Online women’s dress hire startup GlamCorner has found a core customer base in regional Australia

- July 7, 2016 4 MIN READ

We may be living in a consumerist society but the beauty of technology is that at least it’s helping us be thrifty about it. From Groupon helping consumers find deals on everyday outings and products to the likes of Carousell helping us buy and sell pre-loved clothing and other items, it’s never been easier to bag a bargain. However, while the bargain label may for some be attached to the connotation of cheap, new platforms are emerging that help users find bargains on high-end products.

The big trend in this space at the moment seems to be designer dress hire for women. Forget having to fork out up to $1,000 on a new showstopper, these services allow women to hire out dress after dress for a fraction of the cost, keeping the bank account healthy during wedding season.

One of the most successful Australian startups in this growing space is GlamCorner, which was launched by husband and wife team Audrey and Dean Jones in late 2012, allowing women to hire out dresses from designers like Zimmerman and Alex Perry for 10 to 20 percent of their retail price. Like many startups, Dean said the idea for the service came from personal experience.

“I was working as an investment banker and Audrey was working in private wealth, and we had a lot of events to go to and Audrey kept having the same problem: she was standing in front of a wardrobe full of clothes and still had nothing to wear,” he said.

“She actually started searching around online, ‘can you hire dresses?’ ‘can you rent dresses?’ You know how guys can rent a tux for a really formal event? She came across Even Runway, which really then were, and still are, US-focused, and she said, ‘wow, what an incredible idea, why isn’t anyone doing this in Australia?’”

Given both the state of the Australian startup landscape back in 2012 and the fact that neither Audrey nor Dean had the requisite tech skills required to build the platform, Dean said it took months to get the site live and to build the relationships with designers required to actually get stock onto the site.

“Everything took longer and cost more than we ever expected it to. It took us a year to get the model right, get the logistics right, build the relationships with designers. Then through 2014 we started to really see a lot of customers start to come back and refer their friends and it got past that critical mass of product market fit, and then we really started to see it really start to pick up,” he explained.

Like competitor Your Closet, for GlamCorner approaching designers has been about positioning the startup as a discovery platform or new customer acquisition channel, particularly for emerging designers. However, the connotations associated with renting and discounts were a significant barrier to overcome.

“We eventually realised the main way to give them comfort with the model was making them understand that the typical GlamCorner customer was never in the market for a $1000 or $2000 dress. Her price point is $100 or $150 for a one-off occasion dress that she needs,” Dean explained.

“We were never cannibalising their retail sales; if anything we’re actually broadening it by giving them access to a segment of the market that aspires to wear their brand but can’t afford it or it doesn’t make sense for them to pay to own it for that one occasion, so it’s basically an opportunity for the designers to be having their dresses on more people’s backs kind of in terms of market share, and introducing more people to their label and their experience.”

Educating the market itself was also a challenge, but Dean said that there has been a huge step up in the last six to nine months. GlamCorner now has over 1,200 dresses in stock, with the team looking to get this up to 2,000 by the end of the year, with the startup doing thousands of orders a month.

The startup looks to make the rental process as easy as possible for customers; as well as reviews on each dress from other customers, like those you would find on any other clothing ecommerce site, GlamCorner also offers a back up dress service in the next size up or down for $15, essentially giving women a bit of insurance in case they are worried about sizing. It also has a $30 service that allows customers to try on the dress overnight.

In terms of the startup’s market, Dean said it is aimed at every Australian woman and that “wherever Australia Post delivers, we deliver”. Of course, like one would assume, its customer base is population weighted, with the major cities its biggest markets, but Dean said GlamCorner is delivering dozens of orders to the outback each week.

“We’ve got a lot of customers on army bases, the wives of an officer, for example, who have all of these kind of military dinners all the time and they’ve got to dress nice for it because the men always wear the formal military dress. But there’s no Westfield or there are no department stores in the outback, so where do these women get these dresses that they’ve got to have for these balls that are literally with the same group of people every couple of months?” Dean said.

“The women out there have just as much a desire to feel glamourous and beautiful for a particular occasion as a woman who lives in a metropolitan city.”

Having bootstrapped the development of the startup for several years, Dean and Audrey took on several rounds of investment from Airtree Ventures over the last 12 months, raising $1.3 million.

Looking ahead over the next year, the pair will look to put this funding towards tripling the size of the collection and investing heavily in GlamCorner’s underlying tech platform to support that growth.

“You can have all the dresses under the sun, but if you don’t have the kind of right machine to cope with that kind of volume, you going to struggle to meet the demand. The wave is coming and we’re just investing into that.”

Image: Audrey and Dean Jones. Source: Supplied.