “I would do this over again,” or, “I did it this way and it worked out really well,” if someone were to try and start this process from scratch?

Leslie:

Yeah. Well, I’d say definitely no cigarettes present in the factory.

Stephanie:

Step one.

Leslie:

Yep, step one.

Stephanie:

All right everyone, that’s all you need to know.

Leslie:

That’s the secret. No, I think also the appetite for international partnerships. And we were lucky because we started really small with just a few orders. And a lot of partners, especially in China, require minimum order quantities to be able to produce with them. And we found partners that were aligned with our vision of entrepreneurship and scale, but we really had to sell the vision probably similar to fundraising and selling the ideas to venture capitalists to get funding.

Leslie:

We had to sell the idea to the workshop managers as well to buy into this idea because we did not have massive amounts of orders at beginning. And so, definitely alignment on a strategy of customization and a strategy around scaling through tech and having technology-enabled operations to be able to get bigger and better. That helped a lot to be able to find some partners that were really, really aligned with that vision.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That definitely makes sense. It’s like when you’re looking for a contracting job or something like that, the people who apply maybe aren’t the ones you always want versus going out and actually sourcing the exact person that you want to work on your project, or employee, or whatever it may be.

Leslie:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

Always seems to work a little bit better.

Leslie:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

So, for Anomalie, when I was thinking about, I’ve had a wedding before, I’ve bought dresses, and I was thinking, “Oh man, that seems like it could be pretty hard to do direct to consumer online because of the measurements, and making sure it fits, and wanting to feel the fabric and all that. How can technology replace that kind of experience that makes the consumer more comfortable with buying something so important online?

Leslie:

Yeah, it’s a great question and a great call out. It is hard. It is a hard hurdle. We have a really, really high bar of trust. This is a really, really important garment. I think what’s really exciting to us is that a digital experience solves a lot of the pain points for brides’ shopping experience in brick and mortar boutiques by offering, one, a much better price.

Leslie:

So, high quality brick and mortar boutiques you wouldn’t balk at a price tag from, the average is in the two to $5,000 ranges where the bulk of the dollars are in the market. And designer dresses can cost $10,000 or more. And by being able to cut out the cost of the shop and then also having a stylist we’re able to offer a much better price. So, our average dress right now is right around 1700, which is-

Stephanie:

That’s really good for custom.

Leslie:

… [crosstalk] in industry standard. Yeah, we think so too. And then another pain point that we hear over and over from brides is around inclusive sizing. So, the average American bridal boutique doesn’t carry the average American woman’s size, which is a bridal size 14, normal size 12.

Leslie:

And the inventory is expensive and boutiques have a limited set of gowns. And that gets even smaller when you think about sizes that can include plus size women. And so, by making our dresses made to order, made to measure, we’re able to make the pattern to fit the woman’s body, regardless of whether you’re a sample size or up to a size, I think it was made up for a size 32 before.

Leslie:

So, that I think addressing the inclusive sizing has been a big unlock for us. And then I think the biggest advantage we have is we can offer dramatic advantages with customization of the design because we can bring together any element that a woman wants. So, more often than not, we hear a bride say, “I tried on dresses, I have a Pinterest board with all my dream wedding dresses, and I love this element of this dress and this element of this dress. I love this skirt and I love this top and I wish I could make it long sleeves.”

Leslie:

Or, “I wish I could swap out the lace.” And so, from a supply chain perspective, that’s exactly how we’re thinking about building every single dress is with those modular components to be customized. And because we don’t have to hold inventory, we can offer literally billions of permutations of designs to bring together all of the parts of different dresses that brides want.

Leslie:

And so, we’re really empowering brides to discover and then also create the exact product that they want. And then that tech is supplemented by a human component, which is still really important to have a stylist on the other side of the phone to bounce ideas off of, talk about pros and cons of different design elements, and really reaffirm the decisions. Yeah, because it is hard, because she’s not trying it on in a store.

Leslie:

But the question is always the same, which is, I want this dress to fit, I want this dress to look beautiful and flattering on me. And that is a problem that we can solve with tech and with data. We’re collecting hundreds of thousands of custom measurements right now, and developing IP around pattern making, and fit, and have a fit guarantee that you’re not going to have any more than $499 of alterations. And if so, we’ll cover the costs. That’s something that we just launched last month.

