From Cutco to Custom Clothes, a Direct-Sales Guru Goes for Upgrades
It might be just a sexist stereotype, but Mark Lovas has built a business model on the concept: Guys don’t like to shop for clothes—not even online, since dealing with a delivery that doesn’t fit is almost as painful as a trip to the mall.
Lovas, who started his direct-sales career in knives at Cutco and became a hired gun in the $32 billion industry, had lots of ideas for starting his own direct-sales business, but never acted on them.
Then, after helping the e-commerce-only men’s clothing brand Bonobos create Guideshops—physical locations where customers can enjoy a cold beverage while trying on clothes to ensure their Internet orders fit—Lovas had an “aha” moment. “I saw that all the businesses I’ve been interested in starting were ‘upgrade businesses.’ I realized I loved the idea of offering a better product and a better experience,” Lovas says. And he could see that “guys were looking for an upgrade” in their wardrobes.
His idea: a new model for buying casual menswear. Custom-fit and higher-quality would be improvements, he thought. But the shopping experience could be upgraded too. “Guys were saying, ‘if there was just a way you could take my measurements’,” Lovas says.
His startup Trumaker offers made-to-measure casual men’s clothing with an innovative approach. He describes the brand as “like J. Crew cut for you.”
Independent “Outfitters” cater to Trumaker territories in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Nashville, and, starting this month, New York. Armed with tape measures, a custom iPhone app, fabric swatches, and the Trumaker catalog, Outfitters meet customers by appointment in their workplaces, coffeeshops, or hotel lobbies and spend a few minutes taking 13 body measurements. The app lets the Outfitter collect photos, mark body types, and record the exact slope of shoulders and posture to order the best possible fit. There’s no need to disrobe, and when an Outfitter shows up at a customer’s office, “one guy turns into four or five,” says Lovas.
Once Trumaker has a customer’s measurements, “he can order, we build-to-fit, and we send him his proper size,” Lovas explains. Measured customers can order and reorder a choice of casual and dress shirts, tees, blazers, belts, and ties directly from the Outfitter or at Trumaker.com.
In fact, Trumaker’s only physical location is its San Francisco headquarters, where customers are invited to stop in and enjoy a glass of beer or wine while getting fitted. But even in that city, Trumaker Outfitters have been called in to fit as many as 18 men at a time in conference rooms at Facebook, Twitter, and Yammer. Lovas says his business model pulls what men like best from e-commerce and retail shopping, and one-ups them both by going to the customer. “We are not in the mall. We are not where the guys don’t want to be.”
How does Trumaker afford to offer made-to-measure oxford shirts for as little as $98—a price comparable to off-the-rack shirts from Ralph Lauren? “$98 is not your most profitable price point,” Lovas concedes. “But there’s a pretty good margin when you build your own product. We don’t have inventory, loss, or breakage.” He says ready-to-wear shirts can be cut and trimmed 75 percent faster than his individually built ones, but he doesn’t have to build-in costs for returns or discounting. What’s more, Trumaker outfitters carry fabric swatches, not racks of clothing. Turnaround time for a built-to-fit shirt is 3 weeks. “We end up better off than ready-to-wear,” Lovas says.
Lovas is also excited about the jobs his business provides, to not just his 30 office employees, but to more than 200 outfitters nationwide, and counting. The independent agents have no startup costs and get free training and tools to win local clientele. Their commission-based pay adds up to at least $35 an hour, and some do better than $75 per hour, Lovas says. Hiring is selective, but the sheer number of people who sign on as outfitters has helped expand the business quickly. “This is underemployed America. People have jobs but need extra income,” Lovas says. “I think it’s one of the big reasons we’ve attracted a lot of investment.”
When potential investors questioned his conviction that men want to buy made-to-measure clothes, Lovas pointed out that the 50-year-old bespoke men’s clothing company Tom James does $350 million a year in business. “We’re bringing that old-school experience to the mass market,” he says. His argument has been persuasive: investors including Venrock Partners, David Tisch, and Red Swan Ventures (led by Bonobos founders) have put $8.5 million into the company.
Besides having served 10,000 men in 18 months since launch, there are other signs that Lovas has struck a chord:
First, for every Trumaker customer whose unusual neck-to-chest ratio or extra-long arms make him a great candidate for custom-sizing, there’s one whose measurements conform perfectly to ready-to-wear sizes. “It shows that guys like this experience, and they want a better product and design,” Lovas says.
Second, he says, “Customers have been buying a lot of our logo t-shirts. That’s telling us we’re on the right track.”
And finally, spouses have started gifting the Trumaker experience to the men in their lives—in part to make gift buying easier. Turns out women don’t like to shop for men’s clothes either.