Mel King from Threads on being a buyer and growing her online store

Mel King from Threads

Mel King, co-owner and founder of online store Threads. Image by James Yang Photography.

Owning an online store filled with your favourite brands is certainly a great way to indulge your love of fashion but for Threads co-owner and founder Mel King, she’s just as passionate about sharing those clothes and helpful fashion advice with her many customers. Online shopping has definitely taken off in the decade since Threads was founded in 2010, as Kiwis choose to spend nearly as much time shopping online than in person according to NZ Post’s The Full Download 2019 report. The report also shows that online shopping grew eight times faster than shopping in-store in 2018, which is fantastic for online retail businesses like Mel’s and a sign that being online is definitely the way forward for many businesses.

Founding an online store wasn’t an obvious career path for Mel but it made a lot of sense for someone with a fascination of fashion and a love of all things visual, not to mention the business smarts to back it up. “Fashion has always been an obsession for me,” says Mel. “When I was younger I would get all the fashion magazines, I have the biggest magazine addiction ever and I will always go into a store and have to buy a magazine or two and they will be hidden everywhere in the house. Before mood boards like Pinterest were ever a thing I used to cut pictures out of magazines and put them into scrapbooks. I had big scrapbooks everywhere. I also used to be addicted to FashionTV back in the day when it was around and I loved it. I would watch what they were wearing and how it was put together and I would always have a thought or a viewpoint on it.”

While fashion wasn’t something Mel set out to do, her husband David (Threads other co-owner) noticed that she would often draw pictures of outfits on scrap pieces of paper changing the details to make them how she wanted and it was David that suggested she do something with her love of fashion. While Mel initially rebuffed the idea she came to realise that actually it was something that she would like to do and with her husband’s encouragement she began formulating the idea for what Threads would eventually become.

“From the beginning we talked about having a retail store but we decided that it would be online. Unfortunately times are getting harder for retail stores which is very sad but we wanted the convenience of being online as if it was a retail store. The free returns and the free shipping. I get so many questions from girls asking ‘if I buy these pants what top can I put with it?’ I still wanted that luxury even though we weren’t a retail store and I think the most important thing for us is that our customers have that personal touch, they’re not getting automated emails, they’re lucky if they can get a hold of someone at some stores but it was so important to us that we had that great customer service. Every order that goes out gets a hand-written note, the majority of the time by me. If they email they’ll always get a reply from a person. Often they’ll get a free gift too, whether it’s a goodie bag or a Threads top.”

While she was clear on what she wanted the store to be in her mind, doing the research was important to Mel and she spent a lot of time online before she started visiting suppliers to figure out Threads’ initial offering. From the beginning, Mel knew she wanted a carefully curated mix of clothes in small quantities so that Threads would have an exclusive selection that customers wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere in New Zealand.

Mel King from Threads

Mel King, co-owner and founder of online store Threads.

“We did a lot of research but there were lots of changes even up until the launch day I was changing things, the day before I changed some of the photos. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and we tried so many different things in the process but research was important. I’ve always had a business brain, all my life and I’ve run businesses and done accounts, my husband is a real behind the scenes logistics business person as well which is always handy when it comes to our team. It was hard to get a lot of the suppliers at first, you had to work quite hard with them because of being an online store and it wasn’t quite launched so you had to build up those relationships so that’s where the travel and meeting a lot of those suppliers and working with them helped. We were building the business for at least a year before we finally launched online.”

Becoming a buyer was a new thing for Mel but a part of her business that she really enjoys. It involves going to showings of new collections that Threads stocks or would like to stock and choosing the garments and accessories that she loves and feels her customers will too. Before going to any of the meetings Mel spends some time researching online so she knows about the brand and designer and can see how it would fit into Threads’ offering. She also takes into account what the brand’s key items are for example if they do amazing dresses, so she knows if she’s looking for dresses that brand will be a go-to for her. While Threads roster of brands and clothing choices have evolved over the past decade Mel is always very specific on what she wants and can look at a garment and know straight away if it will work for Threads.

“I always start off when I go to a viewing by marking everything off that I love in the lookbooks and when I get to the ordering side of things I’ll put down everything that I love and then I go back and look at what I’ve got. Have I got enough long sleeves or short sleeves? Have I got enough dresses or pants or whatever the mix may be? So I don’t make an order and I’ve ended up buying all pants. I need to make sure that the customers can get an entire outfit rather than a whole bunch of tshirts so that’s really important. Your suppliers can’t teach you that, you’ve got to learn for yourself and know what your customers want and if they would like the pieces.”

The next step is figuring out the timing as different brands do differently timed drops of collections, for some it’s seasonal and for others it’s monthly. So Mel has to figure out what would be arriving when and how it will work with her other stock. That’s especially important when dealing with other countries that have different climates to NZ, as while some of Australia is much warmer at certain times of the year, dropping swimwear when it’s still cold in New Zealand or too many knits when the weather is balmy here means those items won’t sell that much and leave Mel with a higher volume of stock that would end up as sale stock.