Leslie:

And so, we feel confident that we can tackle the challenges with not having an in store experience, but actually offer much, much more value through better price and sizing and fit. And then also that customization element.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, when it comes to entering in data for sizing, do you have the user do that? Do you have the stylist work with them? Because that seems like it could be a process where it could be painful if you’re measuring your wrist, measure your shoulder area. I mean, it seems like there’s a lot of spots that you’d have to measure to know how to get an exact fit. So how do you work with customers on that to where they don’t bail? Like 50% of the way in they’re like, “Ooh, there’s a lot of work. I’m out.”

Leslie:

Yeah. We benefit because women are really committed to getting this garment right.

Stephanie:

Got it.

Leslie:

So, it’s shows up in lots of different areas. For example, we have a really long, intense survey and we have a crazy, crazy high completion rate. If it ever drops below 95% completion, we’re thinking something’s wrong with the website, because this isn’t just purchasing a pair of pants or a pair of earrings or something online, this is your wedding dress. So, women are really, really okay with sharing a lot of data.

Leslie:

So, that shows up with measurements too. So, process-wise, we send a little fit box, which includes physical swatches of our fabric, because that’s something that we’ve found is really hard to digitize, the color, and then also being able to touch and feel the quality and what the fabric feels like.

Leslie:

And that includes measuring tape. And then we’ve got pretty in-depth instructions on how to have someone take your measurements, whether that’s your fiance or a friend. We also have a connection with local tailors. So, if women want to go in and get measured by an expert, we cover the cost of that. But what we’ve seen over time now is actually, we have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of these points of measurement. And so, our system can algorithmically flag if something looks off too.

Leslie:

So, oftentimes, we’ll come back to a bride and say, “Hey, this measurement doesn’t quite look right and it’s a typo that we were able to catch.” And so, by just having that back and forth, and then also this foundation of data to ensure that the measurements are accurate helps a lot. And then, in the future, I mean, we’ve seen a lot of technology pop up around digital measurements. I’m hoping someone else can solve that problem. And then we can fold in the technology through our process because it is for sure a challenge.

Leslie:

What we’re thinking more about is once we have measurements that we feel really, really good about, how does that translate to the pattern making and being able to create a 3D physical garment that will fit a 3D object, which is a woman’s body? Which is hard, but that’s something that I think, in particular, our investors are really excited about. Because once we figure out that part of the problem, that can be applied to other things besides wedding dresses. That can be applied to garments just overall for women. So, thinking a little bit longer term about how we can build some really cool IP around women’s fit.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s awesome. I was just thinking about how nice it would be to have someone take a quick video of you doing a spin, where then it has all your measurements there, so then you can actually virtually try on the dresses and see how they look, because that seems like it’d be hard to know how something would look on your body without actually seeing it on the computer screen or something like that.

Stephanie:

At what point did you realize, like, “Hey, we’re getting a bunch of data.” We probably should incorporate machine learning or build an algorithm that helps with either recommending styles or like you said, checking the fits or the measurements that the potential bride was putting into the tool? At what point were you like, “This is a lot of data, we need to actually implement some type of technology,” and how did you go about that?

Leslie:

Yeah. It’s funny. I would say it’s probably the way we figure out anything else with the company and probably other startups will empathize with this as well. It’s like, once things start breaking, that’s where you’re like, “Oh, okay, we got to fix this.” It’s like the leaky faucet or the balancing plate’s analogy. It’s once things really start to wobble, it’s like that’s where time and attention and resources need to be applied.

Leslie:

But another part of this is that I’ve always really, really admired startups and D2C startups in particular that have this differentiation with tech, or data, or supply chain, or operations. So in particular, I really, really admire Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway, which Stitch Fix famously has said they employ more data scientists and engineers than they do merchandisers, and they’re a fashion company.

Leslie:

I think they recognized really early how much leaning into that data strategy can help them scale and get really, really good at what their core value proposition is, which is similar to ours in terms of personalization. And so, we’ve always tried to follow after their ways because they’ve been so successful. And so, that’s been on my mind since day one as like, this is going to be an important part of how we can scale successfully.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Stitch Fix is definitely a good example. It’s amazing how much data they use and how they are working to perfect every single fit of clothing and using all the feedback they get every single second to make it better and better.

