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Montiel Brands Goes From Selling From Car Trunk to Huge Online Results
Maggie Montiel shares her great startup story of going from selling a line of “wouldn’t sell elsewhere” clothes from the trunk of her car to building a thriving online retail active wear business seen on celebrities and models as well as thousands of everyday folks.
She shares the things she had to learn, her various ecommerce platform experiences and how she is growing for the future. As a CapForge Bookkeeping client she also shares how delegating some tasks has let her focus on what she does best- grow her business to six figure sales months in an incredibly short time!
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Listen right here:
Matt: Today’s episode, I have the pleasure of welcoming Maggie Montiel of Montiel Active Wear where you could find at montiel.com. I’m excited to have here on. She’s got a very interesting e-commerce startup store to tell us. She’s also a client which gives me a little more inside into the business and lets me know that she’s gonna have an interesting story to tell us. Maggie, thanks so much for coming on. why don’t you just kinda jump in with how you got started and what your business is so everybody that’s listening can kind of identify what you’re about?
Maggie: Alright! Thank you, Matt! I’d love to share this story with you. I started this company in 2013. Basically, out of the back seat of my car. My dad had a women apparel line that hadn’t done well. I was helping liquidate it. So, I was doing of cash flows and just getting rid of a bunch of inventory for him. Then, there were a couple pieces that I just kinda knew would sell well. People were asking me “Do you have any sizes?” and I’ll say “No, I don’t have any.” So, I went back to my dad and I said “Hey Dad! How can I make this bra in rainbow colors?” He’s been in the industry for 40 years. He told me “We can go to this fabric guy. We can go to this person.” So, it kinda just fell in my lap a little bit. We got some momentum because we had people interested in the box. It wasn’t very many but it was enough to get us a little bit excited. So, my dad has always done wholesale type of stuff and I really wanted to focus on going straight to the customer online and offering a lower price range. Same quality of stuff, but just to give him a lower price point. We were able to do that online. So, I basically just been designing and adding to this one bra which is like a signature piece, the teardrop bra. But I’ve just been adding my own design and it got picked up by people. I got an organic social media following which just kept encouraging me and driving me to do more and keep growing the company. I’ve done some advertising on Facebook and have a really strong click through way. That’s kind of been where I’ve been driving most of my traffic. I have a lot more growth to grow online because I feel like I haven’t really scratched the surface in there beyond Facebook. So, I definitely have lots of growth opportunity. [Inaudible 0:07:41.5]
Matt: That’s awesome. So, let me ask you this. You obviously had the hands-on experience in selling stuff out of the back of your car. Sales experience is pretty critical to any business of any stripe. But what about, did you have any experience designing clothes or any of that stuff or were you just kinda relying on your dad and learn as you go?
Maggie: No, I studied Apparel Merchandise. I went to school for Apparel Merchandise at the Indiana University. I didn’t use it after school. I got into real estate. I worked for a private equity firm. I was just working with my dad on the side while I had my other job. I definitely [inaudible 0:08:25.3] doing the trunk show and selling stuff was fun for me. But to see that people wanted it was definitely just more motivation to start something. We started it as a new company rather than it had a little bit of an old lady vibe into it. I transformed it into something really young. I kept the new designs the same way – just young, layering pieces and just versatile from workout clothes to lifestyle, growing and running errands. It got picked up.
Matt: Was it something about the design itself that was unique? I’m not that familiar with bras. Was it the price point? What made you guys stand out because obviously it’s a super competitive industry? I mean everybody from Nike to Underamer all the way down to all kinds of other boutique designers and small shops. How do you guys make your product pop in terms of the consumer’s perception of what’s different and why they would get it? Especially if they are shopping online where they can’t actually feel it, can’t try it one. They are just going on pictures.
Maggie: I know. The teardrop bra had these 2 distinct straps that are so unique. A lot of these brands, they kinda copy one another. They kinda all have the same strappy thing going on. The teardrop bra stuck out. The click rate is really high. I know because Facebook and my merchant shopify gave me the statistics on my click through. It tells me I’m doing 99% better than people. It’s crazy. My Facebook ads too. They are doing 98-99% better than other comparisons or other companies within my industry. That was just more encouraging. It’s really that one bra and the layering pieces that I add. So, I do something really simple on top of it. But, they liked it. And so, I like to focus on simplicity. I don’t like prints. I don’t like anything too loud. I just think that it’s nice to just be elegant and have a little bit fashion in your active wear. I think that’s the reason why people are going for Montiel because they are still comfy. Even though there’s so much active wear, they are still looking for something different – that boutique feel. They want something different and there’s definitely no shortage of them. I have a lot of Yoga Fans. That’s an ever growing industry. They really liked it.
