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Behind the Brand: Melanie Travis, Founder of Andie

Recently, we chatted with Founder and CEO Melanie Travis of Andie, the fastest-growing online women’s swimsuit brand.

Melanie revealed how CPA costs have dropped every month since launch and got candid about how price points for their swimsuits are maintained. Grab a pen and paper, she also dished how to keep returns low via AI-powered online quizzes!

Q: Swimsuits are “the worst to try in-store,” so how do you alleviate any objections customers may have about purchasing swimwear online?

A: It's no secret that swimwear shopping is one of the worst experiences for women. In surveys, women consistently rank swimwear shopping as the most demoralizing, sensitive and frustrating shopping experience. And we feel them.

Firstly, a woman has to get completely undressed to try a swimsuit on. With a typical store’s tiny dressing room, fluorescent lighting and curtains flapping open, it can make for a pretty awkward experience.

On top of that, when a woman’s wearing a swimsuit, it’s the most naked she’ll ever be in public. Trying one on and looking at yourself in the mirror is wrapped up in all these psychological traumas. When you combine a shitty in-store experience with this, you give opportunity for a truly traumatic experience. We believe women prefer to try on products at home without pressure, with easy, free shipping and returns, and be in their own lighting with a glass of wine.

On the product side, typically, there are fast-fashion $25 swimsuits that look and feel the part from big-box retailers. But they fall apart, pill and yellow all too easily. On the other end, you have high-end, luxury brands offering beautiful, well-made suits. But the vast majority of women aren’t spending over $400 on a swimsuit. Which is where we come in. At Andie, we look to bring the high-end aesthetic and quality at a more accessible price point, so all of our products are $95-115 with a goal to fill the white space in the market.

Q: How does your brand maintain quality and keep product costs low?

A: The factories we use only produce high-end swim. Also, we’re able to get products to a much more approachable price point because we’re direct-to-consumer, without any wholesale relationships or middlemen causing markups. We’re able to deliver a high-end product at a lower price point for the end consumer.

We get approached by retail buyers 24/7 because they want to bring our affluent, digitally-savvy customers into their stores. We’ve avoided it for now because if we can get everyone to our site, it’s best from a business standpoint. Though I know wholesale may make sense down the road from a growth and diversification perspective.

The women’s swimwear market stands at about $5B, with the vast majority of swimsuits bought in stores. Although we’re growing quickly, there will be a point where digital channels become saturated. To have a real impact on the U.S. market, Andie will eventually have an in-store presence.

Andie Swim Shopify spring campaign

Q: We all know many bathing suits we buy online don't fit the way we wish. How does Andie Swim keep its return rate down to avoid getting hammered on shipping costs?

A: One way we’ve done this is by investing a lot in digital fit tools to match women with their best possible fit. Internally, we strive to be the “best fitting room on the internet”. What’s helped is an AI-powered fit quiz on our site that has a high conversion rate. It asks questions like where a shopper wants to go with her swimsuit, what she likes about her body, what type of activities she wants to do. We’re asking and collecting rich and deep info, not commodity data like sizing (what the bulk of retailers ask). When a woman fills out the fit quiz, we match her with what we feel is the perfect style. If we think she’s in between sizes, we automatically place two sizes in the cart and all she does is checkout. If she receives two different sizes at home, then it’s obvious she’ll return one. When we get the return, we match it with the fit quiz profile, log the results and it becomes smarter the next time like a flywheel.

Lots of our paid ads lead to the fit quiz since it has such high conversion. If a shopper completes it, she’s likely to get matched with a style she’s most likely to keep. We’re sending more people to the site due to the engagement of it. They buy more suits and they keep more, so we know what they’re most likely to keep. That use of technology helps keep return rates low.

Q: How do you get outside the “Andie bubble” to find and meet other DTC startup founders to grow as an entrepreneur?

A: I go outside of my nest a lot. I do a lot of dinners, breakfasts and panels. I always look to interact with founders at similar stages. We find each other, and when we do there’s no small talk. Chats often go right to practical lessons. Also, my wife is an early-stage investor and she sees a lot of businesses. That helps a lot to be familiar with the landscape.

Melanie Travis headshot | Andie | Founder Series

Q: Are you still using social PPC and what have you done about the increase in customer acquisition costs over time? How are you fighting them?

A: Costs are increasing for everyone, they’re not unfairly hitting Andie. The entire ecosystem adjusts and all investors know it’s happening. At Andie, I have a philosophy that digital marketing should be done in house. I want us to have a deep bench and constantly be internalizing the lessons that we learn: about which platforms work, what creative is working, what messaging is working. I want to own that information to deploy it on any given day, on any given channel. I’ve hired in-house for all marketing roles so we’re extremely nimble and have the expertise.

Although our business is growing so much, we’ve actually declined our CPA’s month over month since launch. To do that, sometimes we’re day-trading on Facebook based on the hour, depending on how CPMs and add-to-cart prices are going. We a/b/c/d/e test the shit out of every channel to learn what type of creative, colors, taglines, how everything works. And what doesn’t. We know beautiful, glossy magazine quality images work best on Pinterest, but user-generated content with friends shot on the beach with an iPhone work best on Instagram. We’re strict about understanding every different channel and deploying accordingly.

Q: What's your true north KPI?

A: It changes based on the phases of the business. In our earliest days, it was gross revenue with no regard for what it cost to sell or make. The challenge we wanted to prove was can we sell swimsuits on the internet. Once we learned we could, our true north was CPA and how efficiently could we sell swimsuits online. Now in year three, our true north is net revenue.

Q: How can retailers improve the in-store customer experience of trying on swimwear when so many women are horrified by it?

A: Hire Andie as in-store consultants! For now, invest in fitting rooms. They’re too bright and messy. Fit is the most important aspect of a swimsuit so the fitting experience is key. Unlike a baggy t-shirt that you can take off the rack and if it doesn’t fit perfectly, it doesn’t matter. I feel that fit improvements via in-store technology like what ThirdLove offers will become table stakes. At their SoHo store, associates can pass customers different sizes and colors from behind the dressing room. I expect we’ll see more fit investments from retailers.

Q: Exceptional customer experience is at the heart of any DTC brand. What's a lesson you've learned that young consumer brands must keep in mind?

A: What I often say to others starting companies is “don’t give up, just keep going”. If you put one foot in front of the other, things will work out. Businesses are not made overnight and most suck out of the gate where margins are off and CPAs are bad. It’s about taking the time to figure it out. I think a huge difference between a company that succeeds and one that fails is that the founder gave up. Don’t give up and you’ll probably get there.

BY Eve Rouse

Eve’s a Content Marketing Executive at We Make Websites. She joined us from a copywriting role up north, and has a keen interest in fashion. Want to try something fun? Read her blog post again, out loud, in a strong Hull accent. It’ll be like you’ve both met.

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