Leslie:

Yeah. What I love is it’s not data just for data’s sake or tech just for tech’s sake. It’s like really core to how they’re delivering personalization to their customers. And they see it as a big competitive advantage, which I think is why they’ve been one of the few successful e-commerce exits. You haven’t seen that many in B2C, I think, because it is really hard, but that seems to be a really, really smart way to differentiate your company and your brand.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. Do you have a model that you’re looking at right now where you’re like, “We’re going to spend this amount of time thinking through the tech and the future of where our industry is headed to get ahead of it, and then this percent is spent on the product right now?” Or how do you think about balancing those two initiatives?

Leslie:

Yeah, I wish it was that organized. We’re probably not quite there strategically yet, but it’s always been these three core pillars of our business, which is the tech and the visualization really around solving these frustrations around visualization, and measurements, and fit, and developing a really amazing digital experience through our tech. And then second is our human part of the customer experience. So, our stylists team that is just really smart, and empathetic, and helpful and, I think, necessary to make this big decision, this big purchase online.

Leslie:

And then third is our supply chain operations and being really on the cusp of vertical integration and being super, super involved in our workshops on the ground to make sure that we’re maintaining a really high level of quality and that we’re covering all the areas of ambiguity that comes from making custom garments.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Awesome. So, right now when I think of the wedding industry, I think of the big brands, the major players. How do you think about building a bigger share of the market or getting a bigger piece of the pie when you’re competing with companies like that?

Leslie:

Yeah, it’s something that we’ve thought about since day one. And because bridal is so unique, I think we’re really uniquely suited to disrupt the market. So, as I said earlier, bridal is still 95 plus percent in brick and mortar. And then the other funny thing is that it’s really fragmented. So, the biggest player in the market is David’s Bridal, which is a third of the market. And then the rest, there’s no one with more than a 1% market share.

Leslie:

So, it’s just super fragmented, independent, usually mom-and-pop boutiques. And the crazy thing about David’s Bridal is they’re failing, they filed for chapter 11 in November of 2018 and have been repackaged and sold off to a number of different private equity firms and just continues to be-

Stephanie:

That’s not good.

Leslie:

Yeah, really I think struggling because of the costs of their retail. They have over 300 stores in the U.S, and salespeople, and I think it’s a model that’s not going to work long-term. And so, we have our sights set on taking that big of a share of the market similar to David’s Bridal. And we think we’re really well set up to do that because we’re doing it in a direct to consumer way. We’re not burdened by the cost of having a retail presence.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I read a really interesting report about the David Bridal’s of the world, where once retail locations are bought by PE firms, that there’s a very high correlation of them going bankrupt because of just how-

Leslie:

It’s not a good sign.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I think Toys “R” Us was the same way and there was a whole list of them.

Leslie:

That was actually the, I think it was Oak Tree or Oak Hill that took Toys “R” Us into liquidation. And they were the same ones that just purchased David’s Bridal in [inaudible 00:27:54]. Yeah, it’s not looking great for them, but it’s wild that there’s still one in every three wedding dresses in America and no one else is really stepping in to take them on.

Leslie:

And we’re going big here. The answer I think is not to just open up another boutique or another online boutique, I think the answer to unlocking a big portion of the bridal market is around price, and customization, and fit, which is why we’re spending a lot of time and a lot of dollars on building tech to support that. Which is hard and our investors understand that, but I think it’s also why we’re a great venture opportunity is because there’s a lot yet to be discovered, which is what we’re working really hard to build right now.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. When it comes to your marketing efforts and getting that market share and growing bigger, what kind of tactics do you use right now to either convince the buyer who’s maybe very skeptical of buying online to come and try you guys out and making it a easy process for them just to get involved versus the people who you can tell are like, they’re in it, they’re ready, they’ve already paid the stylist fee, they’re here? How do you think about advertising those two different types of audiences to make sure they convert to hopefully customers?

Leslie:

Yeah. For us, it comes down to transparency, which is very authentically Anomalie, especially in the early days when we were first starting out. It’s not trying to make us bigger than what we were, it’s acknowledging, “Hey, we’re a young upstart, but we’re going to work really hard to make your wedding dress perfect.” And being really upfront about the challenges and being upfront about the questions that are in bride’s minds.

