Swiss shoemaker Daniel Bucheli opened his first store in the United States last year, knowing it would take months, if not years, to establish his brand there.
It’s not that his decade-old Zurich label, Le Butler, isn’t cool. In addition to selling traditional monk-strap oxfords and two-tone galosh boots, the brand will create custom footwear in virtually any style customers can imagine. Past designs include a rainbow-hued weathered moccasin and oxfords in New York Taxi yellow.
But Bucheli had no funding to run ads on social media or subway trains, and even if he did, identifying the right audience for the custom shoes would be difficult in an unfamiliar market.
Le Butler has therefore adopted a scrappier approach: making its services known to as many people as possible, and rely on word of mouth do the rest. After settling in Midtown last fall, Bucheli and his associates visited their nearby retail neighbors, introducing themselves to store employees and encouraging them to refer customers to the Butler if they had any questions about the shoes. . The Butler also hosts small happy hour events, inviting neighborhood retailers for drinks and snacks.
It’s a bit of a “guerrilla” tactic, Bucheli said, “but it definitely helps with brand recognition.”
For young independent brands like Le Majordome, these unconventional methods are not just a creative way to find customers, but a means of survival. Social media advertising is more expensive than ever, while shoppers are inundated with choices in every product category. An impending economic downturn favors established incumbents over newcomers.
So rather than launching a large network, savviest outsiders, whether it’s a small brand just getting started or a big one launching into a new market, opt for smaller-scale activations. and often local to reach their first customers. From pizza and business conferences to specialty stores, niche sub-groups and trunk shows, today’s entrants have found imaginative new ways to reach their customers, adopting a form of marketing often overlooked by their VC-funded, direct-to-consumer predecessors – word of mouth.
“Performance marketing will happen once we identify the customer,” said Louise Denny, who recently launched womenswear brand Rose Room alongside her partner, Ally Lewis, hosting a series of shows. trunk in New York. Region. “For us, there is nothing more valuable than seeing who they are in real life.”
The network effect
Chinese womenswear brand Ep Yaying entered the US market this year with a strong undercover plan. To command its luxury-adjacent awards, Ep Yaying targets prosperous working women in fields like law, medicine and business, aged 30 to 50, and usually Chinese or Asian.
To find them, Ep Yaying goes to exactly where they congregate: professional organizations, social clubs and industry conferences. First, the company joined the China General Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit organization run by the Bank of China to promote Chinese businesses in the United States.
Ep Yaying also joined Mulan Club, a New York-based networking organization for Asian women, and worked with Chinese media network CGTN, the Chinese English-language news channel.
The idea is to meet other members of these groups, according to Joe Ye, the brand’s president for the American market, and introduce them to Ep Yaying. From there, I hope they spread the word to their friends. Eventually, the company also plans to organize events within these groups.
Ep Yaying will pursue this networking strategy alongside more traditional growth channels, including opening stores and expanding into wholesale, Ye said. The brand recently opened its first US location at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Denny and Lewis of Rose Room also plan their trunk shows based on their relationships with friends and associates, who host these events in their homes.
The idea is that a trunk lounge is more like a cocktail party than a shopping spree, Denny said. While women can shop pieces at the trunk show, “it’s a time for brand awareness,” she added.
Rose Room plans to hold traveling shows in the coming months, visiting cities like San Francisco, Charlotte, Houston and Atlanta — cities that aren’t as saturated with fashion options as New York or Los Angeles, a Lewis said.
In many cases, smaller events lead to higher conversions. The Butler has found success by partnering with local tailors rather than well-known brands. Independent tailors tend to have very loyal customers and offer bespoke services similar to those of the Butler.
“We’ve had people say to us, ‘You have to do collaborations with this really cool brand,’ but we don’t have anything in common with them,” Bucheli said. “That’s the theme — know your customer… With tailors, the cross-section can be 100%. Their [patrons] appreciate the custom, and they have money to spend on it.
Strategic brick and mortar
Bucheli was equally astute about the location of the Butler’s first American outpost.
“I must have looked at 50 different stores,” he said.
At one point he considered Nolita – the home of streetwear favorite Aime Leon Dore.
“It’s a nice place, but is it really our client? Bucheli added. “What we ultimately did was check out where similar brands were and where we think our customers are buying, and that was Midtown.”
Not the sexiest of places, but Midtown turned out to be the right choice. The Butler surprises affluent commuters entering and leaving the office. Within a year, the store was fully profitable.
Brick and mortar can also serve as a discovery point for budding brands or those looking to reposition themselves in the market.
Contemporary womenswear brand Lafayette 148, for example, revamped its supply chain during the pandemic to become a true luxury brand and hiked its prices by around 30%.
But a new price tag means having to find new customers, and brick and mortar has been key.
In the past 18 months, the brand opened 10 new stores across the country, up from nine in 2020. It signed new wholesale accounts with a more luxury-focused customer, such as Mitchell’s in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“It’s a lot for us, but we want to go where our customer is,” said Deirdre Quinn, co-founder and chief executive of the brand.
Being part of a multi-brand experience is a great way to reach customers who are looking for something new, according to Melissa Seligmann, COO of Thingtesting, an evaluation platform for e-commerce brands.
Seligmann points to stores like Showfields, a chain of stores that features dozens of smaller brands in an experiential setting. Neighborhood Goods, a self-proclaimed “department store” for new brands, is another example of organized multi-brand retail.
Tap into your niche
Sometimes the most effective channels can be surprising. The Butler hired a PR firm to promote its launch last year and has received articles in several publications, including High Snobiety and Bloomberg Businessweek.
While High Snobiety momentarily gave the brand a cool air, it was Bloomberg that drove sales up.
“Maybe High Snobiety is the Nolita of magazines, while Businessweek is more defined by Midtown, and you realize that’s who it is, it’s our client,” Bucheli said.
Once a brand has identified its audience, it needs to target that demographic with precision, Seligmann said. Small, niche media publications tend to generate higher conversion rates. Seligmann points to the Substack fashion newsletter, Blackbird Spyplane, where she has already discovered two brands she intends to shop.
In the end, a good product will speak for itself.
“The most important ambassadors will always be your customers,” Bucheli said. “They know you’re the underdog, and they’ll tell their friends.”