Matt: Is the combination of unique design and then the effort to target a specific market of people – is that something where you go on Facebook and you say “I want people who are fans of Lulu Lemons or fans of Yoga.” that kinda thing. Are you in the same group? Is that how it works?
Maggie: I do my demographics for my ads to be yoga-palatees, Lulu Lemon. I put my competitors in there too just because they are so massive and they have the exact person of who I am going after. To top it off, my price point is much lower than theirs but it’s the same quality of fabrics. I like that my customers – it exceeds their expectations when they open it up because they only paid $38 for the bra. I know it sounds a lot to you as a guy.
Matt: Well, I can get 700 pairs of underwear for the same price but I’m sure that’s a good price for a bra.
Maggie: It’s true.
Matt: That’s always nice to have your customers open your package and be positive or impressed that they got such a great product for such a low price. So, in terms of that, let’s talk about your manufacturing process for a little bit. Again, you started with stuff that’s already made and you were just trying to get it sold. You moved from that to saying “Okay. Now, I want to have my own designs.” I mean, that’s gotta involved a ton of decisions right? You get a source fabric, cut it, get it zoned together, packaged all that stuff. How did you kinda tackle that?
Maggie: I know. I mean, from the designs, the productions, the sourcing, customer service, and logistics, I was in my 2-bedroom apartment doing all that. I’ve now grown into a much bigger space. I’m still doing, not myself, but I still have the logistics team under the same roof. But it was not a lot sleep. I was so excited and motivated by the sales and the demand for it. I was out of stock of everything. I remember last year, there was a time that I was out of stock of everything because it just felt through. I needed to make more and there was a demand for it. That was so exciting to me that I didn’t care if I was stressed or not sleeping. I just wanted to keep it going.
Matt: Well, it’s always nice to have a positive reception from the market. People are voting with their wallets and they are choosing you which is a great feeling if it’s something that comes from you, you put effort in and you’re getting a nice feedback not just in terms of the actual dollars but I mean, people are saying they want your stuff. They want it to the point where you’ve sold out. That’s pretty cool. Aside from your Dad, was there other? Did you have consultants or experts or people helping you? How did you kinda get through that whole process?
Maggie: Yeah. I have this pattern lady and she keeps me organized as well as my patterns for me so I can do the design and then she gets it to cut and saw. She helps me with that. She’s great but she works for my Dad in the previous company that he had. So, that was another resource that he gave me, I found a guy at one of my gyms that I work out. He does photography – not passion, but I asked if he wanted to do some product shots for me as in the very early on. He’s like “Sure. I’ve never done clothing. But yeah, let’s do it.” He had such a unique look in his photograph. It was really cool. He ended up just being really witty and had great verbiage to add to the brand. So, I brought him on. He does all our creative and all of our mailers, campaigns and stuff. Not just for photography, he does a lot for the brand. So, that’s another hidden little gem. Between the three of that and then my dad is obviously fantastic. He just have the experience and he’s been able to guide me through. You’re gonna need this and not the inventory to get to this amount of sales. It’s been very nice to have him. But nothing about any of this is glamorous. I think it looks glamorous from the outside but I mean, I just think I just move 10 boxes this morning. There’s not so glamorous area to this job. That’s for sure.
Matt: Yeah. You have to get to a pretty good size business before you’re not still taking out the trash and moving gas around and carrying box. That’s all part of the game. So, are you manufacturing everything in the US or you overseas? Is that part of the plan or does it make sense?
Maggie: No. I’m trying to keep it all in the US. I’m making everything in San Diego. I’m using Instax Fabrics from downtown LA and I’m also been making Long Beach. I’m really keeping it in the US. It’s important to me. It’s important to my customers. I want to continue to do that.
Matt: And that still works with your pricing and your margins. You can still do well even sourcing in the US.
Maggie: Yeah. I mean, it’s actually easier because I can make a thousand units in a week rather than waiting 4 or 5 months from Asia. The turnaround is much faster and I get the idea of if the item is gonna sell. I can make very few of them. Find out if this does well. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. If it does well, then I make a ton more.
