So in February 2014, MM.LaFleur piloted its Bento Box model. Here's how it works: Shoppers visit the company's website and answer a series of questions about their workplace style, and whether they admire someone like Sonia Sotomayor over Beyonce. After providing their sizing, the styling service sends them a box of four to six items, starting at $35 for accessories and going up to $325 for dresses or jewelry.
Shoppers receive the first box for free, and pay only for the items they keep. After the first box, a $25 styling fee is charged per box, but is waived if an item is kept. (Unlike similar services, MM.LaFleur is not subscription-based. Instead, shoppers notify their stylist when they would like to receive a new Bento Box, or they can select items from the site on their own.)
Though LaFleur said it was obvious that this model was where the company's future growth would come from, she admits there were a lot of operational headwinds when it first started.
"Customers are saying, 'I want polka dots and pinstripes,' and if you don't have polka dots and pinstripes you can't send it," she said.
After one month, the company shut down the test to retool its design, production and other operational strategies. Eight months later, in October 2014, the new business model officially launched.
After initially struggling to grow sales, MM.LaFleur's sales increased a whopping 570 percent last year, with nearly 40 percent of its customer base making a follow-up purchase within four weeks. For 2016, the company is on pace to bring in $30 million in revenue. And just five years into existence, the business is breaking even.
In addition to its online shop, MM.LaFleur operates a showroom in its New York City headquarters, which it's in the process of expanding from three to six dressing rooms. The company has also tested pop-up locations in cities such as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and is considering opening a permanent store in D.C. It recently launched an at-home styling service in New York City, and later this year, will expand its assortment into shoes and bags.
"What we've always wanted to do since day one is be the one-stop shop for professional women," LaFleur said. "It's baffling to me why they're such an overlooked category."