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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 1, 2021 2 weeks ago

Clothing subscription box business goes national

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In the crowded subscription box sector, Amber Duncan values quality over quantity in her customer base. The strategy is paying off.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Before starting Jackie, Amber Duncan had tried other clothing subscription boxes. She never found the right fit. “I didn’t feel like the personal element was there,” she says. “It felt like every box subscription I tried relied more on algorithms than relationships.”

The self-described serial entrepreneur even joked with her husband her next business was going to be a clothing subscription box more centered around relationships and boutique brands. Then she decided to go for it.

Today, Duncan, the founder and CEO of Jackie, says the downtown Bradenton-based company founded in 2017 has grown to 10 employees, with clients nationwide. Duncan, 45, says that in 2020, the company’s valuation was $2.5 million, and total sales were more than $1 million. More growth — and expanding into men’s clothing subscription boxes, for example, potentially with Jack box for men  — is in the cards, all with a focus on quality over quantity.

Courtesy. The Jackie headquarters in downtown Bradenton hosts in-person styling and events for women featuring different speakers and entrepreneurs.

In a year that generally wasn’t kind to clothing sales, Jackie beat the odds. “We thrived,” Duncan says. “We were up 58% last year. People for the first time saw the convenience factor.” The large increase in sales came in year three for the company, a particular achievement amid the pandemic.

It helps that this isn’t Duncan’s first entrepreneurial venture. The mother of five previously worked as a mortgage broker after dropping out of college. In 2008, she started Tampa-based debt settlement company ReduceMyDebts.com with two business partners, a company she continues to be involved with. “It’s still going today just as strong,” she says. “It’s how I cut my teeth in business and owning and operating a business.” Duncan also owns Gigi’s Cupcakes franchises in South Tampa and Gainesville. Duncan even recently went back to school and is currently finishing up a degree in business administration and entrepreneurship from Liberty University. 

Jackie, named after style icon Jackie Kennedy Onassis, sets itself apart from other clothing subscription boxes by focusing on individualized customer service and relationships clients build with their stylists. The goal? Make every client feel as important as a celebrity. “You can text a picture directly to your assigned stylist and get a response,” Duncan says. Customers can also talk to their stylists on the phone about an event or trip they have coming up.

Women pay a $39.99 styling fee, credited toward purchases. Customers choose between monthly, quarterly or one-time options. Each box is filled with clothing and shipped with a return label for items the customer doesn’t want.

The average box runs $1,200 to $1,500 if a customer decides to keep everything. The price point comes in higher than some other clothing subscription boxes — another differentiator. “It’s building a capsule wardrobe and investing in pieces you’ll have for years,” Duncan says.

To fill the boxes, Jackie keeps an inventory of clothing. “We have a vetting process with the brands we bring in,” she says. The process includes researching brands and attending shows in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta to meet with vendors.

‘I would rather have one client who really, really values the service, and we nail it with her, than to try to chase down 10 to replace her.’ Amber Duncan, Jackie

Another key to the Jackie model is being selective about clients. Potential customers go through an application process that includes several questions, such as where they currently shop and brands they’re attracted to. “We want to make sure it’s a great fit for us and them,” Duncan says. “The stylists’ time is very valuable. With the model the way it is and the vetting process, we’re able to actually bring on dignified, salaried stylists.”

Duncan says one of the main benefits of the company’s boxes is confidence. “The best part of this is really truly hearing from the client how it made her feel in her pieces from Jackie and that she got so many compliments,” she says. “The way people carry themselves when they feel good about the clothes they’re in is completely different than someone who throws clothes on. It takes you to a completely different confidence level.”

Jackie has clients across the U.S., with concentrations in cities including Los Angeles and New York City. The company’s marketing efforts target women there and in Nashville, Dallas and San Francisco. “At first, I thought this model is going to cater to women over 40 — someone like myself,” Duncan says. “I just had this picture of who it would cater to, but it ranges from 25 to 70. It really does attract clients whether they’re in college, stay-at-home moms, business professionals or retired women.”

Jackie’s client database has about 2,500 people, including monthly, quarterly and one-time customers. On a monthly basis, Jackie has about 300 to 500 clients. In the period ahead, Duncan plans to stick to her strategy of creating profitability by bringing in quality clients instead of as many as possible. “We’ve had clients who have been with us for two or three years,” she says. “I would rather have one client who really, really values the service, and we nail it with her, than to try to chase down 10 to replace her.”

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