We take a look back at the changes Trunk Club has experienced over the last four years, which has seen the company change hands, undergo a logistical overhaul, and witness 500 percent growth since 2010.
Back in June 2009 the founder of Trunk Club, Joanna Van Vleck, decided to take a male aversion and attempt to turn it into a successful business model. Stereotypically clothes shopping has long been recognized as a hobby for females and a chore for males, and Trunk Club’s premise was simple – take one male who dislikes or is too busy to shop, pair them up with a stylist and, through Skype chats, develop a personalized wardrobe for that customer. Any items that were unwanted or ill-fitting could be sent back to Trunk Club free of charge. When we first covered Trunk Club their network of stylists were based all over the United States and were interacting with clients over Skype. Van Vleck had originally planned to open up physical retail spaces all over the US, but after the economy crashed her investor backed out and so she turned to this new online model, which only required USD 50,000 to get off the ground. However, because this setup relied heavily on the stylists who worked on a casual basis and were paid on commission, Trunk Club hit a stumbling block within a year. The relaxed employment model may have suited flexible working hours, but it also meant that communication was not as efficient as it could have been. There was also controversy when Van Vleck resigned from the company after three lawsuits were brought against her, alleging that she exaggerated the company’s financial health to investment companies by presenting business loans as income. At this point the management team took stock and in 2010 brought in new CEO Brian Spaly to address the business’ logistics. He did away with the scattered network of stylists and concentrated the operation at Trunk Club’s headquarters in Chicago. Whereas previously the home-based stylists would chat to clients over Skype, all current stylists are now employed as full time staff and speak over the phone or by email to clients from the Chicago offices. Spaly also decided to give the service more focus, and stylists now specialize in advising their clients on a variety of evening and weekend looks. The company stocks high-end labels including Penguin and Lacoste and all the clothes are easily accessible from their Chicago warehouse. The team has rocketed from just 4 to over 80 staff members and rising. So quickly has the team grown that they are struggling to fit into their offices, which are located in the heart of Chicago’s cultural district, River North, and Head of Marketing Andrew Bleiman describes the constant shuffling as ‘a human sized game of Tetris’. This expanding team is indicative of the company’s current success, with USD 5.5 million in revenue for 2011 and over 500 percent growth since 2010. Bleiman told us how the team has had to adapt quickly to keep up with the expansion. ‘Moving down the learning curve with a company at this stage is like drinking from a fire hose. It’s amazing how much knowledge the organization gains in just a few months.’ One notable addition to the team was Rob Chesney, the former vice-president of eBay Motors, where he helped to make the company one of the ten largest ecommerce sites in the world. The expansion has enabled Trunk Club to grow its client base, but Bleiman is aware of the dangers this expansion carries, and is keen not to drop the level of personal service as the company’s customer base grows: ‘The challenge for Trunk Club is to continue to improve the outstanding personalized service we offer our members while scaling our customer base.’ It’s been a rocky road for Trunk Club, involving lawsuits and a change of CEO, but the expansion of the team alongside high profits last year suggest that the company is now on the right track. Although the original founder Joanna Van Vleck can lay claim to having first thought up the outline for Trunk Club, it was an idea she ultimately struggled to execute effectively. Trunk Club’s current success is largely down to the logistical changes that have been introduced, which has seen the company centralize its operations under one roof, and there are lessons here for any aspiring entrepreneur! You can read more about Trunk Club in our article here, or visit the Trunk Club website here.
11th April 2012