Maggie: So, it’s a good path to market for me. That makes sense. How do you go from here? You have success with online Facebook ads and what you’ve done so far. But obviously, the market is tremendous. How do you go from here? What steps do you have to take? What marketing do you have to do and what’s ahead of you?
Maggie: Like I said, we’ve been going to Facebook for ads but we haven’t even scratched the surface of marketing online. So, re-targeting that and we do e-mail marketing like on another level. We would increase that. Even just with our website improvements and collaborations with other brands, we’re doing collaboration tomorrow with a make-up line that my friends started. Just stuff like that. We do a lot of gifting celebrities and we’ll be in magazines. I was in New York and did a lot of editorial stuff. Just getting the name out there because a lot of people don’t know it yet. I’m pushing the PR side. And then, I think there’s a lot of ways that I can grow. I want to keep wholesale out for right now because I really want to offer that price point to the customer directly aligned. So far, it’s working. They are not shine away from ordering online. I think that I have a lot of millenials and that’s how they buy.
Matt: Yeah. You know, if I was in your shoes, I would certainly be reluctant to start messing around with wholesale because now you got to stock a whole lot more inventory in all different sizes, you got to wait to get paid. You got to take returns. All of this stuff. But in the meantime, [inaudible 0:19:03.2] closing stores and retail keeps going down and down while online keeps growing. It seems sort of crazy to try – unless you’re really huge and you really tapped out your e-commerce potential, it seems crazy to me to try and go wholesale when you got so much more opportunity.
Maggie: I wouldn’t try it. It’s hard because people ask me every day. They call and they send e-mails that they want to sell it as wholesale. I cant. I do have a really big Asian market that they re-sell it. I give them small discount, maybe 25% and they re-sell it. They drive a lot of my business to. I don’t know what they’re selling it for but I’m sure for a lot more. They still buy. To me when they are 25% off, they are basically paying the retail. That’s no problem at all for me. I think for growth, I’ll definitely stay away from wholesale.
Matt: What are you doing in terms of your e-commerce? Did you use one of the kinds of ready-made shopping cart solutions or did you build your own? How did you get that set up in work?
Maggie: The first one I had, I made it out of a Shopify template. It was awful. But it worked. They were able to order. They got the items. It works. So, I’ve been proved that I think we’re on our 3rd time and mobile was really important to us because 95% of our traffic was coming from a mobile device. So, for that first impression, that was really important. That’s one of the first things that we changed. Just being on the phone and making sure that it was super easy to put in your cart and super easy to check out. We wanted it to be basically falling in your lap. Another little trick that we did is we offer free shipping. I think that’s one of the number one reasons why people doesn’t fill their cart because at the end there’s shipping charges. It’s a cost to us but at the same time, you would get so many more orders from it. It was such a good trick.
Matt: Yeah. You should tell somebody about that.
Maggie: Free shipping and free returns. Because when you have an e-commerce business, you want to make sure that they feel comfortable. If it’s not the right size, they can send it back and get the right size without paying a fortune for shipping fees.
Matt: Yeah. If you reduce their barriers to buying or their perceived barriers by having a good guarantee and free returns and all that kind of stuff, I think you end up generating a lot more in sales than you give up in those additional costs when people do return them or call in a guarantee or whatever. I think you could really put it down to marketing dollars to invest in those kinds of options to people when they are buying.
Matt: I think it’s interesting too that mobile is so important. Maybe I’m over the hill. At 42, I’m pretty much done I guess. I don’t like to buy stuff from my phone very often. Occasionally, on amazon – a book or something. But that’s about it. But you got 95% of your traffic was mobile, that’s amazing. Obviously, you got make it work for those customers.
Maggie: Yeah. They are most likely seeing the ads in Facebook. They are probably checking their phone for Facebook or Instagram. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna buy from their phone even though many do but it’s the first impression. Just the first look at the brand, and then they might go over to their desktop or their iPad, but yeah, the first impression is really big on mobile.
Matt: That makes sense. You got to go where your customers are looking. You want to put your best foot forward.
Matt: You guys have had some pretty good success in getting some celebrity people, right? Do you have any names?
Maggie: Yeah. I think I have every victoria secret model.
Maggie: Alessandra Ambrosio, Rosie Huntington, [Isabelle Gerard 0:23:21.1] and then I just had – I forgot their names – She was in Spiderman, the red head [inaudible 0:23:31.5] but she was just a refill one. I’ll come back to that name. And then, Lea Michelle. Lea Michelle was one of the first ones. She’s on Glee. She’s got this cool following and they go crazy for her. That was definitely an exciting one. I’ve had some bloggers, some big bloggers do it as well. Some of those have happened organically. It just a really cool feeling when they are putting it on your winner clothing selects on a blogger that’s weighted number 1. They are just picking that organically. It was a good feeling.
