freelance bespoke sales approach
October 14, 2010 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I work for a bespoke tailor. I sell / design custom suits but the brand has no storefront therefore I have to find clientele through other means. t this is my problem. I truly believe they are some of the best suits around but I've only sold 2 to customers too low likely return anytime soon, forget their neuroses! Can anyone suggest any resources that will help in my situation? places to network? anything really!

They start at $2500 and have hand stitched jacket edges and buttonholes. It is a genuine luxury product. As a matter of fact they're a great value for the price, bit they're still creaking expensive. This is red a sticking point. My first suit is being made and will certainly help but I don't think that's the end of my journey.
posted by Aquaregia to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: At poster's request -- mathowie

Starting a blog worked for this guy. But that's a really good blog; well-written, with carefully crafted, interesting entries. You should at least have a (professionally designed) website beyond the Flickr page linked in your profile.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:06 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah English cut is a great site. We are starting a blog though an intern designer salesperson type of thing and need to find my own clientele without such tech. Bars art openings parties etc. What I want is advice for earning the skillset necessary to be a fantastic nomad warrior salesperson
posted by Aquaregia at 7:15 PM on October 14, 2010

You either need to learn how to sell in that market or open a storefront and use another model (which still involves learning how to sell in that market).

There is no shortcut. My sales experience is in fine wine, but it's a similar thing. There's a market where individual customers are approached with investment-grade offers (such as for Bordeaux futures, auction grade wines, etc.) It intersects only in limited ways with a network that services restaurants at various levels, and public retail at various levels (I sold across several of these levels, so it was possible to "move up" or sideways through them, but the rules changed as you did.) At each of those levels there are conventions for how customers are identified, approached, served, and communicated with. So the real question is, how did you end up in this position without any apprenticeship where you would know the answer to this question already? What did the tailor you work for do before? Do all designers working for bespoke tailors have to be cold-call salesmen?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:16 PM on October 14, 2010

to customers too low likely return anytime soon, forget their neuroses!

If this is how you think about your customers, do you think they might notice it?

I am not a rich person, but every time I have ever bought--or even contemplated the purchase of--a luxury good, the person selling it to me has gone out of his or her way to make me feel welcomed and valued, regardless of whether there was somebody else in the place prepared to drop ten times what I was.

The owner of an art gallery, over my protestations that I was not in a position to buy anything at all, once locked the doors behind me and went down to the vault to fetch some beautiful works by artists whose names you know. He said "I know you love this stuff, and I just want to show it to you. If you're ever in a different situation, come back and talk to me." That's how you should treat all of your customers.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 7:23 PM on October 14, 2010 [44 favorites]

AkzidenzGrotesk nails something.

I worked for a guy once who was apprenticing in his family's wholesale wine business by running a high end store for a while. He was filthy rich, but also (or rather, because he was) one of the best salesmen I've ever known, and a hard worker who genuinely liked everyone and believed in the produce he was selling, and knew it well.

He would open up $100 bottles on a whim if it helped him create a customer for life, without thought of making a sale in the moment, and even if it created a customer for life who would buy $5 wine every week for the next 10 years. You do the math. 30% markup.

He is now the CEO, and the family business dominates a major urban market.

Good salesmanship never involves deception. The best salesmen believe their own pitch.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:39 PM on October 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

I can describe some of the marketing for similar products that I have seen. There are often fliers at law and business schools describing bespoke tailoring services. If you can convince a budding professional to invest in one of your suits instead of buying something off-the-rack and poorly tailored, you may have a customer for years. You might also consider sending targeted ads to established professionals in your metro area. Honestly, though, you need a web presence that includes descriptions of your process, materials, pricing, and hi-res photos of samples. Nomad warriors do not get checks for $2,500.

Seconding AkzidenzGrotesk on your attitude.

(Incidentally, are these only suits for men? As a female professional, I have often thought that there is a relatively untapped market for bespoke women's suits.)
posted by amber_dale at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

fourcheesemac, tell me that's GaryVee. If not, I'm amazed the wine world has more than one person like that.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:56 PM on October 14, 2010

I think you need to find the kind of place where people who don't mind throwing down a couple-three grand on a handmade suit like to hang out.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:06 PM on October 14, 2010

I know of several suitmakers offering hand-stitched hems and buttonholes and surgeon's cuffs on suit jackets along with several other perks and the suits are selling for $500-$1000. I think part of your problem might be that your price is simply too high.
posted by kate blank at 8:15 PM on October 14, 2010

I've only sold 2 to customers too low likely return anytime soon, forget their neuroses!

I hope neither of your two customers reads MetaFilter.

But seriously: you're undertaking a social marketing task. You won't be successful about that if you're badmouthing your clients in public. If you have to be cynical, keep it to your spouse or best friend.
posted by alms at 8:26 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you need to find the kind of place where people who don't mind throwing down a couple-three grand on a handmade suit like to hang out.

