Institchu’s made to measure retail experience
Most high quality tailoring outfits started out of a physical store where customers could come in and get measured and fitted. But not Institchu.
It was started by two lifelong school friends, Robin McGowan and James Wakefield, who spent many an hour in the locker room discussing business ideas and how they’d one day run their own company.
After graduating, McGowan went into property, and later the online world, while Wakefield embraced finance and joined Macquarie Bank. But they soon came up with their best business idea yet.
“We spotted a gap in the market – that many men really found it hard to find the right suit,” Wakefield told Inside Retail Weekly. “And once they did, they still had to get it altered. And only after the end of that process were they able to decide whether they were ultimately happy with it.
“We were also aware of people going on holiday in Asia and having a suit tailor-made for a fraction of the price there. So we looked at how, through the power of the internet, we could connect consumers anywhere in the world to the high quality tailors in Asia.”
The two set about building an online platform where customers could measure themselves, design a suit or shirt using its interactive tools, have that order sent straight to the tailor in Asia and monitor the production process until it was delivered to their door. The all-important platform for this was custom built.
“A lot of our time, money and attention has gone into fine-tuning the back end infrastructure and on supply chain management,” Wakefield said. “So as we continue to scale up, we won’t have any issues.”
But while they had always expected to be in online retail, the pair soon noticed a demand for a complementary physical presence.
“Pretty quickly, we realised that certain customers want their first measurements taken by someone and they like to check the fabrics and quality of the product,” Wakefield explained.
“So we started doing pop-up stores and having travelling tailors doing office fittings. We soon discovered that an omnichannel approach really worked. We’ve now started rolling out showrooms.”
Institchu has just launched a new store in Melbourne, following the opening of its flagship Sydney showroom late last year.
“Similar to the George St, Sydney showroom, our new heritage Lonsdale Street location incorporates a mix of old-world charm and luxury, where customers can be fitted by experienced professionals, and try on physical samples,” said Wakefield.
“They can get a feel for the quality materials, while enjoying some of the traditions of a suit fitting. The experience also incorporates technological elements from Institchu.com, to give millions of combinations of fabrics, colours, styles, and designs.”
Wakefield said the showrooms and website complement each other.
“Our research shows that once fitted in a showroom, the majority of customers will then complete all future orders online,” he said.
“We also use our software to merge the store and online environments into one. When customers come into the store, the sales representatives can bring up their purchase behaviour and history. And the relationship is continued on the website. We are all about linking the online-offline customer interactions into one set of data, and that allows us to be far more targeted in our marketing.”
The average Institchu suit costs $499, compared to around $1500 for similar made to measure suits with comparable levels of service. And the process is risk free. Institchu has a perfect fit guarantee, where it will pay for alterations to be done locally, have the garment remade free of charge, or provide a full refund if the garment does not fit perfectly.
“The online measurement process is quite straight forward,” observed Wakefield.
“There are detailed video and written instructions. If people take the time, it’s a seamless process. We’ve also developed an algorithm that can identify issues – once we have someone’s height and weight and a few key measurements, we can tell what the measurements should be. And if they are out of that range, our tailors will contact the customer and ask him to check them.”
Institchu’s suits are made in Shanghai. Wakefield said that Shanghai tailors are highly skilled and are renowned for having adopted the Savile Row tailoring technique, meaning the quality of the tailoring is world-class.
Eyes on overseas
Wakefield and McGowan also have their keen eyes on the US market.
“We’ve been biding our time in mastering our domestic expansion to ensure we are successful here, but we do see a big opportunity offshore,” Wakefield revealed.
“A considerable amount of our website traffic is from the US and we will expand into that market from the middle of next year. And in about three years time, we would like to be selling into the domestic Chinese market.”
Institchu also plans to partner with other retailers and department stores. And the plan is also to focus more on Mantorii, the tailor-made shoe business Wakefield and McGowan acquired more than a year ago.
Looking locally, next up will be physical Institchu presences in Brisbane and Auckland, and possibly Canberra. In addition to CBD locations, Wakefield and McGowan are also looking for locations in suburban areas.
“Most of our customers are corporate males, but 30 to 35 per cent of our sales come from wedding suits – a market we hadn’t anticipated,” noted Wakefield. For wedding groups, you’d have, say, four of five guys who want to come in together, perhaps after hours. They want easy parking and may not find it convenient to come into the CBD.”