Little Big Crate’s model is similar to successful overseas models such as mega-startup Rockets of Awesome. First, parents fill out a questionnaire which indicates their style preference. They then receive a crate filled with garments selected based on that preference. The items they choose to keep are charged to their credit card while the rejected clothing is returned.
Co-founder Melanie Lapalme says the business was launched “very quietly” in November last year.
“We really had no idea what the response was going to be like so we soft launched to try and get a gauge on demand, and then pretty swiftly had to close off for new customers because there was so much interest!”
The daughter she is bringing up with co-founder and wife Annette Cooper, Amelie, is now two and a half. Perhaps inevitably, Lapalme says, Amelie informs she and Cooper’s purchasing decisions: “We are aiming to increase our sizing as Amelie grows because frankly that makes our life easier!”
Image credit: @knottingbutlove
We asked Lapalme for more detail on Little Big Crate and the subscription box model.
Tell us about why the mail order model is so appealing to parents.
Shopping with children is not fun. They don’t want to browse and they don’t want try things on and they certainly don’t want to spend hours doing it. Mail order shopping means you miss out on all that and can get stuff sent straight to your door. It’s a no brainer.
Do you think the potential for ecommerce goods and services targeting families has been tapped out yet, or is there room for more start-ups like Little Big Crate?
I think what we are starting to see now is a change in the ecommerce space. I think the market is quite crowded for traditional ecommerce stores but we are starting to see a new wave of services, like Little Big Crate, that use the internet to sell through, rather than on. The real difference is that we are using the internet to sell a high value service rather than a range of products.
Traditionally people tend to come to the internet to try and find bargains or source things that they can’t find in stores. The huge number of online stores has now made that process really time-consuming as well and time is the one thing parents are short on. Little Big Crate takes all that hassle away by sourcing the best in handmade and sending it right to you.
Little Big Crate is pretty firmly located in the ecommerce space. Does a bricks and mortar presence appeal?
Something that we are really passionate about it creating a sense of community in the crazy whirlwind that is parenting, and so, bringing people physically together to do that is definitely part of our future plans. It’s unlikely that we will ever have an actual store, but we might look to host special dates, or pop- up shops to bring our customers together, show new clothes or designers and to get to know people better.
The ‘styling’ component of Little Big Crate’s service is something different – what’s that about?
The styling component is the high value service we offer. We want to make the whole processes of dressing kids easier and that starts at sending a collection of things that will all mix and match well. Some of our customers want ‘special’ clothes for weddings and others want some statement pieces that they can pair with whatever plainer pieces they have in their wardrobe already. The only thing we haven’t figured out how to help with is actually getting clothes on toddlers any easier!
What kinds of questions does the style survey contain, and how do you use that to maximise the appeal of the crate’s items?
The style survey is designed to help us understand our customers and their little big people. It has questions about size/fit of clothing, colour preferences, if they are looking for particular items or if they have particular designers. That data is where we start our relationship, so we have lots of space for people to talk to us.
When we start building a crate, those answers are our guide. We also check through social media to see if people have liked or commented on any particular items through our feeds. We provide a crate feedback card as well, which is another opportunity for people to tell us about the products we have sent them.
For Annette, that’s all data that we can use to understand what people like, but we also apply a healthy amount of “professional shopping judgement” to the whole process.
Tell us about your suppliers. What do you look for in a supplier?
We have the coolest suppliers. We are passionate about supporting small, local businesses and are constantly delighted by the talented people who supply to us. Most of our suppliers are one-woman bands who sew during nap times, evenings and weekends as a way to supplement their family’s income, and be able to stay home with their children.
Relationships are at the centre of the Little Big Crate business model, so first and foremost we look for handmade and boutique New Zealand suppliers who we can have a relationship with. Little Big Crate sits in the middle of a three-way relationships. Our customers trust us to know what they will like, and we trust our suppliers to understand our requirements and send us beautiful things that will make our customers happy. We also look to partner with creative people who want to keep diversifying and creating new pieces in response to our customer feedback. Amy at Thomas Pie and Lauren at The Wandering Blush have been absolutely awesome at creating bespoke pieces including exclusive ranges just for Little Big Crate.
Is ethical sourcing a concern of yours?
Absolutely. We want to pay a fair price for clothing that is made by people who are paid a fair wage. Most of our stock is made in New Zealand and the items that aren’t made here we check carefully to make sure that it is made in an ethical way. At the other end of the process, the ethical disposal of that clothing (seconds or things that aren’t selling) is just as important as the sourcing so we are currently working out how to do that.
We don’t have sales because we would rather give away the clothing that doesn’t sell than mark it down just to clear it. We really care about making a difference for families, not just the families who are our customers.
What’s the next step for Little Big Crate?
The sky feels like it is the limit at this stage! We have a huge number of people with older children wanting to sign up and we want to keep growing as our customer grow, so we will be putting a Kickstarter up to raise capital to grow the sizes we sell (three and four to start with but up to six eventually). We have just started blogging on our website, as a way to keep connecting with our customers and we are always looking for ways to improve our service to meet the needs of kiwi families. Hopefully one day we might be able to expand into Canada (Melanie’s homeland).