27. June 2013–
Father-son team Joe and Sam Middleton want to help guys. They think most men want to be stylish and fashionable, but just need a little help to get there. That's where their London-based startup The Chapar steps in: It's a personal styling service and eCommerce site for men, in a similar vein to German counterpart Outfittery and US-based Trunk Club.
We caught up with Sam to find out what it's like working with his dad and why the lure of starting his own company drew him away from a very different career in sports media...
Hi Sam, tell me about your startup...
Hi, I am one of the founders of The Chapar, a personal styling service and eCommerce site for men. Men can come to our website, register and then do a "style consultancy" – so he does a questionnaire on what kinds of clothes he likes, what brands, what he's looking for – like weekend clothes, or office clothes, whether he wears casual or smart-casual or formal clothes in the office, what size he is.
From there, we assign him a personal stylist who picks out a trunk of clothes for him with about 12 garments in it. We send it to him and he has two weeks to try it and pick what he wants to keep. The rest he just puts back in the box and calls us to collect it via courier. We only charge him for the clothes he keeps – we cover all other costs and don’t put a markup on retail prices or charge shipping.
We focus on personalising the service – for example, the trunk comes with a hand-written note from the stylist explaining why she made her choice and that he’ll look great on his holiday. They love it!
Who are the founders and what have you done before?
I co-founded the company with my dad, Joe Middleton; we launched just under a year ago. He worked for Levi's for 25 years; he knows the fashion industry really well. He was the president of Levi's EMEA – so in the end he was the secon most important person in the company. He's retired now, but has launched two businesses since – this, and a premium sportswear brand called PlayerLayer.
He is the chairman of The Chapar, he's non-executive – he doesn’t work on it day-to-day. He’s still a great sounding board and has a lot of connections.
This is my first experience in startups. I studied economics and saw all my mates go into finance and into the city. I am really pleased I managed to avoid that. Before The Chapar I worked for IMG – it was very fun, it's a sports media company so for a guy it was great, but I was one of 10,000 employees and it didn’t have the buzz or the excitement or self-fulfillment of what I'm doing now – the feeling of having a mission and purpose. It's my first startup and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
How did you come across your idea?
The original idea came from my dad. We saw a company in the states with a similar business model to what we are doing here and thought it was a great idea. They’re called Trunk Club and the concept makes perfect sense. Men want to dress well and look good, but there are so many factors that stop them from doing this – they either don’t want to go shopping, or don’t have the time to go shopping, or they just don’t know how to shop. They don’t have the first idea where to start. So we think we have a great solution, it saves all the hassle and downside of them shopping themselves.
Who are your competitors?
We have two competitors – the traditional department stores and then eCommerce, like Net-A-Porter or Asos. But I think they’re “traditional eCommerce”. We are the third wave of shopping – we are a lot more personalised and really offer our customers a unique service. There's also obviously Trunk Club but we can look at it as a threat or an opportunity.
How many users do you have?
Just over 1,000 customers ordering trunks on a repeat basis and we've had more than 20,000 sign up.
I know Zalando, for example, has very high return rates, and I'd imagine The Chapar would have even higher returns as customers don't pick out what they're getting. What are the numbers?
We have about a 30 per cent retention rate, so two-thirds come back to us. But it works for us.
What is your business model?
Our model is the same as retail stores. We buy clothes wholesale and sell them at retail prices. We stock them in a warehouse, which means we save a lot of costs of a traditional bricks-and-mortar store.
Who is financing you?
Currently it is privately financed. We did the first round through friends and family and angels. We are looking to raise more to excel our growth.
Is there something that you missing?
We are looking for a larger office. A bigger budget would be great too, money is always tight in a startup. We need more marketing, particularly online marketing.
Nick Robertson - the founder and Chief Executive of ASOS. It's an amazing business that has shown formidable growth and has been able to dominate the mainstream eCommerce landscape in the UK. He showed the foresight and bravery to launch in the really early days of the eCommerce model, and is now reaping the rewards.
Any advice you'd give for fellow startups?
Go for it. I’m 25, so I'm pretty young, and most of my friends have great ideas too but are stuck in jobs that they're probably not that happy with because they don't want to take a risk. But I think just go for it, because it really is achievable.
Where will you be in a year's time?
We want to become known as an authority in the menswear industry and build brand awareness. We'd also like to expand to Europe – we’ve had a few orders from there and it would be very easy for us to grow that market. Operationally it is really easy to do, it's just about marketing and building the client base there.
Would you think about branching out into womenswear?
No one is doing that for women – though we get a lot of requests. But I think it would be very hard to do – one, because women love to shop, and two, because the breadth of fashion in womenswear is so wide, there are so many looks, styles and choice. Menswear is easier as it's more refined, there’s less diversity.
Image credit: For: L.B.M. 1911
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