It was an $80,000 investment from Naomi Simson and Janine Allis on Channel 10’s Shark Tank that kicked things off for the founder of Your Closet, Briella Brown. The Premium member came up with the concept for her online dress rental business at high school when she was invited to three formals in one year. Your Closet has now experienced over 100% year-on-year growth since 2014 and has rented out the retail equivalent of over $8 million worth of dresses.
“I thought it was so silly that myself and all my friends were spending so much money on dresses that would pretty much only be worn once. I then realised that the idea would apply to lots of other events, like women going to the races, or weddings and other events. So that’s where the idea for the business came from, and then I just developed it from there,” says Briella.
What initial research did you do?
I thought of the idea, and then I looked at what kind of rental or swapping services were currently online. I saw it was doing well in America and Europe, and I thought, ‘imagine if we had that here.’ In Australia, there were a few sites around but none that had great designers. Obviously, things have changed since I started looking but they just didn’t have a great range. I thought it’d be cool to build something like that in Australia.
How did you go about securing labels?
I didn’t know how receptive designers would be to come on board. I called and emailed the sales team at Alex Perry and said, “Would you be willing to meet and we can go over this?” I was vague about details, so that I could get my foot in the door, and because I didn’t want to confuse them before we’d even met. So Alex was the first designer we signed, and then from there we secured Camilla, Camilla and Marc, and Josh Goot and Christopher Esber were next. Once you have a few, it’s a lot easier to sign future ones, but it was really difficult getting the first few.
How did you prepare for your Shark Tank pitch?
I knew from watching the first season that if I didn’t know my numbers inside out that it would probably be a negative experience. So I spent all the time preparing my two-minute pitch and then learning all the ins and outs of all the numbers associated with my business. I got lots of my Dad’s business friends who are investors to grill me. I wasn’t sure of the questions they would ask, but they knew what the Sharks would likely ask, and that was really good preparation.
What did being on Shark Tank do for your business?
When we went on Shark Tank, our community grew by 40,000 (across email, Facebook, and Instagram). We had over 80,000 visitors to the website on the night of Shark Tank and our website crashed so many times. It was great exposure, there was upwards of 20 articles written in seven days following the show and it introduced a lot more customers to the concept of hiring dresses and how it all works. I wasn’t sure about how it would all go down, but I was really happy that it forced me to learn every single thing about my business. I know sometimes you get caught up in the business, and you don’t sit down and have a look at all the numbers.
How have you expanded your business since then?
We now have our own Sydney Showroom and offices, and our collections has multiplied by five, and we’ve got lots of new designers. We’re about to launch a new website with new services and features. There’ll be a pick-up in store, pick it up in-store and try it on, exchange in store, there’ll be three hours shipping to Sydney, which customers will be able to do Monday to Friday and then also something that I’m excited is a back-up dress. So customers will be able to select a back-up dress for just an extra $15. And it could be the same dress in a different size or a completely different style altogether. So it alleviates that stress for customers who are concerned about fit.
What are some of the furthest places you’ve sent orders to?
Everywhere! We’ve had Navy balls in Alice Springs, events in Tasmania and lots of customers who have remote properties. Often, we think the address is wrong but we’ll call the customer, and it’s a farm in the outback. Australia Post delivers everywhere so we’re confident when customers give us rural locations that we can still deliver there. We love it because a lot of those rural locations don’t have a David Jones or high-end boutiques so it’s great that we can offer high-end fashion there at a reasonable price.
Our customers are always so surprised that if they order before 4pm we’ll send it out, and it can arrive on their doorstep the next morning at 9am. The customer service is just amazing at Australia Post – it genuinely is. You know when you have an issue with a parcel, especially when you tell them how important it is, it could be a bridesmaids dress or a formal dress, and I’m like, “This is a life or death situation here, we need your help!” And they’ll go above and beyond to help out. So many of our customers are busy corporate women or busy uni students, so they often leave it to last minute, so it’s good to have same day, next day shipping options available. In all of our parcels, we include a prepaid satchel, which is also with Australia E-Parcel Express and so it’s really easy for customers to return it. They wear the dress, slip it into the prepaid satchel, and drop it to any Australia Post box or Australia Post office and then it gets back to us and we dry clean it. It’s so easy.
What has been the most challenging experience you’ve faced in business so far? How did you overcome it?
I think to wrap your head around the technology space, and how competitive online in general is getting and how fast technology is always moving. We always have to update our website, and keep up to date with new payment facilities, like AfterPay and ZipPay. You’re also competing with lots of other retailers who have really good features. I find having no technology experience is one of the biggest hurdles, but I’ve reached out to local business owners who have done similar things, like Nikki from CostumeBox and Julie from StyleRunner, and they’ve given me tips and tricks on how they’ve done it and what hurdles they’ve faced, and what the best way to approach it is. I’m so grateful to them.
What’s the most rewarding part about being the founder of Your Closet?
The most rewarding part is getting such good feedback from our customers when they have awesome experiences in our dresses. Customers get engaged in our dresses, go to their formals, and feel like a million dollars. That’s one of the things that makes me the happiest about what I do.
We read that some people sometimes write notes back to you when they send the dresses back.
Yes! They write little love notes, just saying, “I had the best night. Thanks so much.” Obviously, if you can bring someone that much happiness that they’re writing you a card about how great their experience was then you know you’re on to something good.
Do you accompany each dress that you send out with a handwritten note?
Yes. Customers usually tell us what event they’re going to as we have a register for formals so that we don’t have 10 girls going to the same event in the same dress in different sizes. And then customers will just tell us if they’re going to a wedding or a special night, so we just write a little note wishing them good luck on their special night and to have an amazing time in the dress.
So you have a register so that no one’s going to turn up in the same dress? Genius.
Some schoolgirls get invited to four or five guys formals in addition to their own, so they need a few dress options, and if a dress is a really hot style, then everyone will want it. At times we have sizes 6-16 of the one dress style, and we don’t want everyone wearing the same dress in a different size. So that register helps eliminate that a little bit.
What do you think is the future for the share economy?
Share businesses are popping up all the time, allowing us to rent everything. I recently went to New York and over there you can rent almost anything. So I think it’s just going to become bigger and bigger. Everyone, especially younger generations are a bit more savvy with their money and don’t want to invest in things they know they’ll only use once or twice.