I had stumbled upon an accidental business. By Milysan Troche (Founder, My Haute Closet)
You wouldn’t think a college graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA, tons of student activities, and several corporate internships would have much difficulty landing an interview. At least that's not what anyone tells you can happen during our current economic climate. I must have literally sent out well over a thousand resumes and tailor-made cover letters to potential positions with no response.
With much encouragement from former teachers and friends, I decided to revisit a business plan I had written in college. The idea was an e-commerce/lifestyle/hybrid social media site called My Haute Closet. Being that venture capital wasn’t exactly knocking down my door and startup funds were limited, I felt phase one of the site, a lifestyle blog, would potentially bring me the boost to gain visibility to eventually turn it into an e-commerce platform.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The site received decent traffic but after five months of providing engaging content, I received my first and only affiliate marketing check for a whopping $2.75. I quickly realized that the traditional blog approach was not going to be conducive to my plans.
By this point, I had built a following of 25,000 on Instagram made up of women like me who loved fashion and shared similar interests. Considering I was such a clotheshorse, several of my Instagram followers began asking if I’d be interested in purchasing a bag they no longer wanted or an extra pair of final sale Louboutins that didn’t fit.
I had stumbled upon an accidental business.
Eventually I had tons of items that women were relying on me to sell. I decided to pivot my blog into an online store with $400 using WordPress. In the interim I began posting items on Instagram and fielding queries via email. The response was astounding. I’d receive approximately 200 emails per item. Once the online store launched, the demand didn’t slow down. Most pieces I post, specifically handbags and shoes, often sell within hours of posting. I hired a “ghost staff” consisting of a photographer, PR expert, web developer and two of the most trusted luxury authenticators to work as needed to build the store and spread the word.
Although I’m no Net-A-Porter or Rachel Zoe, I have learned some very valuable lessons along the way:
- You can’t be all things to all people. Instagram allowed me to build a following of targeted potential customers because these women saw a bit of themselves in me. Whether a small business or a corporate giant, truly knowing who your customer is can make all the difference.
- Content is king. My followers would be completely bored if I posted nothing but photos of sale items. I always try to switch things up and provide interesting imagery of an outfit I’m wearing, some whacky nail art, a gorgeous view of the beach, or whatever happens to be going on around me on any given day.
- Stay engaged. Although it isn’t possible to know all 40,000 of my Instagram followers by name, I try my best to answer any questions ranging from if I have a certain item coming in or what color lipstick I was wearing in a recent photo.
- Realize that the classic business rules don’t always apply. Consignment is typically a one sided process with the consignor feeling intimidated by the consignee. My business practices a collaborative process where the consignor and I work together to decide on pricing of their items. I also constantly keep them in the loop on the status of their sale. It’s definitely not the way most consignment stores work, but it keeps my consignors happy and coming back.
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Although it’s been said that Pinterest is the #1 tool leading to conversion for retailers, I did not find this to be true for my business model. Learn what works for you and find a way to continue duplicating that success.
Although I’m a bit far from phase three of my original business plan and VC money isn’t flowing just yet, My Haute Closet has come a long way from the $2.75 check dated 5/4/2012. I absolutely adore my clients, consignees and Instagram followers. I wouldn’t trade this accidental business for anything. I hope to continue to grow the business in a manner that allows me to keep the personal connection with both new and existing customers without losing the fun and excitement of how it came to fruition.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: My Haute Closet on Instagram About the guest blogger: Milysan Troche is Founder of My Haute Closet, a luxury online boutique selling pre-owned authentic designer clothing, bags, shoes and accessories. At 19, she worked at the Andrew Marc showroom while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. She moved to Los Angeles and graduated from FIDM at the top of her class. In 2011, Milysan decided to go into business for herself and launched her fashion/lifestyle blog, My Haute Closet, now an e-commerce platform selling gently used luxury and contemporary merchandise. Follow her on Twitter at @myhautecloset.