A mind of its own

by Harry Sheff

Fresh on the e-commerce scene is MindTheChap.com, a website dedicated to menswear. Mind The Chap launched at the beginning of this month by Lisa Walters and Sapna Shah. The two met about 10 years ago at Linens ‘N Things working on new business initiatives in its strategy department. They saw the writing on the wall when Linens ‘N Things was acquired by a private equity firm and decided to start their own consulting firm. Retail Eye Partners advised Wall Street clients on retail. They traveled across the country visiting malls, tracking store trends and performance.

“We saw that a lot of these companies were investing in menswear,” says Shah. “We noticed that men were shopping differently and saw a real opportunity in the market for under-the-radar men’s apparel brands. Most menswear websites carry a lot of the same brands (John Varvatos, Theory) and we wanted to put together a site that featured brands more unrepresented at retail.” And so after they secured funding from angel investors they launched MindTheChap.com.

They hired Michael Skidmore, a retail veteran with over 25 years of buying experience, as SVP of merchandising in July. “Michael’s been instrumental in curating our assortment. He’s found some unbelievable product and brands that are really interesting for our customer (25 to 45 year old man or the woman who buys for him…). He’s looking for everything from casual to dressy. Our assortment runs the gamut in that contemporary pricepoint from brands like Under Two Flags, Williamsburg Garment Company, The West Was Dead, Insubordinate Lads, Premium Lounge, Nicholas K, Benson and General Idea.”

Mindthechap.com merchandises by look rather than by brand. “Guys can shop buy brand, but we want to show them how to mix brands together to create outfits. For example, a customer might think that a magenta and navy plaid woven is too colorful [on its own], but we’ll show it with Mark Stone blazer and it will look more appropriate.” The site stocks about 28 sportswear brands, but should be up to about 48 for spring 2013. Shah admits, “It’s challenging when you open the business in January [for a November launch] and hire the buyer in July: you find that fall product is a little thin on the ground… Spring is really going to be our debut season.”

They’re carefully monitoring what customers are buying and haven’t eliminated any options as far as new category offerings. “For example, we don’t have footwear on the site yet, but we’re looking into boots. We’re also looking at swim and resort collections. We have a little bit of resort now but we’re going to expand it. We’re also launching a category called “Living” which will feature lifestyle items (e.g. bicycles that are handmade in Brooklyn, surfboards and blankets).”

Like the business itself, the marketing strategy is digital. They’re promoting through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, as well as traditional online advertising on websites like New York Magazine, and partnering with men’s fashion bloggers like Scout Sixteen, Male Mode and Metro Man to reach their readers. “A lot of these initiatives will happen in the spring,” explains Shah. “But we’re working with bloggers on things like featuring their curated assortments on our site or showing customers how they might style merchandise to create their personal look. We’ve had a lot of interest from the blogger community, so we want to form these partnerships with them.”

When asked what the challenges were in launching the site Shah is candid. “It’s much more difficult to create an e-commerce site than I would have ever guessed. Lisa and I don’t have technology backgrounds so we worked with a web development firm to create the site. It takes a tremendous effort to build a site that you like and that functions they way you want it to. It’s not like you can just tell the developers, ‘Hey, go build us a site and let us know when it’s done.’ It takes a lot of our input and that was something that we hadn’t anticipated.”

And as for the name? Shah gives all of the credit to her partner. “We knew we wanted something with a British feel to emphasis the tradition of men’s style and the dandyism. We went through tons of ideas and then in a moment of genius Lisa came up with Mind the Chap, which we immediately loved.”