Annie Thorp is the Chief Marketing Officer of MM.LaFLeur – the digital powerhouse spearheading style for professional women. Before catching her speak at our New York Summit this fall, we discovered her thoughts on the need to declutter the ecommerce space and maintain a customer-first mindset.
To begin with, could you tell us a bit about your background? What excites you most about MM.LaFleur?
Prior to working at MM.LaFleur, I was in the digital sales and marketing space. I was an Account Strategist at Google, and a Marketing Manager at Quidsi (an Amazon company). I left undergrad at a really exciting time for the tech and startup worlds, and was lucky to work for some major players at a time when the world of digital marketing and strategy was evolving quickly.
What excites me about MM? First, our customers. I am a professional woman, I was raised by a professional woman, and I can't believe how overlooked this group of smart, high-earning people has been by the traditional fashion industry. I love that we're doing something to shift the conversation towards women who work—and not just women who shop. Second, I think that e-commerce started out with such promise—the reach! the efficiency!—but has become a place for flash, trends, and discounts in a way that makes me uncomfortable as a consumer. Too much "stuff.” MM.LaFleur’s approach is truly different: We focus on quality pieces and styling, rather than one-off trend pieces. I am excited to wake up every day and think about how we can rewrite the rules of e-commerce in a way that benefits our customer (and helps her cut through all the noise).
I'm sure you'd agree that one of your brand's strongest selling points is its styling service. What are the benefits of offering styling services online? Do you ever feel you are at a disadvantage by not having bricks-and-mortar retail presence (besides your pop-up stores) with personal stylists on hand?
At MM.LaFleur, we like to talk about how everyone at our company works for the stylists. We constantly ask ourselves: What can we do to make their jobs easier? How can we use the feedback they get from customers to refine our product, or to make something new that our customers want? How can we equip them with the information and tools they need to give our customers an incredible experience?
There are a lot of benefits to offering an online styling service. An obvious one is reach (we have clients all over the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, even though we're based in NYC). Another one is the immediacy of communication. But my favorite thing is that we're able to engage women who might not otherwise want to work with a stylist. Somehow, the internet can make people more honest about their concerns or needs—perhaps it has to do with the anonymity of writing an email. The internet provides a bit of a buffer, which in some cases encourages women to open up more than they would in person.
We actually do have a brick-and-mortar presence, a showroom in Soho, NYC, that’s staffed by incredibly warm and knowledgeable stylists. Aside from that, we offer at-home styling services and pop-ups around the country. I love brick-and-mortar and want to do more of it, but we’re proceeding slowly for a reason. Brick-and-mortar can become a vanity play for a brand, rather than a space that facilitates a customer-centric experience. Most brands write off a portion of their ground-floor rent to marketing, which tells a story about the goal of the space. I want to make sure that we're refining the customer experience before we expand our brick-and-mortar strategy. It should feel like a uniquely “MM” experience, but it should also be tailored to the needs of each customer who walks through the door.
Last year, your $235 'Tory' dress made headlines after it racked up a huge waiting list and sold out twice. Obviously, then, MM.LaFleur has a good understanding of what its customers want. What's the secret? To what extent does customer feedback shape your output?
I hope we know what they want! We work really hard on our customer-product feedback loop. If you visit our website, you'll notice that we have two different "collections"—one is a seasonal collection of new, limited-edition styles. This is our laboratory. It's the place where we test new concepts in limited quantities, and see how customers respond. The second collection is our “Essential MM.” These are pieces that we've carried for years and refined over time based on customer feedback. For example, our Sarah dress is currently offered in version 6.0. That means we've improved the design six times, in subtle ways, to make sure it's the best it can be. Because we don’t rely on trends to sell product, we focus instead on quality of construction and thoughtful styling that is tailored for the MM woman’s lifestyle. We view our products as an ongoing conversation with our customer, and believe they are the better for it.
Finally, what’s next for MM.LaFleur?
World Domination! I'm only half kidding. I hope we'll eventually have a presence around the world. In the short term, what's next is probably "strategic growth into key U.S. markets, expansion of brick-and-mortar strategy, and continued relentless focus on quality.” But that doesn't sound quite as sexy, does it?
Reported by Grace Howard
Image Source: Annie Thorp