When Chris Bossola opened Blues Recycled Clothing in 1996, “all three TV stations came because they couldn’t believe that we were selling vintage, used Levi’s for $35. They thought it was crazy.” Nearly 25 years later, what started with a 200 square foot store in Richmond, Virginia has become Need Supply, a retailer that makes most of its revenue online — and sells much more than used jeans.
On this week’s Glossy Podcast, Bossola — the multi-brand retailer’s founder and CEO — discusses Need Supply’s plans for expansion, their acquisition of Totokaelo and why the DTC model is overrated.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Third-party retail is still around for a reason
“I think it’s a myth that we don’t need third-party retailers. I think direct-to-consumer is somewhat overrated. It’s the thing right now that everybody’s talking about. But in reality, I think consumers appreciate a third-party experience because it puts each of the brands in context. And when you go into a store that’s just a certain brand, it’s not as in-depth of an experience as when you go to a retailer that has multiple brands and has curated them in a way that is specific to that retailer’s point of view. And it is more difficult in today’s environment as a third-party retailer. I think the ones that are struggling have lost their point of view and what made them special. They’re just a big place with a lot of product. You go from one extreme — which is direct-to-consumer, ‘I’m going to go to this site and buy my toothbrush’ — to a department store that has 600,000 SKUs, and I don’t think any of those really makes a lot of sense for shopping.”
The value-add of a brick-and-mortar store
“I like to think of a brick-and-mortar store as a kind of place that when you have brunch with your friends, you want to stop by on your way home. And if it’s not that kind of place, it’s not working. If I don’t want to do that then I’m just going to go order it online. So it has to be an experience.”
Only the lowest-hanging fruit is worthwhile, digitally speaking
“I read a quote or a comment the other day that paid marketing — particularly digital paid marketing — is essentially the big guys out there, they figure out a way to take all of your margin. And the competition just increases the price until you have a customer acquisition cost that’s more than your ROI. That’s what I’ve seen over the years as a channel comes out. For the first people there, it’s affordable and you can really take advantage of it, and then it gets more and more expensive and there’s really no value there — unless maybe you’re direct-to-consumer because you have a bigger margin, or you’re just burning money that you’ve raised, which is not our strategy. That’s part of the reason that maintaining that relationship with the consumer, creating a community and getting direct, organic traffic is super important.”