If plus-size fashion brand Eloquii were to write its autobiography, chapters could be titled " Birth, Death, Rebirth," "Why We Hired Our Biggest Merchandise Returner" and "The Day the Roof Caved In."
If plus-size fashion brand Eloquii were to write its autobiography, chapters could be titled “ Birth, Death, Rebirth,” “Why We Hired Our Biggest Merchandise Returner” and “The Day the Roof Caved In.”
The online retailer, based in Columbus, was launched a little more than a year ago as an independent operation. In fact, it was more of a relaunch. Originally a sub-brand of The Limited, Eloquii was shut down in 2013, but it was brought back as a standalone company when former Limited employees saw potential in the plus-size sector and branched out on their own.
“It’s been nail-biter at times,” said Steve Zawada, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
The merchandise includes fashion apparel, from cocktail dresses to jeans, along with lingerie and accessories. Sales take place online, and sizes start at 14 with some apparel available in sizes 26 and 28.
In the past year, Eloquii has grown from six to 19 full-time employees, with most in Columbus and the rest in New York. The workforce is still expanding, and expectations are that it will rise to more than 40 in the next few years.
The company has been growing so quickly that it recently raised $6 million to help expand the product line and pay for more marketing.
You’d expect that a new, growing company would face some obstacles. But it was Mother Nature that threw the company a doozy on March 1.
The company was on track for a big sales quarter when Zawada and other Eloquii officials at its Downtown office and elsewhere began getting messages from the company’s Groveport warehouse and distribution facility.
“It was a snowy evening — and the roof collapsed,” Zawada said. “The roof was the size of a football field. They told us, ‘We think you lost everything.’”
Eloquii wasn’t the only company affected. Michael Kors, J. Crew and Groupon all were in the facility, too, but unlike those companies, Eloquii had no other distribution centers.
“It was days before they let us in,” Zawada said.
While Zawada waited to get in and see the extent of the damage, “we ran through various scenarios” as to how to address whatever disaster they found, said Julie Carnevale, vice president of merchandising and general-merchandise manager.
The Eloquii staff immediately put a sign on the company website saying “Weather Delay” and began pulling items off the site that they knew were lost under the snow and rubble.
“The customer is everything to us, everything,” said Kelly Goldston, director of marketing. “We have to fulfill our promise to her. Whatever grenades we have to jump on, we will.”
Within a few days, the staff had moved merchandise to a Grove City distribution center and the company was fully functioning again.
“It was pretty seamless,” Zawada said. “We ended up having a phenomenal March.”
“But we all got gray hairs,” Carnevale said.
The company’s reaction was “very fast and very flexible,” said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies. “If it happened with a company involving stores, they would have had to close the stores. That’s where being small and online plays to their advantage. As it was, that all happened under the radar.”
Having a team of people who all grew up using digital devices is a competitive advantage, Goldston said. “We understand how (the typical customer) shops online.”
Eloquii’s efforts to do just that actually led to the company hiring Goldston, who had been an Eloquii customer whose buying — and returning of merchandise — had been noticed.
“She was a high returner when Eloquii was owned by The Limited,” Zawada said, as Goldston chuckled.
Eloquii’s creative director, Jodi Arnold, decided to call her and find out exactly what was going on.
Goldston explained that she was placing large orders, trying on clothes and then returning the ones that didn’t fit right or that she didn’t like.
Goldston called Eloquii’s fashions “a life changer.”
“I’ve been plus size most of my adult life,” she said. “The question I used to ask was: Does this fit without embarrassing me? So I would wind up buying basics. ... Eloquii was the first time I had access to fashion, to the luxury of proper fit and fashion.”
Eloquii provided her what other plus-size retailers hadn’t. “I’d say, ‘Wow, this is different from what I normally wear.’”
When the phone call ended, Arnold turned to her colleagues and said, “We’ve got to have her work for us.”
Since Goldston joined Eloquii as marketing director, “we’ve had 100 percent quarter over quarter revenue increases,” Zawada said.
“Having a customer in that role can’t be underestimated,” Carnevale said.
One of Eloquii’s other not-so-secret weapons is its #XOQ Instagram.
“Our customers view that as a direct line to us and to other customers,” Goldston said. “They know there are a lot of different body types. We have a page where you can see four real-life women wearing the same dress — that helps them understand how something will fit and how to explore fashion.”
“A size 14 who is 5 feet 2 is different from a size 14 at 6 feet,” Carnevale said.
The fact that Eloquii is tuned in to the difference is unusual in that sector, Goldston said.
“I was changing in the gym a couple months ago and a woman came up to me and said, ‘I have to ask where that dress is from — it’s so gorgeous.’??”
The woman was not a plus size, Goldston said, “so I had to say, ‘I’m so sorry. They don’t make this in your size.’ To be on the other side feels really special.”
©2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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