Leslie:

It doesn’t help to gloss over the fact that you’re not going to be trying on the dress until it arrives, but having an honest conversation with our customers around that has always helped. And what also helps is that we’ve got a lot going for us in terms of, again, the price and being able to bring together all these design elements that you could never find in a store.

Leslie:

So, yeah, it’s addressing concerns around what customers might be thinking of, and then also just education around this new experience. And what’s cool is I think our authenticity really shines through our social. So, we have really, really great word-of-mouth viral growth, but more and more finding new customers through Instagram and Facebook. Which we have a pretty cool way of reaching our customers because oftentimes if women become engaged, they change their relationship status on Facebook, and so they’re easy to find.

Leslie:

Also, especially newly engaged women love content. They want to read all of the wedding blogs and browse Pinterest for hours. And so, we’re working a lot on how we can make our digital experience really fun and easy to browse tons and tons of potential dresses and then also real dresses.

Leslie:

So, our Instagram account is just chock-full of women, real women, not models on the happiest day of their life with our product being the centerpiece on the bride. It’s a really cool evergreen content machine too, because every day we get dozens of new wedding photos from women who have professional hair, and professional makeup, and professional photography on this very happy day. And it’s just really easy to-

Stephanie:

Perfect.

Leslie:

… feed that back to potential customers to show the breadth and depth of our customers and customer types and body types, and also design. And I think it’s a really cool way to communicate our value proposition to potential brides.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That definitely makes it much easier. How do you think about encouraging the brides to share that, not only with you, but also in their socials? Because I could see some people being hesitant to show where they got their dress from, because then everyone knows about it and it’s not as special and fancy. I’ve just seen this hesitancy in brides to tell you like, “Hey, I got this bracelet from here and this dress from here. And here’s where I got my veil from.” It seems like it’s an industry or, at least, a group of people that sometimes don’t always want to share that. Have you experienced that?

Leslie:

Yeah, it’s funny. And this is another funny thing with bridal. I mean, we’ve never developed an influencer strategy. We’ve never had to work hard or twist a bride’s arm to post pictures because it’s almost always a really, really happy customer experience. Brides are shouting it from the rooftops, especially brides that had frustrations finding a dress that they wanted and then discovered us. They want to tell their friends about it. They want to help future brides know about us, which is just super cool.

Leslie:

And I think it’s something that we’ve worked really hard to develop because, again, this idea of having a lot of trust, but we’ve earned that by going above and beyond to make sure our original customers were advocates for our brand by delivering a really, really amazing experience and a really, really beautiful, perfect dress.

Leslie:

And so, it still amazes me how much brides love to share about their experience. It’s funny also because oftentimes the wedding dress is a secret, especially to the fiance. So, women will go as far as posting on their Instagram stories their sketch for their custom dress, but then we’ll scribble out so you can’t quite see what the dress looks like, but they still want to post the fact that they are so excited about getting their sketch, even though you can’t even see it. It’s pretty amazing.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Yeah, that’s really awesome. I’m sure also having that relationship with them, I mean, by the time they get to the very end, I’m sure they feel very connected with you, and the stylist, and your team, so it probably makes that better.

Leslie:

Oh, we’ve had stylists invited to so many weddings. It definitely is a relationship that is, I think, pretty unique. I think other companies would kill for this type of loyalty we have. Our stylists, we joke, get presents all the time, cupcakes and flowers and things delivered to the office because the bride was just so delighted with our experience, which is so cool.

Leslie:

It’s really empowering, I think, to know that you’ve had a difference in what should be the most fun, enjoyable time in a woman’s life and unfortunately oftentimes it’s super stressful. So, I think just having an ally through that and then really wowing her with the delivery of the dress is the experience that we want to deliver every time.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think a lot of brands would kill for that kind of relationship. And it’s just a really good reminder of how important it is as a lot of companies are either coming online or moving more to direct to consumer that keeping those relationships, even if they’re virtual, is super important to get that trust and to make sure it’s, even after the sale, you have champions who are talking about your brand and wanting to send more people your way. Because, like you said, word of mouth is key.

Leslie:

Absolutely. And that becomes something very defensible as well, more so than a cool brand or, potentially even those tech and operational differentiators. Having customers that are singing your praises and having that community of advocates is something that we really, really want to keep building.

