Monday, January 23, 2012/
The idea for Vinspi came to Ivan Lim over a cup of coffee with a friend, during a discussion about the difficulty of purchasing affordable tailored suits in Australia.
Based in Melbourne, Vinspi is an online retail store that allows men to purchase bespoke suits instead of traipsing off to a department store where they only receive standard, off-the-rack sizes.
The site’s three-step “suit builder” simplifies the design process, with videos to show how each measurement is taken.
A former employee of successful online retailer OZHut, Lim talks to StartupSmart about the reality of going it alone.
What inspired the idea for Vinspi – what niche did you identify?
The idea behind Vinspi came about over a cup of coffee with a friend. We were chatting about men’s clothing and I recalled an experience tailoring my own suit.
I remembered enjoying the experience and found a tailored suit looked much better than any of my previous purchases. It made me wonder why more men didn’t consider tailoring all their suits.
My friend immediately pointed out that it was really expensive in Australia to buy a suit, let alone a tailored one, and that tailoring was a process most men found tedious.
It was just too expensive and hard to buy a tailored suit in Australia.
I realised at that moment that a business which simplified the tailored suit experience, and made it as affordable as off-the-rack sizes, would be extremely appealing to men.
I did a quick bit of research and realised hardly anyone was doing a good job of selling tailored suits online. Within a month, I had quit my job and took the plunge.
How did you come up with the name?
The name came about from combining two things that I feel are really important to the Vinspi brand.
Vintage – The class and heritage of men’s suits; the bespoke tailoring experience.
Suits almost seem timeless, a constant fashion piece that endures through generations. I really wanted to preserve the experience of what it means to enjoy a bespoke tailored suit.
Inspiration – The other side of Vinspi is the imagination, fun and inspiration that comes with designing your own clothes.
It’s the aspect of being able to customise clothes to reflect your personal style, and watching it come to life in a hand-tailored clothing piece.
How long did you work on the business before you launched it?
It took about five months, from conception of the idea to launching Vinspi. A lot of my time was spent working on business operations and the website.
My previous role as marketing manager at OZHut got me heavily involved in web design and digital marketing, which helped tremendously in getting Vinspi’s eCommerce store set up.
Besides juggling web work, I was also busy sourcing fabric suppliers, tailors and also setting up quality control systems.
I felt it was extremely important to engage with top quality tailors and source premium fabrics to deliver a great product.
Vinspi is really fortunate to be working with tailors who hand-make suits for clients all over Europe, so I’m really confident that customers will love the product they receive.
Making sure Vinspi could offer an outstanding experience from beginning (website) to end (product) was a driving factor in all our preparations before launch, and it will continue to drive our initiatives in the future.
How did you fund the business?
The whole business is funded through my personal savings, with the majority of the start-up costs funneled into building the website.
Other significant costs went into building and testing quality control checks in the operations side.
How do you promote the business?
I plan to promote Vinspi through a few key channels. These include online marketing, PR, social media and the most valuable of all, word-of-mouth.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to different entrepreneurs about Vinspi and the resounding theme that pops up continually is the need to deliver a product/customer experience that drives word-of-mouth marketing all on its own.
Creating that outstanding experience is a key focus for Vinspi and we will never stop working on that aspect of the business.
How many staff do you have?
Currently, the Vinspi team is made up of just myself.
I’m very fortunate to have come from a role at an online retail start-up, which gave me a headstart in knowing what was involved in getting an eCommerce site started.
Having said that, I’ve also had to push a lot of my boundaries and learn new things to set up this business.
Before Vinspi, I had never been involved in photography, technical web development or financial procedures, but now I’ve had a chance to wet my feet in all these areas.
Close friends have also pitched in to help out and give advice, which has aided tremendously.
I am looking to add another staff member to the team, as we grow, and possibly interested parties who can invest in the business while adding valuable skill sets.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
Vinspi has some relatively conservative revenue predictions for 2011/12.
Our focus for the last six months of this financial year is to continually improve the customer experience and focus on maximising the lifetime value of each customer.
If we can drive revenue close to $100,000 in our first six months, we will have laid a good foundation for the years ahead.
Our long-term goal is to build Vinspi into a leading menswear brand over the next three to five years.
What are your points of difference?
Vinspi has three key points of difference:
- Customers enjoy a perfect tailored fit instead of standard off-the-rack sizes that don’t fit properly.
- Customers can easily design a suit that matches their individual style instead of settling on pre-designed suits on a store rack.
- Vinspi makes suit shopping more convenient, allowing men to shop for a personally tailored suit from the comfort of home instead of trawling through malls and numerous suit stores.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for me has been working alone. I am, by nature, a people-orientated person so I enjoy working in teams and interacting with colleagues.
Initially, when I started working on the business, I would go through days where I felt extremely isolated and lacking inspiration.
I realised quickly that being isolated and only having conversations with myself was a surefire way to burn out.
Seeing this, I quickly made time to meet up with fellow business owners and entrepreneurs who shared my passions and could help me work through issues I was facing.
This has helped tremendously and has been like a breath of fresh air to keep me focused and passionate about Vinspi.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Like every self-funded start-up in its early stages, the biggest risk is not correctly allocating limited budget to the right places.
In Vinspi’s case, the main budget item is marketing, and our biggest challenge is spending dollars in the right places for the best return.
Shopping for a tailored suit online is still a new concept for most people.
Our research and feedback has indicated that the idea appeals to the male shopper but we still need to pick the right mediums to promote the business and maximise return on a limited budget.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
It may not be something I could have done differently but I would have liked to have another co-founder in the business.
When the business idea first came up, I did speak to a few interested parties but unfortunately things didn’t quite work out.
After building Vinspi on my own, I realised how valuable having a colleague – who was equally invested into the business – could be.