Start hitting high-end hotel bars and places like that in a kick ass suit, super tailored to yourself. just have a few drinks and make contact with the regulars. Don't be afraid to talk to women, either, they have boyfriends and husbands who might buy such suits.

Also, throw the male equivalent of tupperware parties where you go to a private room in a bar and invite men to show up and look at the suits. Use high-end liquor. Find another luxury-sales item to cross-market with, such as high end scotch or cigars. You are selling the good life, that only the few may possess, etc.

This is gonna be hard-assed work. but that's how the sales game works.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 PM on October 14, 2010

Seconding the business/law school idea. There is a bespoke tailor that is at my school; the tailor gets in early and has a customer for life.
posted by emkelley at 9:08 PM on October 14, 2010

There's a hair salon for men in downtown Chicago that has a display set up for a custom shirtmaker in their waiting area. I have no idea if that works, but it seemed like a decent idea to me.
posted by mullacc at 9:13 PM on October 14, 2010

I agree with kate blank. Don't just set the prices based on how much you personally feel the suits are worth. If not enough people are buying, lower your prices -- that's basic economics.
posted by John Cohen at 9:16 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

(or at least have a big sale as an experiment)
posted by John Cohen at 9:17 PM on October 14, 2010

I am not a rich person, but every time I have ever bought--or even contemplated the purchase of--a luxury good, the person selling it to me has gone out of his or her way to make me feel welcomed and valued, regardless of whether there was somebody else in the place prepared to drop ten times what I was.

I was looking for a belt. My last belt has--still--lasted me ten years, after it lasted my father 8 before that. I'm willing to invest in a belt. And I'm willing--wanting--to develop a relationship with a belt seller. I have a relationship with a car mechanic. He doesn't quote me a price, I don't quibble, and my car is taken care of. I make enough money to pay for this. I'm impatient. And a difficult size.

I would love to find someone to cater to me. I'd pay a bunch to know before I walk in the store that my need would be met.

Do that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:19 PM on October 14, 2010

Also, are you familiar with Will Boehlke and his blog, A Suitable Wardrobe? He also does wardrobe consulting for men who want bespoke clothing.

Also, I've seen a handful of bloggers advertising for various made-to-measure shirt and suitmakers in exchange for free or discounted samples. The bloggers are very transparent about it--they will literally say, "Company X offered to give me a free custom shirt in exchange for a review on my blog." However, the examples I've seen have been at much lower price-points.
posted by mullacc at 9:24 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts:
- if I'm going to buy a suit from a party without a physical storefront I associate that with visiting Hong Kong tailors. That doesn't seem to gel with your pricing.
- if you want to keep the pricing you need to find a way to get into contact with them that gives them a sense of indulging themselves by buying from you. Also the setting needs to spell aspirational class to them. I don't think a back room in a pub is that.
- Do you know the weak spots of your clients? Their little snobberies and one-upmanships? F.i. having buttons made out of fossil narwal tusks. We often buy stuff for the social payoff we get from it among our peers.
- do you know your competition? What's the next cheaper product? F.i. I see a lot offered that some call 'bespoke confection'. It's a suit that's made at a factory in a low wage location according to the measurements of the client. Shops often call that bespoke. If that's your next cheaper competitor product you have to have a clear image of what your suit offers that bespoke confection is lacking. You'll have to 'educate' potential clients in the shortcomings of other products and how they can tell from suits that friends wear. This is assuming that your pricing is based on not competing on price but competing on higher perceived value. Have you thought about that choice? It makes all the difference in your approach and if you don't choose you may not succeed on either approach.
posted by joost de vries at 10:00 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your business model is broken.

For $2,500 I expect bespoke, not made to measure which appears to be what you’re describing. To be clear, bespoke is a “real luxury product”. MTM is not; they are not the same thing and you need to be crystal clear about what you’re offering.

This is what you’re up against and he is seriously, seriously good. You can’t compete with him and his imitators on price and if you try going upmarket, you’re going to butt up against the American equivalents of Huntsman, Gieves & Hawkes or Kilgour. You can't compete with them on quality, prestige or heritage.

You need to radically cut your prices. And you need to respect, love and pander to the few customers that you do have.
posted by dmt at 3:38 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I suggest you give a couple suits away. To people who are going to LOVE your suits. And who work with other people who wear suits (lawyers, bankers, whatever). Word will get out if they are as awesome as you say they are. Word would get out faster if your suits were also cheaper. Make them cheaper, make them awesome, and as word spreads and you are eventually very much in demand, then raise your prices.