Stephanie:

Are there any digital e-commerce trends or patterns that you’re really excited about or that you see coming down the pike?

Leslie:

Yeah, and I’m biased, of course, but I think the idea of personalization and customization is so, so key. And I love other brands that are tackling that as well, like Stitch Fix. I also think the idea of vertical integration and being really involved in your supply chain has popped up. And I’m a supply chain nerd, so I always appreciate other companies taking action there as well.

Leslie:

So some of the razor companies, [inaudible] of them purchased an actual razor factory in Germany. And I was just talking with the founder of Haus, which is a new liquor brand direct to consumer [crosstalk 00:37:29].

Stephanie:

We just had them on the show.

Leslie:

Oh, amazing.

Stephanie:

Yeah, Helena. Yeah, she came on.

Leslie:

Helena is awesome. And I think there is a lot of innovation happening right now in terms of the front end, which the customer’s experience, how you’re interacting with brands in a digital way versus in a physical store. But I think the innovation from a supply chain side will also be really, really important for brands to differentiate, especially if they’re making things in a new way. So, I’m feeling good about our investment in time and resources with developing a really strong supply chain presence. And I’m hoping it’ll benefit us long-term.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Are there any channels, like digital channels that you guys are looking into to expand to? Whether it’s, I know a couple of brands we’ve talked to have talked about TikTok, which people laugh when I say that. But I mean, they’ve said that they’ve had great success on there. Is there any areas where you’re seeing success that maybe others aren’t trying out right now?

Leslie:

Yeah. It’s funny you bring up TikTok, because months ago I would not have even really known what that was. TikTok is going to be very important for brands. We had a woman post just a quick little video around like, “Hey guys, if you are bored in quarantine, check out this website, you can visualize your own dress. I’m not even engaged, but it’s pretty cool.” It was something literally that simple. Her post went viral. We had over 200,000 people sign up in one day last week.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh.

Leslie:

Or about a week and a half ago, crashed our website, our engineers were working until four in the morning trying to get our capacity back to where we could actually serve our customers, just bombarded with TikTok traffic. So, it was half the team trying to fix the website issues, and then half the team just trying to figure out what tikTok was. And quickly getting up [crosstalk 00:39:36].

Stephanie:

What is the source?

Leslie:

Yeah. So, it’s, I just saw a stat this week that they were the fastest social media company to get to a billion users. It’s just amazing what they’ve built and the speed at which they’ve built it. And I think it’s something for sure that leaders of brands will need to keep an eye on just given how viral it is.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I know people are still questioning how many of the users are real versus not, but I brought this up in a team meeting with my team. I’m like, “We should try out TikTok. One, it looks fun. And two, I’ve actually heard of quite a few brands saying that it’s working well.” And my entire team laughed at me and said, “No,” so.

Leslie:

Well, they will be eating their words now, I think you were ahead [crosstalk 00:40:23].

Stephanie:

I agree. I agree. So, 200,000 signups, crashed your website, that’s a great segue into building platforms for e-commerce. How are you thinking now about, I mean, it sounds like you could be at a place where you’re maybe outgrowing the platform or you’re experiencing some friction because you guys are growing and you’re going to have large spikes in volume coming your way. How are you thinking about developing a platform that fits you where you are now and where you’re headed?

Leslie:

Yeah, I mean, it’s a balance of building a robust tech foundation and serving up an experience that customers really want. It has to be a balance of both of those for us…

Leslie:

(Silence).

Leslie:

About six months ago. And being able to tie any possible design element and having logic built into it to not show a sketch to a customer of a dress that can’t be created. We worked really, really hard to do that. That being said, it’s a big load on our tech. And so, we’re thinking about ways to, from a technology perspective, how do we continue to have a really cool mind reading type of experience, but also be able to potentially surge to have sketches available for hundreds of thousands of people in one day?

