Jerome Bowman – founder of Gentlemens Supply Co.

Jerome is the 25-year-old founder of Gentlemens Supply Co. He is a Sydney local whose passion for fashion started when he began working in family’s business whilst still in school. During this time his family expanded their B&M stores to include two in Sydney Centerpoint Westfield (Barclays and Claude Sebastian) and five Hugo Boss stores around Australia.

If you dreamt it – most often you have the heart to make it happen, by any means.

Once Jerome finished his Business Degree (majoring in Marketing and Consulting) and got some travelling time in, he was able to focus full-time on business operations. They condensed their operation, selling of all of the stores, and merged their B&M offer into one store – Claude Sebastian (Corner Martin Place & Pitt Street).

Jerome travelled to the US in 2011, went to some trade shows and hung out with friends in the fashion and webtailing spaces. He was looking for a new model/channel to market which could be implemented in Australia and which capitalised on their existing strengths. It was one of his friends which introduced him to the concept of ‘Curated Shopping’, the wheels began to turn. He took on board a Business Operations Consultant, a web designer, found the appropriate builder for the back-end, and worked full-time for a year to get Gentlemen’s Supply Co up and running – to change the way men shop.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

I believe that Curated shopping has come into play on the back of an increasing amount of curated content platforms (like Digg, reddit and more recently Pinterest and svpply). There are some subscription based web offers that have been around for a while (like those wine subscription models) – but conversely to this; true online, curated shopping offers like ours are completely personalized. Customers do not receive a weekly or monthly standardized package, instead each customer who signs up is assigned a personal stylist, who will package and send clothes to suit your taste and style. Customers will only receive a package when they order one from their stylist.

We took the plunge after seeing a niche in the Australian market that has not yet been fulfilled. Rocket Internet has attempted to replicate what they have done in several other markets (capitalize on an under-capitalised market), but I believe that their organization’s advantage (scale) is also their most inhibiting factor. As warm, personalized, full customer service is more achievable for smaller, more agile companies. Therefore our inherent core competency of completely personalized service, offering full shopping service with no extra/hidden charges is more easily achievable.

The success of other similar models in Europe and America has also had a bearing. We also saw a translation of our skills forged in store over many years being a prime advantage to our understanding of customers and operations.

How do you make money? (please explain your business model)

Convenience without commitment. This suggests that we don’t necessarily want people’s money. Ultimately, this is not as important to us as having a customers trust and forging long-term relationships.

Our model is monetized strictly by having a standard retail margin. We do not charge for posting (Australia Wide) either to, or from customers. Our stylists do not charge customers in any way for their time, either (gone are the days of paying a stylist $150 an hour to take you shopping in malls).

From a customer’s perspective there are a few distinct stages within this model:

  • Sign up, answer a 2 minute questionnaire about style and sizes
  • Get matched with a stylist to liaise with. Go online and suggest what you would like in your crate.
  • Your stylist will confirm with you however you would like to liaise (phone, email, skype, face-to-face) – what they have in mind for you, etc.
  • The trackable crate is sent to the you with clothing packed in outfits (you still havn’t paid a cent), try everything on in the comfort of your own home/office – no sales people or dodgy mirrors.
  • Whatever you don’t like, put it back in the crate, put the pre-paid postage sticker on top and send it straight back.
  • You only get charged for what you have kept!

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

I am currently developing our own label for particular items (which I feel that no one ever particularly gets 100%).

We are also putting into place our plans for expansion to New Zealand – we have just been over there over the past few days, meeting with potential stylists, employees and some suppliers that we have partnered with over there.

One of the most exciting projects we are working on is an alliance with a tech company from Germany who have an entirely new technology which is going to change the online ‘does this fit me?’ sizing game. Very exciting!

How do you make ideas happen?

Stop staring into space, day-dreaming, and thinking about all of the what-ifs…

Stop staring into space, day-dreaming, and thinking about all of the what-ifs, and get on the phone, internet (email, etc.) and start the ball rolling. You will know very shortly if your concept has legs.

Also, start actually putting some numbers to the concept, some forecast budgets and see if it is fiscally feasible for you.

What does your typical day look like?

Morning – 8am start, with emails and social media catch-up.

9:30am – customer fulfillment. I oversee our team of stylists with their proposed shopping and packing lists for clients, and their packing of the crates.

Organising the logistics for the day.

Gym – gotta throw some tin around

Dinner/drinks – work hard, play hard!

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

I also think that failure is less accepted in Australia than in other parts of the world.

In our particular industry Australia is a little behind the global community in terms of consumer acceptance and uptake of new concepts shopping patterns. I also think failure is less accepted in Australia than in other parts of the world.

Also the social behaviour and societal understandings of the startup industry are misguided. Education starting at grassroots levels (encouraging entrepreneurship) and feeding up to the top levels of government needs to occur. Australia needs to embrace this business culture more in order for it to flourish, just like in other parts of the world (e.g. the USA).

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

That not telling anyone an idea you have because you don’t want them to steal it is a completely erroneous way of thinking.

To get an idea off the ground it requires so much passion, sweat equity and most often, real equity – so people who just hear an idea, although may love it and love to execute it, they don’t have what it takes to make it happen. If you dreamt it – most often you have the heart to make it happen, by any means.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry , in Australia at the moment? 

In terms of the social media/patterns I think that Roamz are doing a great job for the Australian startup scene (backed by Salmat), and have some great people leading their organisation.

A new business just launched – Lovvd – are pretty cool, they are focussed on pre-loved designer gear for women.

I like to talk about Australian fashion because I think we are totally underestimated (besides many of the female fashion big names – like Camilla and Mark, etc.). So, in the men’s arena Le Noeud Papillon is doing a great job, with Australian made bow ties and ties at the highest quality.

What about internationally

Curated shopping is taking off around the world, and within each leading webtailing country, there are market leaders. In the US – Trunk Club (who have just finished another round of investment – in the 8 figure region) is the market leader, in Germany – Modomoto are the market leader; each company is doing cool stuff in their own right

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

As demonstrated with the whole worldwide GFC debacle – business has a direct impact on social behaviour. People change their lifestyles and consumerist nature to be in line with economic times and their current socio-economic activity.

The aggregate relationship has led to businesses recognising the need to embrace changes more readily. The Australian men’s retail and fashion market has definitely become more sartorially inclined over the last 10-15 years (in particular) as well as more savvy with online shopping, etc. Although with the current economic pressures the requirement to work longer hours at a higher standard – gentlemen have less free time. We have recognised all of this and in terms of affecting social change, we are certainly assisting late-adopters to increase their style aptitude, but for those men who already put a great deal of effort into their outgoing appearance – they are finding themselves time-starved, and as such our service solves their problems.

We are aiming not only to change the way men shop, but to increase the Australian man’s style aptitude.

11. Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

We are always on the lookout for talented stylists to join our team.

Gentlemens Supply is thoroughly embracing the startup personality, and we enjoy being a young, agile company. People that can add to this, whilst also embracing the personality of such a company are always welcome in any capacity.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Restaurant – Bondi Icebergs Dining Room – Bondi Beach

Bar – Tio’s – Surry Hills

Cafe – Clipper Cafe – Glebe 

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment? 

Justice Crew – Best Night (I’m a sucker for feel good pop songs!)

Make sure you sign-up to join our amazing community for Australians making ideas happen.

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