Making a Stylish Entrance to the USA

Number 35 is a London-based fashion label aimed at professional women. Established in 2007, by Andrea Cecile Cohen, the business designs and creates simple, elegant clothes to fit perfectly, look great and travel well. One of number 35’s key points of difference is that their clothes are tailored in such a way that they can be altered where necessary to ensure a perfect fit.

Having two successful stores in London and a fast growing on-line business, Andrea wanted to continue to develop the number 35 brand. With a high proportion of women in senior positions, the USA had always been a market of real interest to the business. Marije Van Vliet, Number 35’s Business Development Director explained their situation, “We knew we would only have one chance to position our brand appropriately in the USA, and we needed to understand this important market before making any big decisions”.

Andrea contacted the UKTI’s Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS), which provides professional advice and funding to help businesses understand the dynamics of a potential overseas market before creating an appropriate launch strategy. There is a nationwide team of professional Research Advisers to support individual companies, and Andrea arranged to meet with Julian Bridgewater, London’s Research Adviser.

Julian helped Marije and Andrea to structure a research programme enabling them to better understand if and how they should enter the US market, e.g. which channel would be best, how should they ‘position’ the number 35 brand in this competitive market, how would they overcome the logistical challenges and what, if any, changes would be required to their product and offering.

Marije began the research programme by finding out basic information about key competitors, their pricing and on-line presence. She also spoke with both personal contacts and UKTI’s Commercial Officer in New York, “With her knowledge of the US Real Estate market, she encouraged us also to consider other areas such as Chicago as a possible retail venue”. The desk research was a useful starting point, but Marije knew she would need to speak directly with people and see the market first-hand.

In December 2013, Andrea travelled to New York and Chicago and together with Marije they spent 10 days in New York and Chicago immersed in the US Fashion Market interviewing a wide range of people including lawyers, real estate agents, logistics specialists, target customers and women’s shop owners and managers. The EMRS was able to help with the funding of this trip. Number 35 also drafted a questionnaire which, through a personal contact, they distributed to 150 senior professional women in and around New York to elicit where they shopped, the price range typically invested in their wardrobe, their perception of various competitor brands and the importance of tailor-fit clothes; Marije also interviewed some of these women face-to-face.

“It was amazing what we found out” explained Marije. “It was interesting to see that when you’re in ‘market research mode’ people really open up to you and tell you such useful information!” The research clearly demonstrated a desire and opportunity for number 35’s offering and, from gaining an understanding of how the competition is perceived, Marije knew how to position the number 35 brand. However, the costs involved in establishing a retail presence would be prohibitive for the business initially, “We learned that foreign companies who want to open in NYC are often required to pay up to a year’s rent in advance – that with other costs for opening a store would come close to $1m for our desired location!” Another key finding from the research was the existence of an established sector specialising in managing warehousing, shipping and returns on behalf of (foreign) companies choosing to sell on-line in the US.

On completing the research trip, the launch strategy for number 35 in the USA became clear, “We decided to start by selling on-line, doing our own order fulfillment to start with but knowing that we have the option to outsource when volumes increase”, Marije described. “In the future, we plan to look at partnering with ‘boutique’-style shops in some of our target markets”. Also apparent was the importance of a good PR strategy.
Number 35 has now opened a US on-line store. “We have also launched a capsule collection with a well-known costume designer, introduced by our new PR agency, resulting in some high profile media coverage” explained Marije. As a result of the launch of the store, 90% of number 35’s online sales are now from US customers.

Number 35’s US on-line store continues to enjoy steady brand growth “The market research gave us the confidence to see the opportunity for number 35 in the US but also made us realise that the costs could escalate if we don’t do this properly.” said Marije, “The Export Marketing Research Scheme helped us structure our research properly and ensured we had a realistic and practical plan for entering this huge but competitive market”.

Please follow this link to see how other Companies have benefitted from the EMRS.

Sectors: Clothing & Footwear and Fashion Design
Countries: United States
Topics: Market Research
Export Action Plan