One of the potential hurdles Gwynnie Bee needed to clear early on was the fact that its clothing would be worn by multiple women. "What we heard from shoppers during our market research was that as long as the clothing looks and feels brand new, and doesn't have any kind of odor, they were fine with it," she said. "They felt the economic value they were getting was great enough for that not to be an issue."
The company takes that pledge of cleanliness quite seriously. At its 250-person warehouse in Ohio, each garment is washed or dry cleaned after every return. It's then inspected for stains, damage, or odor by three different employees before it can be re-boxed and shipped out again to the next customer. When a garment no longer looks new, it's taken out of circulation.
Hunsicker claims that plus-sized brands, such as Karen Kane, City Chic and IGIGI, to name a few, love Gwynnie Bee because it's become the largest buyer in the market. "We can take more risk with inventory because we're renting it multiple times rather than trying to guess what's going to sell, so we'll often buy the majority of what a brand is offering," she said.
And because Gwynnie Bee is collecting so much data on each customer, such as what labels she likes, her size and the type of fashion she selects for her virtual closet, the company can develop a much closer and more valuable relationship with that shopper, and that in turn is attractive to these brands as well. "We can make recommendations on styles and sizing because we're talking to this customer all the time, not just once in a while," Hunsicker said.
— By Susan Caminiti, special to CNBC.com