While it can be like trying to choose favourite children for a fashion fan, when pressed on her favourite brands Mel is quick to express her love for Australian label Sass and Bide that is particularly popular in NZ too. “They’re my favourite, always have been. I like the sophisticated style of the clothes but they’re got a slight edge too, it’s not just a plain pair of black pants, it’s got frills down the side or metallic thread. It’s my ultimate favourite brand and probably will be forever. There’s lots of others too, Rough Studios is one from the Netherlands that’s hugely popular and it’s nice for casualwear. They have large oversized tees and they did one with a skull print that was popular last year. That’s a great one for everyday, you can put it with a pair of jeans and a jacket and put some heels on and it looks great.”

Mel King from Threads

Garments currently available on Threads.

Initially, Mel stocked more New Zealand labels on Threads and while there are still some great NZ brands available that she loves to stock, she has also been focused on bringing in international brands that have a point of difference and are harder to find here. Due to New Zealand being a small country there is already a lot of saturation of many established New Zealand brands in local boutiques so Mel is looking to support other New Zealand brands that are newer to the market and are trying to get established. “Not disrespecting the established brands on any level, they’re amazing designers but the saturation is there and NZ is a small country, you’ve got to have that point of difference.”

That point of difference also applies to customer service, especially for an online store as it’s one of the key ways that a store can be different from the next store. Threads customers have come to know and love Mel’s personal and attentive approach to customer service which means they can ask questions and get them promptly answered whether it’s about sizing or trying to put together a specific outfit. Her customers are so enamoured with Threads that they send Mel lovely Christmas cards and she is always grateful for their nice responses and support. “It’s amazing. You go this is why I’m doing it and this is why I love it. Nowadays people are so quick to complain but not many will make an effort to say thank you or give their appreciation so I know that when we get that it really has meant something and that’s what I love most. You can’t beat that. It’s why you do what you love. At the end of the day our customers are our business, they are our everything, we wouldn’t be here or do what we love if it wasn’t for them. To be where we are as an online store it’s all because of them really.”

Being online means that finding new customers can be challenging at times because there is no retail foot traffic to help but many of Threads customers come from the social media following the brand has built up and their use of digital advertising. Initially, Mel and David went to marketing companies to get their help with that side of things but Mel quickly realised she wanted to be able to do much of it herself and set about upskilling so she could understand and utilise digital media better. From eDMs to social media and Google ads Mel has learned how to do it all thanks to local training which also suits her personality of being specific about what she likes.

“They gave us all the knowledge to do it ourselves. So now everything we do is in-house not outsourced or using a third party. Because we’re an online store it was always going to be a slow burn and it has been but it’s gaining momentum and people are learning that we’re out there. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and finding the right imagery and text and writing and re-writing things. I’ve loved it actually, having no idea and having someone teach you all these things and teach you how to read analytics and gain insights on what’s working and what’s not, it’s fascinating.”

As you can imagine running the digital side of things, being a buyer, dealing with customers and running the business overall is a big workload and while Threads has employed staff to help Mel says she thrives when being busy and is more productive when she has a lot on her plate. For Mel it comes down to keeping track of everything visually by writing everything down and having a list of notes each day on what needs to be done and can be referred back to. She often likes to break up her day into blocks spending half a day on social media and marketing to plan out the weekly or monthly goals and content. Another day she will dedicate half a day to setting up buying appointments (which due to the current global situation are mostly on Zoom). Replying to customers is always a priority and Mel makes sure to have enough time each day to make sure orders are sent and any issues are resolved promptly for customers.

Mel King from Threads

Garments currently available on Threads.

She loves the busy pace of Threads but when asked on her advice for someone who wants to have their own online store she says that taking your time in the beginning is important and decisions should never be rushed. “Do your research, find your point of difference and take your time. There’s no hurry. Do it right from the get-go. It’s not easy and if you’re prepared to sacrifice and sweat and cry and laugh and do all those things then go for it. Nothing beats being a business owner, it’s so stressful at times but it’s so rewarding.”

The past few months have certainly been a particularly challenging time to be in business and while no-one had ‘global pandemic’ in their business plan, everyone has been made to rethink how they do things. There have certainly been a lot of challenges in the fashion industry in particular with retail stores closed for a couple of months, off-shore production delayed and shipping delaying in general as many countries struggle with the effects of the pandemic.

Mel is optimistic about the future of Threads and grateful for the opportunity to reset and rethink what matters. “If you can take a good thing from this pandemic it has made business owners reset and diversify and rethink priorities. I think it’s a case of riding the wave and I’m thankful for some of the decisions we have made in terms of not having a retail store. It’s been hard in terms of suppliers getting us goods, everything has been delayed by a month to two months so there has had to be a lot of rescheduling in terms of marketing and what I had envisioned that we would have for winter is now coming in late winter and things like that. But we’re all in this together and there’s not one person that’s not affected. Thankfully everyone understands and that’s a blessing I think that we’re able to do that. What we’ve mainly had to do is reorganise and plan for what will be happening with delays and we had fashion events that we were meant to be part of that were meant to be during the lockdown but have gotten moved so a lot of rescheduling has happened.”

Looking to the future Mel wants to expand some of the brands that Threads offers as well as adding to Threads’ own in-house brand which she developed to complement their existing offering. She also wants to further develop the menswear side of the business noting that there are still not that many options for good quality menswear that’s a bit different in New Zealand. Further out she’d love to add homewares to Threads and has lots of ideas she’d like to implement.

With New Zealanders continuing to embrace online shopping in their droves, the future is certainly looking bright for Mel and Threads.

This story is brought to you in partnership with Threads.

Images of Mel King by James Yang Photography.

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