Small boutiques have two big issues on their hands — customer reach and knowing what to stock, as well as how much they should have of any given item on hand.
"Inventory is one of their biggest costs and biggest risks," said John Scrofano, CEO of Seattle-based Garmentory, which is out to solve those problems. "They have a whole world of people who want that inventory, but they are kind of bound to where that brick-and-mortar store is geographically."
The Garmentory marketplace platform connects traditionally limited brick-and-mortar boutiques, as well as emerging designers who may not have a physical location, to shoppers all over the globe via their online platform and mobile site. The expanded outreach to new shoppers helps unload extra inventory and exposure for small businesses that are constrained to their radius.
The marketplace features 250 boutiques and designers from the U.S. and Canada; there are listings from England, Russia, Singapore and Australia. Prices range from $75 to $600, targeting the "young luxury" consumer, Scrofano said, admitting their competition is a shopper that might otherwise go to a Nordstrom or Barney's.
There is no end cost to the consumer. Instead, Garmentory takes a percent of the commission made on the sale online. The company also offers free shipping and returns in order to stay competitive. Items are typically delivered within three days.
Garmentory's co-founders are its chief technology officer, Sunil Gowda, a software developer who's worked for Microsoft and Zillow; and fashion veteran Adele Tetangco, vice president of merchandise and brand. Scrofano had previously worked in tech, co-founding OneWed.com, a wedding-planning website that also intersected with bridal fashion. The company launched in April 2014 and attended the Techstars Seattle program that same year. To date, it has raised $1.3 million in funding.
Since then, Garmentory has enjoyed steady growth. The platform has grown 20 percent month over month, and it now has nine employees. "The way we win against those folks [boutiques and designers] is by offering items with deep meaning," Scrofano said. "This is like art to them — people really connect with that. The boutique owner or designer might actually be the one packing or shipping to you, and a Barney's or Nordstrom — they just can't do that."
Jill Donnelly, co-owner of Seattle-based Baby & Company, a men's and women's clothing and accessories store, said her six-month partnership working with Garmentory has brought in more traffic both online and even in-store.
"It gives us a larger audience and just a larger presence to really go out and go up against bigger companies in the e-commerce space," Donnelly said. "It's also opened up my imagination and focus to cater to a much bigger net." She added that now she can stock items for customers in New York or Los Angeles, beyond just those shopping in-store in Seattle.
Scrofano said he is confident the start-up is giving consumers what they want by making every day a good day to "shop small" — a trend that has grown over the past few years with Small Business Saturday, along with the popularity of sites like Etsy and Amazon Handmade.
"It's not just 'Oh, we feel good about small businesses,'" he said. "We really believe in what they do."