How Mr. Start fosters customer loyalty by focusing on the little things

From the day that we opened our doors, Mr. Start has focused on the little things. In an increasingly competitive world, attention to detail is what differentiates your business from the competition. It’s this principle that’s at the heart of our philosophy and the driving force behind our growth. Over the past 14 years, we’ve seen a lot change, but one thing that hasn’t changed our commitment to the customer.

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Shoreditch calling

When we opened our first shop in 2002, Shoreditch was a very different place. The streets were empty, the neighbourhood was undeveloped and the retail landscape was virtually non-existent. When we got here, it was all about nightlife, photographers and old industrial buildings. It had a rough edge and was in stark contrast to the Shoreditch of today. But we saw potential and decided that it was where we wanted to build our business. The contrast between the ruggedness of the neighbourhood and the luxury brands we carried gave our business a certain charm that couldn’t be recreated in another part of town.

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Of course, we had our worries. Would the locals embrace us? Would customers from other parts of London travel to visit the shop? Our doubts were quickly quelled when people we would never have expected started coming through our doors. People were hungry for this type of business to open in the area. And while driving traffic was by no means easy, it was much easier than we had anticipated.

The key lesson here is to pay attention to your surroundings and choose a location that inspires you. We could never have foreseen how much Shoreditch would change, but something about the neighbourhood called to us and we can’t imagine being anywhere else.

The evolution of Mr. Start

Back in 2002, our shop was, above all else, a multi-brand store. Soon after opening, our reputation grew and, as Shoreditch became increasingly popular, more people started to pass through and discover the shop. We quickly realized that we had the opportunity to do more.

As we developed a following, we started experimenting with tailoring and limited runs of Mr. Start branded clothing. Things were going great until the 2008 financial crash, which led to a slowdown in business. While it was nerve wracking, this downturn gave us a chance to examine the business and reassess what we wanted to be. The result was a focus on our private clothes line and, more recently, our latest rebrand.

Today, we identify as a lifestyle brand with contemporary tailoring. Upstairs, we carry our Italian cashmere and Scottish knitwear, while downstairs, we have suits and tailoring. At the end of the day, we want to make clothes that look good and that fit our customers’ lifestyle.

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As retailers, you have to be reactive to what people want, but you’ve got to lead as well. We decided early on that we wanted to build the business with our own brand and an unparalleled commitment to service. This is the philosophy that continuously forces our business to evolve.

Build customer lifetime value

When dealing with customers, the goal shouldn’t be to sell them as much as possible, but to sell them what they’ll be happiest with. Convincing clients to make unwanted purchases might benefit your business in the short term, but in the long run, this practice can damage your relationships. That’s why we work hard to ensure that every customer leaves our store feeling confident in themselves and their purchases. Anyone can make a sale, but the strongest retailers are the ones who generate a high customer lifetime value. We get the most value from our repeat customers, and the key to achieving loyalty is something that so many retailers overlook: honesty.

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One of the things that sets Mr. Start apart from other menswear shops is our total honesty with customers. If an outfit doesn’t look good, we don’t try to sell it just for the sake of selling. People see through that, and while they might make a purchase in the heat of the moment, leading them to make bad purchase decisions will ultimately lead to a mistrust of your brand. When you sell honestly, you earn customers who believe you inherently and will trust your recommendations. This opens up the doors to experimentation and an opportunity to expand the customer’s product horizons. When they trust you, they’ll take your advice and buy what you recommend.

Also, if customers trust you, they’re more likely to share their love of your business with their friends and family. Word of mouth promotion is one of the most powerful tools there is and has resulted in some of our best customers.

Quality over quantity

From the service we offer to the products we sell, our customers expect the best. That’s why we meticulously curate the store experience and go above and beyond to ensure only the highest quality products reach the shop floor. We also offer our customers a contemporary tailoring service that focuses on modern cuts for a fashion-forward audience. All that added the fact that we’re a small, independent brand helps us create a special relationship with them. It means that when customers come in, they know they’ll get more than just a suit or shirt, they’re going to leave with something that fits their way of life.

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So why go to all this trouble? For one, it makes us happy when our customers leave with confidence. Whether they’re buying a shirt for their first job interview or a full ensemble for their wedding day, we’re a part of their most important days, so we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they feel comfortable with what they’re wearing. But from a business perspective, giving incredible service is one of our best upsell tools. When you go the extra mile for a customer, you develop a bond with them that can’t be bought. They will trust you inherently and be much more likely to spend their time and money with you than with your competitors.

Stop, look and listen

Phillip and I are in the store every day, so we hear what our customers want. We know what drives them and what keeps them coming back. We’ve heard is that they appreciate us taking the time to listen and act on what they tell us during their visits.

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For example, if we receive a piece that I know a specific customer will love, I might put it aside for them and send them a message to let them know. Other times, we’ll have customers call us and ask about new product, so we’ll take a picture, email them the image and take their order over the phone.

Customers also need to know that they can rely on you. For instance, the other day, a customer of ours who recently moved to LA called in to say, “I’m getting married. I need a suit, a tie and some shoes. What do you suggest?” So we selected some items for him with the measurements we had on hand and shipped it to him in California. He tried everything on, picked what he wanted and sent back the rest.

As you can see, we try to provide a more personal service, but it’s all based on the interactions we have with our customers. We hold the customer above all else and this is how you build a following. It’s the best marketing and it’s what has kept us in business for the past 14 years.

From point of sale A to point of sale B

The more we listen to customers, the more it becomes apparent that speed and convenience are hugely important. When they’re in store, they want to be able to shop and check out without a big fuss. For us, that meant a POS system that was small, portable and fast. Our previous system was old school: a huge PC, printers, big scanners… the whole nine yards. But as we rebranded, we needed a POS that was sleeker and a system that ran faster. We wanted something that would match our customers’ expectations.

That’s also why we recently launched our same day delivery platform, where customers who work or live in London and order before 4pm, can have their order delivered to them before the day is done. Take the customer who has an event a seven, but only realises at noon that they need a new tie for it. Whether they give us a call or order online, we guarantee that they’ll receive it by the time they leave the office. This is the new omnichannel reality, and while it’s not something that many independent retailers do, it’s something that they need to consider if they want to remain competitive. Retailers should strive to be accessible to customers at all times. That’s what we’re building.

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Same goes for our website, which we just relaunched. When we were building it we said: “let’s put ourselves in the customers’ shoes and give them what they want.” It became clear that what they want is speed and convenience, with a contemporary feel. A business can no longer afford to have slow load times and a confusing website. For us, this also means having a platform where we can get feedback quickly. We need to be able to hear and make decisions as quickly as they come in.

Plans for the future

As we look to the future, we want to evolve to a point where the website is leading the business rather than our brick-and-mortar shop. That’s not to say that the retail store won’t always have value. For instance, with tailoring, it’s important to have a store that people can come into and try on suits or feel the fabrics. But even there, we’re trying to find a way to make it work online. Regardless, the omnichannel integration of the two will will be crucial going forward. Mr. Start is the brand. It’s online, it’s one store, it’s in multiple stores. We want everything under the Mr. Start umbrella connected.

Summed up

The most important lesson I could give to other retailers is to be honest with your customers and use them to affect change. Listen to what they have to say and act on their recommendations. Progress can and will happen organically, but we always want to be one step ahead. When you put the customer first, these new ideas tend to bubble to the surface.

Anestis Kartsaklis

Anestis Kartsaklis