A business called The Pantless Postman might conjure up images of male revues, but in reality it is far more innocent.
Founded last year, it is an online subscription-based service offering nothing but men’s socks and jocks, with the business based on the assumption that men have better things to do with their time than traipse around shopping centres looking for new underwear.
Behind the operation are high school friends Tim Morris and David Andrew, who saw an opportunity to carve a niche in the subscription-based business model.
Tim talked to StartupSmart about how they built an operation based entirely on the regular delivery of men’s undergarments.
What are your backgrounds?
I run a consulting business working with large corporates around innovation. Dave has been in management consultancies for several years as well and at the moment is primarily doing future scenario planning with mining companies.
We’re doing The Pantless Postman on the side at the moment however both of us are looking at moving more into entrepreneurial ventures.
What inspired the idea for The Pantless Postman?
It was a bit of a convergence of a number of things. First of all guys are useless at keeping their underwear and socks in good shape, and Dave and I for ages were talking about how much of a pain it was shopping for mundane stuff like that.
Then, towards the middle of last year, we started seeing some of these subscription service businesses emerging. We started thinking there was definitely a trend there, going for subscription-based businesses.
We reckoned undies and socks was one (category) that guys would definitely like to just have turn up in the mail so we thought “let’s give it a shot”.
What was the process from there?
The first big decision we had to make was whether we would stock existing branded products or manufacture ourselves.
We wanted to come in with not just a good service but a pretty competitively-priced product and to have enough margin manufacturing ourselves was the best choice.
So we had to find manufacturers and we found some in China.
That was a very rigorous process. We went first onto some of the (manufacturing) sites like Alibaba and just cast the net as wide as we could.
We identified all these different manufacturers, sent them a brief request for information and then, based on that information, started narrowing it down pretty quickly as to who might be good.
Then, with a handful of potential suppliers, a lot of sampling and seeing who else they were manufacturing for, we ended up selecting one manufacturer for underwear and one for socks.
It turned out our underwear manufacturer and our sock manufacturer are only about 20-30km away from each other in the whole of China.
How did you fund the business?
It’s all been self-funded. We probably put in about $30,000 between the two of us. It was largely in stock so it was mainly in October last year when that cash injection happened.
We put a lot of effort into developing as much of the business as we could ourselves so we developed the website ourselves. Neither of us have a web development background so it was a very, very steep learning curve.
What were the challenges associated with that?
The main challenge was all the different platforms that are available. Choosing the right shopping cart was a big challenge.
Because we’re letting people configure a pack and they’re adding all these things in and changing sizes we had to look at probably a dozen or 15 different shopping carts to find the best one.
But the benefits of doing that ourselves were that it brought the cost to launch the business right down and we now have complete control of the website. Even more beneficial than that is the speed at which we can change stuff.
Can you actually offer a point of difference for people who are happy shopping for underwear in-store?
The real difference is the service side of things. Obviously guys and the women who love them can buy jocks and socks from any retail store – online or bricks-and-mortar.
But none looked after their underwear needs for the whole year so that’s where we really position ourselves – as a set-and-forget service.
How does the service work?
The first step is to choose which subscription pack will meet your needs. We actually have a couple of one-off deliveries, which are trial packs to give people a feel for the product.
If they’re going for a subscription, they choose the frequency (at which they would like items delivered on an annual basis) then the underwear style and size, and order away.
We’re partnered with a fantastic logistics company here in Melbourne so as soon as an order is placed the logistics company receives that order and they send it out.
How have people responded to the idea?
We’ve had brilliant reactions. Generally people laugh and then they say that’s a really good idea. We’re enjoying that fun factor because then people see the value of it.
What tips would you give other start-ups with bold ideas?
Work out how to test the viability of your idea for as cheaply as possible. Try not to spend too much until you’ve actually got some validation.
For anything with an online component I highly recommend being involved, if not by building it yourself then at least by getting your head around it so that you know what’s going on.