The looming signs of a recession may be sending larger apparel brands into panic mode, but many smaller indie brands on Main Street USA are seemingly writing their own success stories, even in the face of economic uncertainties.
One such brand is Georgia-based J. Brooks, which was recently ranked as the second fastest-growing brand in the country by eCommerce retail operations provider Brightpearl, having recorded a stunning 170% year-over-year growth in revenue.
Brooks today has a growing customer base of older millennial and Gen X women who like sophisticated yet conservative styles.
So, what’s the brand’s formula to success? Data analytics, a sharp focus on customer experience, and running a lean operation, said founder and CEO, Jessica Brooks.
In an exclusive interview with Retail Bum, Brooks talked about the brand’s path to success, the pivots that have proven critical to scaling the brand, and the art and science of keeping customers engaged.
Brooks, a former Cox Business data analyst, launched her namesake brand in 2017 after being gifted a sewing machine as a birthday present.
Soon after, Brooks began selling skirts and dresses on a made-to-order basis, which could be found on online marketplaces such as Etsy and Amazon Homemade, in addition to the J. Brooks website.
“My website went from being just these ad hoc pieces that I had learned to sew to it being a store, a brand that you can shop,” Brooks said.
While the company now primarily sells through its website, it still maintains its storefront on Etsy and Amazon for brand awareness purposes.
“I realized that the made-to-order model was not scalable for us and that by default made me no longer eligible for those two platforms,” Brooks said.
Tapping into the power of social commerce
Instead of Amazon and Etsy, the company now relies on Facebook and Instagram to bring new eyeballs to the brand and drive sales.
Using the two platforms to tease limited edition collections and frequent product drops have been key to keeping customers engaged and coming back for more — a similar strategy that is also a business driver for more prominent brands such as Supreme.
Besides sales, the brand leverages Facebook and Instagram Live to get real-time customer feedback, which helps it stay abreast of changing customer preferences and needs.
Livestreaming also helps the brand convert wary shoppers who like what they see in ads but are trigger shy when it comes to making purchases. And once they are convinced, customers are typically directed back to the company’s website to complete the checkout process.
While the company is largely reliant on online and social media platforms, Brooks noted that she has seen some demand for a physical location from local customers wanting to pick up their purchases or drop off returns.
“I don’t foresee a physical-permanent space; we have looked into potentially adding on short-term pop-up shops to be able to serve our customers and take advantage of some of that local traffic,” she said.
Standing up to larger players
Offering the right products and reaching customers on the right channels are two important aspects of driving sales, but communication is equally important.
Good communication, Brooks noted, can sometimes help make up for the difference in the customer experience offered by more prominent brands.
But having a good relationship and touchpoint with customers helps them understand that they are buying from a smaller brand and their purchase might not show up on their doorsteps tomorrow, she added.
There are also other steps small brands can take to punch above their weight and deliver a superior customer experience. For example, data analytics can be as useful for small brands as for larger ones.
Brooks understands this firsthand and has been utilizing data analytics to understand the changing market needs and to optimize the store’s operations and sales.
“If my returning customer rate was 50%, what lever do I pull? What things can we do to get that to 60%?” she said, referring to how she uses data analytics to solve her business’ problem areas.
Data offered by Brightpearl’s Inventory Planner tool also helped the business address the issues it was having with stock forecasting.
“Inventory Planner was a game changer from the word go. It analyzes your data and gives you a reliable breakdown of exactly how much inventory we should manufacture and when to avoid running out or having too much stock.”
To get a read on her customers, Brooks frequently taps into data from Lifetimely and Google Analytics — an aspect of running her day-to-day business that she greatly enjoys, given her background.
Looking ahead, Brooks plans to grow the brand’s portfolio of products while continuing to take a data and customer-centric approach to build the business and compete with more prominent players.
Photo(s) credit: J.Brooks