Matt: Yeah. Definitely. Is there anything that you can do to kind of nudge that along either with the bloggers or with the celebrities themselves to make that connection for them?
Maggie: I’ve sent it to my mail to their profile.
Maggie: [Inaudible 0:24:32.5]. I’m bright where all the stars are so it’s pretty easy to get their address. I just send them over and then they wear it. I can’t really do much more than just get it to their house.
Matt: Then, how do you get the picture of them wearing it? You just have to go through all the star magazines and everything to find them?
Maggie: Oh, no. I have a Google alert for each person that has it – usually the daily mail which is in UK. They always get it first. It’s like they do it before it even happen. They’re so fast. They get the names first and then I just put my PR and then we try to get tag for it.
Matt: Nice. There’s a whole science to clothing celebrity, I guess, when you’re in the clothing business. It’s a whole extra part of the equation.
Maggie: Also, I thought of the name. Her name is Emma Stone.
Matt: Oh, okay! I know her. Yeah. That’s sounds pretty cool. You’ve got a pretty big 2016 coming up, it sounds like.
Maggie: Yeah. It’s so stressful but it’s exciting. A lot of girls and it’s gonna be a big year.
Matt: Now, if you were looking back and I know it hasn’t hardly been very long but is there anything in the steps you’ve taken to get to where you’re at where you’d say “I wish I had something different.” Or “If I could go back and give myself some advice, this is what it would be.” Is there anything?
Maggie: I really like my story. I like what happened so it’s hard for me to say that I would’ve changed anything. I think maybe I should’ve been more welcoming to getting some help early on and maybe not doing quite everything on my own. But, at the same time, it kinda got me where I am right now. So, I think I made a few mistakes with some marketing. I’ve figured out it’s not a good idea for me to spend money going prints, stuff like that. I was able to weed out the things that worked and didn’t work. But there was an expense to them at times. Sooner, you just have to figure out [inaudible 0:26:43.6] the returns and know if it’s gonna work or not.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I would definitely wouldn’t say that test marketing is ever on the stake. Sometimes it work. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the whole point is to figure out which way to go on.
Matt: You don’t have any [inaudible 0:27:04.2] into some line of clothing that you decided not to pursue men’s pants or anything like that?
Maggie: I’ve had many things that I had a click but for now, I’m not going after men’s quite yet because they don’t really spend. I’m sure they do but they take time. I’m gonna continue to grow the line. People want more designs. It’s hard for me to do them so quickly with everything else. So, as I grow, I’ll be able to have some more help to get that.
Matt: Is there any protection for you against – one of the things you mentioned, your sort of signature piece, the tear drop design – is there any protection for you against other people knocking that off and trying to take the business that way?
Maggie: We are looking to patterns and stuff like that. With apparel, there’s not really much you can do. I mean, it happens all the time. If that’s the case, it’s usually gonna be from someone small or it could be from someone big, I guess, too. If that happens, it’s a compliment. I’m gonna take it as a compliment and it won’t be the end for us. We have so much more going on and coming up. I’m not frightened by that all. Plus, we’ve already made such a statement. People already know that that’s us. It would be very hard to deal with it and just done it. It just wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be good as well. They don’t have the same materials. We make it from scratch. There’s like 15 different things that go into that bra. It’s very hard to make it exactly the same.
Matt: That makes sense. I would imagine that is one of the challenges in your industry. It is something that somebody can buy and take a part piece by piece and see what you did with it and try to copy you. It’s just a nature of the business. As long as you keep innovating and staying on top, then the competition hopefully isn’t too much of a threat.
Maggie: No, it’s not. It’s motivating. It’s really is. And it’s inspiring. I’m inspired by a lot of the other brands. It helps me get new design ideas and make it better.
Matt: Awesome! Well, I appreciate you taking the time to share everything with us. For people who are looking either for new clothing or just to kinda check out your website and see what you’ve done, what’s the best place for them to find you and get a hold of you?
Maggie: I would go to our website, montiel.com.
Matt: Perfect. Well, thanks again. I will put a link to that in the show notes and I definitely appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today.
Maggie: Of course, thank you so much!