Online apparel subscription service Gwynnie Bee wants to help other retailers nab new business with the help of its Caastle rental platform division.
Caastle, which trades off the clothing-as-a-service model and is pronounced “castle,” has already been working under the radar with New York & Company’s NY&C Closet, launched this past summer, and Ann Taylor’s Infinite Style, which was rolled out in the fourth quarter, to help manage those retailer’s rental programs. Four more retailers are in the pipeline, with two launching in the first half of the year and the remainder set to go live by year’s end.
There’s interest in testing the platform, Gwynnie Bee founder and chief executive officer Christine Hunsicker said of what she’s hearing from retailers.
“They have a huge amount of openness to having the conversation and I think that honestly has a lot to do with the state of the apparel industry,” she said. “The traditional guys are all looking to figure out how to meet the consumer where she is or where he is. That means potentially looking at different models. While our business model is new and innovative and a different way for consumers to interact with clothing, it’s additive to a traditional retail business. It’s not in place of and I think they’re all interested and open to hearing about it.”
Onboarding occurs in a few months, with no technical integration, Hunsicker explained. The Caastle team builds the site to the retailer’s brand guidelines and other specifications.
Going this route with a business-to-business offering was the plan from Day One, according to Hunsicker. Gwynnie Bee would be the first service to prove the clothing-as-a-service model worked, while allowing the company to learn the ins and outs of the rental business. Five years later, Hunsicker said the time is right to now reveal Caastle to the broader marketplace.
“There’s the consumer-facing side, in which everything has gone really well from a consumer perspective, and then there’s figuring out how to work with other retail businesses,” Hunsicker said. “We’ve certainly learned a lot more. There’s been a bunch of learnings there around, frankly, what financial metrics do they [traditional retailers] value relative to how we measure our business, how they think about inventory monetization and then there’s been a lot of work done to understand the profile of those who sign up for the service relative to the people who traditionally shop in their retail environment.”
Gwynnie Bee, after all, represents a new form of retailer, whereas Ann Taylor or New York & Company, for example, are traditional bricks-and-mortar players with a different model now trying to tap the successes Gwynnie Bee and other rental companies have had in speaking to a new generation of shoppers more interested in an unlimited wardrobe. The conversation can likely go beyond apparel, with the company also seeing a natural extension into accessories and home goods in the future.
Hunsicker reported the Caastle platform is helping drive more traffic, increasing share of wallet, ticking engagement up and bringing in a new, younger customer to these brands.
“It is more concentrated in the Millennial, the 40-and-under set, just because they’ve kind of grown up that way,” Hunsicker said. “They Airbnb. They share a lot of things. That is a big piece, but more than anything, it’s a better way of interacting with clothing.”