(The following article is property of Avenue Code, LLC, and was originally published with permission at Total Retail on August 15, 2019.)
Kristy Wieber, co-founder and president of Rent frock Repeat, explains the innovative clothing rental model that uniquely answers consumer needs while benefiting apparel brands.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path. What brought you to where you are today?
Kristy Wieber: I met Lisa Owen, co-founder of Rent frock Repeat, when we were both working for a different company. We were frustrated at being in a male-dominated work culture that wasn’t open to innovation, and we wanted to start our own company but didn’t know what it would be. I went on to become vice president of marketing for a different digital agency and eventually left that job as well.
Later, Lisa and I were both invited to a wedding. We didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on dresses we would wear only once, so we tried to rent but couldn’t get dresses shipped to Canada, which gave us the idea. A year later, Lisa and I were running Rent frock Repeat out of Lisa’s basement.
AC: How does the Rent frock Repeat business model work, and how is it evolving?
KW: We began by renting only special events dresses, but customers kept coming to us asking to rent blazers, suits, blouses, skirts, coats, etc. That’s when we realized there was a bigger pain point to solve. Our big focus right now is moving from eight years of special events dress rentals to a monthly subscription rental service for all-occasion wear.
What retailers don’t realize is that they're already renting clothes without profit — one out of five women buys clothes, posts pictures of herself wearing them, and then returns the items, all for social media. In this sense, we aim to provide a solution both for retailers and for women who don’t have time to shop or who have Marie Kondo’d their closets and are left with too few options. Humans have an innate desire to want new things, and Rent frock Repeat offers an innovative solution. Our business model also allows customers to receive a curated closet and experience more of the fashion marketplace, getting introduced to not only established brands, but emerging designers as well.
AC: Tell us more about your relationship with clothing brands and what differentiates Rent frock Repeat from other retailers.
KW: We’re striving to partner with brands on designing products that look great and bear up after many wears. We want to be sustainable and get away from fast fashion. Rather than having a price per item, we will offer two options: one, customers can get four pieces for $99 a month and swap out one piece once or, two, they can get six pieces for $199 and swap all of them. Shipping is included, and we take care of dry cleaning. We’re also very flexible, so members can pause their subscription at any time.
If you look at your clothing budget for the year, these prices are totally manageable considering the amount most people spend on clothing that sits in their closets without being worn. Research shows that, on average, we have 136 pieces of clothing in our closet, but only regularly wear 27. A service like this offers an opportunity for variety without commitment or clutter. However, because members have the chance to wear their rental pieces for a month, if they do decide they love it and want to keep it, they can buy items from us at a discounted rate. They understand if they really love it before buying it.
Customers can pick their own items, but if they don’t know what they want, they can answer a 66-question style profile that enables stylists to pick items for them. Our stylists will also work with artificial intelligence to continually learn and improve. This is also one way we’re going against the grain of regular retail purchasing — we're basing our clothing buys on real-time customer data, whereas most retailers make decisions based on past data.
AC: What is it that gives customers the patience, confidence and trust to fill out a 66-question style profile?
KW: Currently, we’re testing this offering with 5,000 customers before rolling it out unlimited. We’re already at capacity with this test, and we have 2,000 customers on our waitlist who have filled out their style profiles without knowing costs and without having used our stylist service. We’ve earned that trust through eight years of excellent service.
AC: What goes into building consumer loyalty for a brand such as yours? How are you transforming the retail industry?
KW: When we first launched the company, we had no intention of having showrooms. However, because we offered special events dresses, women wanted to try them on. This led to hiring a stylist, offering fittings, and asking questions so that we weren’t just pulling dress after dress. It completely changed our relationship with our customers so that we really understand who they are and what they need.
Now, we can get it right without a physical fitting because we’re asking so many more questions, and there’s better technology available. For instance, we can do pop-ups and take correct measurements, but we still have stylists on hand not only to answer questions, but also to review what's going in a member’s box before it leaves the warehouse. Our stylists have built incredible relationships with our members, to the point where customers would just call their stylist and say, “I need something for this weekend, can you pick it out for me?” They're honest and will help customers step outside of their comfort zone.
It comes down to listening to the customer instead of trying to sell something. We’re always trying to surprise and delight our customers. Rent frock Repeat isn't just a transaction, it’s a sharing experience. We want to transform that experience of opening your closet and being depressed, which 10 percent of women currently are. Getting dressed is like putting on armor. Your outfit can make you feel either confident or like you don't even want to go out the door. In some sense, clothing can make the woman.
AC: What do you look for in your relationships with retailers?
KW: We’re looking for retailers and designers that truly want to be our partners. We know there’s going to be a new way to consume, and that’s the sharing and service
economy. Therefore, we’re considering how we can help both our customers and our partners. Our retail partners are able to learn something because in the beginning, we will share the dashboard so brands can see which items, colors, sizes, etc., are the most requested.
We know the brands our customers want, but we also want to introduce emerging brands Canadians may not have seen before.
When we started eight years ago, we had to use an out-of-the-box solution and customize it for dress rentals. It was robust, but couldn’t keep up with our quickly changing company. Now, our tech team is working on agile systems that can adapt as we do. We want the experience to be effortless not only for us and our customers, but for our stylists, retailers and vendors.
AC: What has been a highlight for you in the last few years? Was there a moment, either for you personally or for Rent frock Repeat, when you knew you were on the right track?
KW: There have been several big moments. We won the Canada Post E-commerce Innovation Awards twice. But honestly, it’s the little encouragements from our customers over the last eight years that have confirmed we’re doing something right. A woman emailed us the other day about our subscription service, saying, “This is brilliant. I can’t
wait. Please hurry up!” It’s these moments that are so exciting and make us feel like a community vs. a company with customers.
AC: What's the key to success in today’s retail environment?
KW: You have to see around the corner and anticipate where our society and market are headed. You can’t just do what everyone else has done for the last 50 years. Consumers are driving the industry much more than retailers and vendors ever have.
AC: What are the unique challenges you see in the Canadian market?
KW: Canada is smaller in terms of population, and we don’t have as many shipping options as retailers in the States, so there are challenges getting items to customers in a timely manner. We’re looking for ways to improve this. I also think Canadians are more reticent and cautious with new ideas. But when they try our services, they become our biggest champions.
Our road map is that we have a white-label platform that other companies can use to rent their products so they don’t have to recreate the wheel each time. In the States, American Eagle and Ann Taylor are already renting apparel.
AC: What does Rent frock Repeat do to stay abreast of innovations in tools and technologies?
KW: When we launched eight years ago, it was too soon in a sense. We were ahead of our time. It took a lot of educating the customer on how rental works. We’re always asking ourselves if we’re doing what’s right for the customer or for ourselves. Focusing on the former leads to innovation. We keep an eye on what’s going on in the industry because we want to learn and see how we can be better. We’ve never rested on our laurels. We like to find people who know what they’re talking about and ask for their help. We know we don’t know everything, and 95 percent of the time, people are so willing to help!
AC: Thanks for your refreshing perspective on apparel rental through an innovative, customer-first focus. We look forward to checking in with Rent frock Repeat again once your new offering is fully launched!
Anna Vander Wall
Anna Vander Wall is a freelance senior editor and writer in the tech industry and beyond. She particularly enjoys collaborating with Avenue Code’s talented Snippets contributors and whitepaper authors.