Leslie:

And one thing that we’re building right now is, you mentioned earlier, there are a number of different types of brides that come. So, some brides come in and are like me, and they have an idea of exactly what they want and having a very mind reading survey experience works really well for that type of customer. But where we’re moving to right now, and the team’s building a brand new browsing experience that should be online just hopefully within the next couple of weeks is this idea of being able to filter down based on a couple of different elements and being able to view lots and lots of designs side by side.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Leslie:

Other Ecommerce companies have the same type of experience in terms of filtering down based on different price ranges, or colors, or sizes. And we’re thinking a lot about that. And then also building that in a way now with the TikTok viral event fresh in our minds with a way that we can access our amazing data and logic that we’ve worked really hard to build, but also be able to have an easy load on our servers to be able to show this to hundreds of thousands of people at the same time.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. I was actually just thinking when thinking through your business model of like, I’m probably the consumer that wants to… I don’t know what I want until I see it. So, I would probably instead want to come in and be able to see different designs maybe on models that look like me so then I can choose it that way. Yeah, if someone were to say, “Hey Stephanie, design your own wedding dress.” I’d be like, “Ah, it’s white. It’s all I got.”

Leslie:

Such a big task. Yeah, for sure. We just created this algorithm within the last couple of months called… it’s called a similar dresses algorithm, which takes all of these, I think we have millions of photos now at this point of real women, real weddings, real dresses, real Anomalie dresses. And based on the sketch that you get served up, you can see what that dress would look like on women that look similar to you.

Leslie:

If you’ve used Rent the Runway, which I’m a big consumer of Rent the Runway, you can see what does this look like on a woman that looks like me, which I think is really helpful in terms of addressing that question around the visualization and like, what is this actually going to look like?

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. I’m excited to hear how that goes. How are you thinking about measuring performance when you have these two different types of models now? How do you think through, is our website working? Is it converting well? Yeah, what’s your process around that?

Leslie:

Yeah. Well, our conversion tank, as you can imagine, just within the last couple of days, it was really exciting to see the site traffic and just the number of sketches being generated and just, I think overall excitement. Which isn’t quantitative, but just the qualitative excitement and virality around the promise of what we’re building was really, really exciting.

Leslie:

As far as like our KPIs, it’s really just around growth. It’s like we have a lot of interests. We need to make sure we’re converting that interest into real purchases and real dresses being made with Anomalie. So, that takes a little bit more time than that initial visit to our site to get a sketch. And what we really look is the conversion of interactions with stylists. Our process right now is that you pay a small design deposit, so $29 to be able to connect with a stylist, and talk through the design, and talk about pros and cons, and iterate the sketch to be absolutely perfect.

Leslie:

And then the decision to move forward with Anomalie is after that call. And so, that’s what we’re really, really focused on is just making sure that we’re converting the interest from our cool tech and our cool website experience to actual dresses. And that’s where we’re growing a lot right now, too, which is exciting. The conversion is not looking good right now-

Stephanie:

Temporary.

Leslie:

… in terms of all the TikTokers, but that’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of dresses actually going to the factory.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Have you seen any hesitancy with paying that $29 fee? Have you seen traffic come there and hover a bit and be like, “I’m not so sure.” And then people bounce because they don’t want to pay something right upfront? And have you thought about maybe a quick freemium model where maybe they have a stylist for a couple minutes or would that ruin the business model of making it super personal and the relationship?

Leslie:

Yeah. We’ve thought about this a lot. And this actually is something that we’re talking about as a team quite a bit right now is, is $29 too high? Is it too low? I think having a posture of confidence in our process that this is a good value is really important and we’ve adjusted the price and also if it’s refundable or not, and then also having the calls be completely free or not it’s something that we’re looking at really closely and just continue to listen to what our customers like.

Leslie:

And we’ve got enough of a growth team set up now where we can measure that quantitatively rather than just viewing it qualitatively. So, yeah, it’s a great question and something that we’re thinking about a lot. What we want to communicate is, speaking with a stylist is important and absolutely necessary before you purchase the dress. This is not a typical e-commerce experience where you drop something into your cart and purchase it. This is your wedding dress. And so, making sure that we’re delivering a really positive high quality customer experience and making sure brides are feeling good before they make that final decision is important.

Leslie:

And the exact makeup has changed a little bit over time and probably will continue to change over time, especially as we add more and more features to our website. But yeah, it’s an exciting challenge that we’re working on every day.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I liked the idea too of sticking with your guns to keep that quality high. I know when I was looking through your website and you were mentioning transparency earlier, but you have a whole section where it says, can I get my wedding dress in six months and I still want a custom? And at one point you’re like, “No, you can’t do this, this, and this. If it’s seven months, yes, we can do it for you. Eight months, here’s what we can do for you.”