Also, I've often thought that the very best way for someone to get into this business would be to call up a large law firm and offer to provide tailoring on existing suits once a month/every other week, whatever. I constantly need pants rehemmed, or things taken in or out, and I never get it done because I'm too damn busy. If someone did that at my firm, where there are 150 lawyers in our office and probably another 150 in our building, at least, well..... thats a lot of people. If you're good, and fast, and nice, you could easily work up a conversation about "I also make suits". Or attach flyers to the clothes when you return them.

Also, you go to your customers if you don't have a storefront.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:38 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

What about the gyms where really rich suit-wearing guys go to work out? I have an idea that guys who work out might have a harder time finding a suit to fit properly, so you might have a solution to their problem.
posted by CathyG at 6:50 AM on October 15, 2010

AltF4, nope, someone else . . . but success in the business would therefore seem to have a formula, as I am suggesting: believe in your product, like people, be honest, sell like crazy, think long term, be generous and it comes back around, just like real life.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:48 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Participate in men's fashion/sartorial forums (e.g. and have a link to your designs in your signature line?
posted by de void at 12:35 PM on October 15, 2010

dmt - it is genuine bespoke. Our suits are 100% local produced with raw tryon, two additional fittings by default and any more that are necessary at no additional cost. A new pattern is struck for every customer by hand. it s absolutely not m2m and i'm not exactly sure where I described the process. just a bit presumptuous if you ask me.

My boss's background involves near a decade on savile row and managing a bicoastal bespoke operation for 2 years before going into business for himself.

To AkzidenzGrotesk and all others agreeing with him - I didn't realize these clients were too big a hassle to deal with until awhile after i delivered them their finished product! Trust me I bent over backwards for them and my smile never flinched. One guy took nearly an hour agonizing over a choice of 3 fabrics for a suit! it was when i met with some of my boss's (the owner of the company's) clients and saw how they just dumped money into their wardrobes with abandon and I realized it doesn't have to be this way. These people are confident about their style and have the money to spend on it. These are people who should buy bespoke clothing.

While I've got an incredible wardrobe I've not got anything that looks like bespoke, looks like our products.
posted by Aquaregia at 3:13 PM on October 15, 2010

While I've got an incredible wardrobe and people tell me constantly i have amazing style I've not got anything that looks like bespoke, looks like our products. I feel like this will not only work well as a signifer but will also provide me with a lot of confidence. People tell me all the time I've got great passion for my work. Every time I spill my heart out about my suits i find out my price is too high. It certainly is not. My maker made suits of the same quality in the past which have sold for 5000 starting prices and more! that's really our goal.

Ask yourself how much is a Gieves and Hawkes suit starting? Then realize there's really not much difference between our suits and theirs. Please spare me the point point out of the obvious disparity between my company and gieves and hawkes but; you get the picture right?

I asked here for RESOURCES - Not advice on how to build the company we've got the business model covered. I'm just an amateur when it comes to clienteling, I like a lot of the comments so far and I'd also appreciate further reading recommendations and actual locations in NYC good for fashion networking and meeting clientele.

oh and by the way, this IS the apprenticeship.
posted by Aquaregia at 3:20 PM on October 15, 2010

Also please stop suggesting that I 'give suits away' or 'have a huge sale' we don't have a storefront and we need to establish ourselves. trust me fashion industry people scoff at our markup as it is. Not having a storefront enables us to sell at such a low markup and trust me you get more than what you pay for here.
posted by Aquaregia at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2010

Wow, just from reading your posts you sound incredibly rude and condescending.

If I was spending $2500 on a suit, you better believe I'd spend my time "agonizing" over fabrics for an hour. There's probably a pretty high intersection of people who would drop that kind of money on a suit and people who are picky about details.

Why would someone buy from you rather than someone with a more established reputation? Especially given that you don't have a storefront? If I was one of the insanely wealthy people who drop that kind of cash on clothes without really thinking about it that you describe (which is probably a tiny fraction of the tiny fraction of the population who would even buy a $2500 suit), why would I take the chance on one of your suits? If I had crazy money to burn I'd go down to the best bespoke suit place, not go looking for someone I've never heard of to make me a suit.

Look at your business niche: you're selling luxury suits to people who care about nice suits, but are not so rich that they can buy from more established brands that someone else mentioned above.

Simply put: your best chance is to win on service, since you don't have many clients, unlike the big boys of bespoke suiting. And looking down on customers who are fussy is killing the exact niche that you actually have a chance to compete in.
posted by I like to eat meat at 3:40 PM on October 15, 2010

I didn't mean to come off rude or condescending. Nor do I in a sales situation. i don't know what i was typing. The agonizing was well over an hour AND he was trying to be as cheap as possible, asking for discounts, etc. We fired this particular client after that suit arrived. He was genuinely neurotic. Used to cheap overseas makers. He bought 4 shirts between the time that he commissioned said suit and it arrived. It took him 4 hours. thats an hour per shirt! this is a particular example of one of the few experiences i've had. just ignore it. I shouldnt have even mentioned it.

