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Skinnytees: Stretching its marketing acumen

“On my wish list was marketing, marketing and more marketing,” says Linda Schlesinger-Wagner, Skinnytees founder. "The deliverables were beyond our wildest dreams."

Based in Birmingham, Michigan, Skinnywear LLC (dba Skinnytees) is a knitwear apparel company that sells directly to consumers from its website as well as wholesaling to brick-and-mortar retailers. Founder Linda Schlesinger-Wagner launched the company in 2009 and has grown it to $2 million in annual revenue. Looking for ways to further scale the company, she entered the System for Integrated Growth (SIG) program in summer 2020.

“On my wish list was marketing, marketing and more marketing,” says Schlesinger-Wagner, explaining that her primary vehicle for winning new wholesale accounts had been industry trade shows. Yet when the pandemic shutdown these venues, she needed alternative ways to reach retailers, along with strategies for boosting website sales to consumers.

In response, a SIG specialist analyzed a sampling of Skinnytees customers according to Tapestry segmentation. This tool uses demographic and socioeconomic data to categorize the population of a geographic area into distinct market segments. By better understanding the behaviors associated with their core customers, companies can then identify and target similar groups across the country.

“We got information we never knew about before — and a much better understanding of our customer base,” says Schlesinger-Wagner. “People assume that if you have an inexpensive product, then you’re selling to people with a lower income.” Yet the SIG research revealed that Skinnytees’ top customers were actually affluent suburbanites. What’s more, their No. 2 ranked segment was “Top Tier,” the wealthiest group of U.S. consumers who earn more than three times the median household income. Armed with this information, Schlesinger-Wagner is now conducting Facebook ads to target consumers in specific geographic areas, including Salt Lake City, Utah, which proved to be a surprising hotspot for potential customers.

Acting on another idea to build B2C sales, Schlesinger-Wagner mailed 10,000 postcards to online customers who had bought Skinnytees apparel from QVC.com and Macys.com. “We knew the shipping addresses of these customers, but not their email addresses or phone numbers,” she says. The campaign was a tactic to capture that information, as the postcards offered 50% off a camisole if ordered directly from Skinnytees’ website. The response was surprisingly positive: “We thought we’d hear back from 15 people,” says Schlesinger-Wagner, “but within a few weeks we had more than 750 orders (a 7.5% response rate).”

In other deliverables, a SIG specialist provided strategies for using LinkedIn’s advanced search capabilities as a tool to find and connect with targeted potential customers. One surprising takeaway here, Schlesinger-Wagner solved a sourcing problem with a duplicitous manufacturing representative. The rep had been delaying deliveries, and Schlesinger-Wagner found out that he was trying to set up his own import business.

“The SIG engagement helped us stay steady through COVID,” says Schlesinger-Wagner. Skinnytees was able to recover from early losses in 2020, and it finished the year on par with 2019 revenue.

“Edward Lowe Foundation is like a hidden treasure,” says Schlesinger-Wagner. “The deliverables were beyond our wildest dreams, and every single person on our SIG team was so engaging. I’d love to do another round and am recommending the program to fellow entrepreneurs.”

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