Stephanie:

And I thought that was really smart to just show like, “Here’s our boundaries and here’s what we can and can’t do.” So, let’s just set expectations up front and same with that stylist fee. It’s like, “Here’s how we work.” If you go, “Well, this is the process where we see works best right now.”

Leslie:

Yeah. And what’s great is we’ve got a couple years under our belt now and have made thousands and thousands of dresses, so we know what’s best. Which in the early days, I think we’re a little apologetic and wanted to be super flexible, but now we have a lot of confidence in our process as it stands right now. Another place that shows up is the pricing of the actual dress.

Leslie:

A lot of brides come to us with a tight budget for their wedding, rightfully so. Weddings are really expensive. And so, being able to talk through with the stylist, what are the big price drivers of a dress? So, for us it’s, there’s hand beading. That takes a really long time and it’s really expensive and adds a lot of costs to the dress. And so, being able to talk to a stylist about how to bring in elements of sparkle with less expensive elements is, I think, something that really appeals to brides.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. So, we have a couple minutes left. And I want to jump into the lightning round, brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. It’s where I ask you a quick question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Leslie?

Leslie:

I am.

Stephanie:

All right. What is up next for your travel destinations? Any factories you’re visiting? Where are you headed?

Leslie:

Yeah. Well, right now everything is still locked down for quarantine, so it is really hard to think too far in the future. I mean, in 2017, when we were starting this company, I was in China pretty much half the year. I think it was like every month I was out there. So, thankfully we’ve got an amazing team on the ground, so I’m not having to travel out there as much. And it’ll be more traveling to our Scottsdale, Arizona office to chat with our stylists and customer experience. So, that’s taking much more of my time now versus to China in the old days.

Stephanie:

Yeah, very cool. What kind of hobbies do you have or ones that you have on the map that you want to try out?

Leslie:

Almost none, I would say, which I don’t know if-

Stephanie:

Work. Work. Work.

Leslie:

… this is the most healthy answer, but starting a company and building a company is all consuming, which I love. That was exactly what I wanted. And that’s what I’m dedicating my life to right now. My husband also is my co-founder, which is crazy.

Stephanie:

Sounds similar.

Leslie:

So, we don’t have a personal life, but that’s what we want right now. And we love what we’re building and it still remains exciting, and cool, and our biggest hobby for sure.

Stephanie:

Yep. Completely agree on this side too. What’s up next on your reading list or podcast list?

Leslie:

Oh, I’m just finishing a book called The Upside of Stress, which is super fascinating. It’s a Stanford PhD researcher. She had done a ton of research on how stress can impact people’s health in a negative way. But what she started uncovering is that it was believing that stress is bad for your health is what was making people unhealthy.

Leslie:

And so, the book is all around how you can… stress isn’t going to go away, especially in meaningful lives or meaningful parts of your life that stress represents that you care about something and something is important. So, she has really practical tips for how to hone and manage stress in a way that helps. Which is focus, and energy, and care in what you’re stressed about, which I’m really, really enjoying reading that and would highly recommend it.

Stephanie:

That sounds like a good one. I’d love to check that out too. All right. And the last, a little bit harder of a question, what’s one thing that will have the biggest impact on e-commerce in the next year?

Leslie:

Oh, I mean, I have to say right now COVID is going to really, really append retail. With retail essentially being completely shut down in the U.S right now, I wonder about if there are decisions being made at both startup companies and large companies about what value they’re getting out of their stores. And they are a lot of really expensive components of having a physical presence and we’re benefiting from the value of having a digital experience in terms of the data, and the personalization, and delivering value to our customers.

Leslie:

And I wonder if we’re just going to see a lot fewer stores. It’s probably a pendulum and we’ll swing another way in the future. But yeah, I just have to imagine that a lot of stores are going to be closed once the economy opens up and once quarantine is over. That’s what I’m thinking about.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s a great answer. Well Leslie, it’s been a blast having you on the show. Yeah. Good luck with everything and we’ll see you next time.

Leslie:

Thank you so much for having me.

 

 

 

 

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