His brother on the other hand buys from us and is extremely confident. Took him half an hour to decide on two suits and they came out looking infinitely better than his brother's.

I didn't say desirable clientele don't think about what they're buying. putting words in my mouth. Confidence is one thing recklessness is another. Fussiness is okay but when it goes beyond a certain point you're wasting your time. remember the old axiom time = money

Suits from "the best bespoke suit place" cost 5x mine.
posted by Aquaregia at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2010

I don't have any personal stake in this, but I just want to say that time = money is only true if you are making money with all your time.

When you have only two customers, "firing" one of them for taking up too much of your time seems like a terrible move.

Even in your example, you said his brother is a good customer. Well, what if you had met the fussy one first, fired him, and had never gotten a chance to meet the brother?

And, as you said, the best suits cost 5x yours. So the clientele you are catering to are price-sensitive. And many price-sensitive shoppers will take extra time and care over their purchases, because $2500 is a lot of money to them. The people who are more cavalier with their money who don't bat an eye at dropping that kind of money will not be looking for a value, and they won't care that your suit is 1/5th the cost of the best places - they'll just want the best.

Just giving you some advice to look at your market segment, and who you're really selling to. And what you're selling them. If I buy a $2500 suit from an unknown maker, I would expect outstanding service that I can't get at a big name. You have to give your customers something they CAN'T get at other luxury suit makers, and it needs to be a lot more due to the sketch factor of buying from an unknown with no store.
posted by I like to eat meat at 4:07 PM on October 15, 2010

I didn't mean to come off rude or condescending. Nor do I in a sales situation.

If you aren't aware when you come off as rude or condescending, how do you know you aren't this way in a sales situation?
posted by John Cohen at 5:02 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

People here are offering you genuine suggestions that you're firing down. You should look into that. I would bet cash money that you are rude and condescending in person. And I don't gamble with my money.

Three things you can do now:
1. Get yourself a bespoke suit. You can't sell a product that you don't use yourself. Period. End of story. If you're trying to sell me a bespoke suit while you're in a MTM, you sure as hell better believe that I'm going to notice and move right the fuck on. First, because I don't believe that you're really selling bespoke. Second, because if you don't care enough about yourself to wear it, why would I believe that you have the attention to detail that's necessary? Now, both of those are assumptions and they may be bad assumptions. But you're in sales, you have to play to people's assumptions and use them to your advantage.

2. Start going to the kinds of places your clients play. Country clubs, bars, etc. Make friends with these people. People LOVE to buy things from their friends. Buy rounds of booze and show everyone a fucking good time. You better believe that in six months when they're looking for a suit they're going to call you. But not if you're only doing it for the sale. Don't be pushy about what you do. Just make sure everyone knows, and that you'll throw in a little something for them (pocket squares, a nicer fabric for free, a special detail button that you know they'll appreciate, whatever). People like to feel like their friends are taking care of them.

3. In the circle you start moving in, notice who the movers and shakers are. Do whatever is necessary to get one of your suits on them. Whatever is necessary. Where they go, ten follow.

You're thinking too short term. To you, it's about the one guy being too much of a hassle, not the great experience you can give him that will make him recommend you to all his friends. If you spent 20 solid hours on him and gave him the greatest fucking experience of his life, I can absolutely guarantee that it would have paid off a hundred times over. Picky people can kill your business or make you a legend. You chose to kill it. By firing him, you 100% guarantee that he's not going to recommend you to his friends. In fact, he's likey to actively dis-recommend you.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:38 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.S. Your full name is in your profile. Do you think *anyone* who reads you talking so poorly of paying customers is going to think of you first?
posted by stoneweaver at 9:40 PM on October 15, 2010

You say you'd consider "anything really", but apparently that is not the case.

If you really have the best product around, you need people to see the product. You do that by making sure someone who gets seen has the product. For example, a friend of mine started a photography business; she took pictures of my kids for free, and I have sent her no less than 10 paying customers, because I think she it totally awesome.

You seem to think this should be easy. Sales aren't easy. Luxury sales aren't easy. Sales without a storefront are especially not easy.

Good luck.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2010

Also, I do hope that you're showing up to your sales calls with something for the client. Know ahead of time whether they're a wine person or a scotch person and bring them a nice bottle to share while you chat about what they want. You're asking them to drop a couple grand on you, you can spring for a $50 bottle of something drinkable. If they're dry, bring a unique treat to share.

If you're generous, your clients will be generous. If you're stingy and obviously just in it for the money and not because you genuinely like them, they'll go somewhere else. And if you don't genuinely like people, pretty much across the board, you should be in a different field. End of story.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:21 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

* Trust me I bent over backwards for them and my smile never flinched.
* trust me fashion industry people scoff at our markup as it is.
* me you get more than what you pay for here.

I have never been inclined to trust a salesman who says "Trust me."
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 3:11 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

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