Adapting is the name of the game if you’re to create a customer-centric website, says David Hathiramani
The story started in 2006 when I met up with my old school friend Warren Bennett for a drink and a catchup. It wasn’t long before I had to interrupt proceedings to ask about Warren’s suit. It was absolutely outstanding – cut beautifully and made in a lovely wool cloth. The trousers had huge flairs, which I thought looked pretty shocking, but were a wonderful reflection of Warren’s personality.
It transpired that Warren had had the suit made for him in Nepal; he’d been teaching at a local school and staying with a tailoring family. Warren still had numerous bespoke suits from his travels, and he’d also kept the contact details of the tailor, for future orders and those of friends and family.
Over a few more beers, we realised that the idea could be much bigger than just sourcing suits for loved-ones. And we began thinking about different style options, too.
Warren liked flairs; I didn’t. Warren liked three buttons on his jacket; I preferred just two on mine. This led to the simple idea of the online ‘style wizard’ to design a suit just how you want it. The idea of being able to create your own suit online was born, and our journey to revolutionise traditional tailoring using technology began...
Choosing a name
We’d always wanted our offering to be the most accessible and customer friendly way of getting a bespoke suit tailored. While we wanted to sell quality products, we needed a name that would differentiate us from pricey Savile Row bespoke tailors, and make us really stand out from competitors. We started to brainstorm names, while checking availability of the domains. We were astonished to see that asuitthatfits.com was available, so we snapped it up immediately. We later found out just how valuable choosing the right name was for an internet retail startup, in terms of search engine optimisation. The name ‘A Suit That Fits’ proved very effective for search engine ranking terms like ‘Suit’ and ‘Suits’.
Starting on a shoestring
Looking back, we were pretty naive in terms of how much investment it would take to create and maintain a good web system. Things would have been a lot easier if we’d had investment behind us, but we didn’t let that stand in our way. As with any online purchase, money is exchanged at the point of order; this was key to us being able to launch without investment. And in order to prise money from customers before they received the goods, they had to feel confident in our offering. This meant working hard on getting exactly the right balance between quality and value. By constantly learning and listening to our customers we got the balance right, and the income from the suit sales was enough to fund the initial development of the platform.
Testing the water
Although we knew it was a good idea, we had no real idea if our concept had any legs at all. With Warren’s design skill, and my HTML knowledge, we managed to knock up a very basic black and white holding page on asuitthatfits.com, and commissioned a huge banner saying ‘aSuitThatFits.com’. Our initial concept was very much about online - however we knew that real people would still want some level of human interaction. So we set off to test the idea at Hampstead market. Armed with our banner, a sample suit (Warren’s), a tape measure, a printout of fabric colours, and two personable tailors (us) we were set to give it a go. We sold two suits within the first 20 minutes of opening.
I am a computing graduate, and Warren is an engineer – not your average tailors – but when combined with our mutual love of suits, our practical approach is what revolutionised tailoring: We felt that the task of setting up the online business could be summed up in three points:
- Creating the style using the style wizard
- Getting measurements correctly inputted – using the measuring wizard
- Taking payment
We therefore created a very simple website which gave instructions on how to do all of the above. It didn’t look particularly good, but it was very process driven and logical. Although we had no real experience in branding, looking back, a very simple instructional website did fit with our brand at the time, as at the heart of our offering was the desire to take the hassle and fuss out of getting things tailored.
Marketing the website
Now we had a website, how were people going to find it? Back in 2006, Google Adwords was far less competitive. This was partly to do with the concept of online tailoring not existing, as well as online marketing being much less widely known about, and leveraged. We capitalised on this by bidding on keywords relevant to our offering, and refining our website using Google Analytics. Google Adwords and Analytics performance, which also allowed us to really get an insight into what our customers were searching for, as well as what they valued. This means we were continually learning and refining our offering.
Current day capers
We have progressed quite a bit as a company since those days, and now have more than 30 studios nationwide where customers can come for style advice and to get expertly measured. Our business is still 100% web based, with every one of the team using the style wizard we created at the start to help our customers choose from 40 billion styles and combinations.
Customer feedback has always been at the heart of how we improve: from day one we had a UK telephone number and postal address on our website which was integral to our customers feeling that we were always within reach. Those early phone calls were incredibly important as it gave us a direct access to our customers. Even now, we continue to refine and improve our offering based on customer input. My advice to anyone starting now would be to do the same: talk to your customers. And explore all possible avenues to obtain feedback to make your product or service better. It’s certainly stood us in good stead.