Need Supply Co., founded in 1996, has come a long way from its start as a standalone shop in Richmond, Virginia selling used vintage Levi’s. By pivoting to focus on e-commerce in 2008, founder Chris Bossola grew the retailer into a global marketplace for new and established independent designers like J.W. Anderson and Creatures of Comfort.
The retailer now sells more than 400 brands to 170 countries, after having launched its online store with worldwide shipping capabilities. Its biggest markets, now, are the U.K. and Australia, and in addition to its Richmond boutique, Need Supply operates two stores in Japan. While the private company doesn’t break out revenue figures, its most recently reported earnings from Inc in 2012 put its revenue at $3.9 million.
“We started with 300 pairs of vintage Levi’s, and the goal was to bring something to Richmond that wasn’t available until that point,” said Bossola. “We took that and went online, where we were selling to a much larger market to a much broader audience that had insight to stores all over the world. So we took our concept of discovering new brands and zeroed in on that.”
To celebrate 20 years, Need Supply Co. is releasing a series of exclusive collaborations with the brands that have helped it built up its following. Available online and in stores, the collections were made by designers like Birds of Prey, Black Crane, Rachel Comey, with the guidance of Need Supply Co.’s creative director Gabriel Ricioppo and fashion director Krystle Kemp. According to Kemp, the collections followed a few themes: ‘90s nostalgia, the number ‘20’ and the colors blue and indigo, inspired by the brand’s denim roots.
Beyond the one-off anniversary collaborations, Need Supply Co. expanded further this year, launching its first in-house men’s and women’s line, “Need,” incorporating home and beauty categories into its online and physical stores, and pushing its offerings to include more high-end luxury brands. After months of renovations, its original store will reopen in Richmond.
Bossola said that Need Supply’s move into new categories came as an evolution of the brand built online, which was anchored by a content blog, launched before e-commerce was introduced, that shared the brand’s point of view and inspiration. He said e-commerce was a “slow build,” but it’s now the majority of Need Supply’s sales, although Bossola wouldn’t break out specific figures.
While the company took a slow and deliberate growth path, waiting 12 years to launch e-commerce, it’s met the financial challenges accompanied with entering new channels and categories. Need Supply had difficulty raising capital earlier this year, and Herschel Capital Company, the venture capital arm of luggage brand Herschel Supply Co., stepped in and invested in them. With that investment, the company was able to focus on building out its expansion into the home and beauty categories, as well as its in-house line.
For small boutiques, e-commerce is a challenge because it’s a foreign concept: Inventory, shipping and returns can be logistical nightmares for the small, brick-and-mortar minded teams to execute. When they do manage to launch online, the capabilities are usually minimal. International shipping from the start is practically unheard of.
But Inii Kim, creative director at luxury agency King & Partners, points to Need Supply’s strong point of view as a retailer as its saving grace, financial obstacles aside. It strikes a balance between being approachable and cool, in terms of product selection, pricing and visuals, she said.
“There’s a very solid point of view and their consumers trust it: relaxed, natural but always cool and slightly forward.”
Kemp said that the retailer’s long practiced staying true to its Richmond roots, something that the internet customer has resonated with.
“With the global stage that is e-commerce, if you’re true to the roots of your brand, what you know, and what you believe is good product, and showcase that in a way that’s true to yourself, you’ll find your playing field,” said Kemp. “We’ve always been concerned about our selection of brands and showcasing the lives of the people who wear them.”