087– Nikunj Marvania and Mario Lanzarotti of Awl and Sundry – Shoe Story

The business of custom shoes…

Nikunj Marvania (Co Founder and CEO) and Mario Lanzarotti (COO and Chief Happiness Officer) of Awl and Sundry, aAwl and Sundry on FIYB 3 handmade shoe brand that allows consumers to customize their shoe design and fit, join hosts Pavan Bahl, Rob Sanchez and Marc Raco for a very full show with deep-dive discussion into the storytelling, business development goals and challenges of their business, paralleling the experience as clients of Open Source Fashion’s “OSF Connects” consulting service.

Marvania and Lanzarotti start with the story and history behind the brand, starting 2012, and review branding, experience, team, packaging, and the goal of a complete experience for the customer. Marvania offers the original elevator pitch of bringing old school shoemaking while infusing modern technology. Storytelling gets a once-over to focus messaging, and how Awl and Sundry’s role in charitable giving, to help kids obtain an education to disrupt cycle of poverty in India, fits into the pitch. Awl and Sundry’s strong retention vs. a classic startup mistake for people who want to give back, and how making a social mission part of marketing strategy can contribute to brand failure. The team explores ways to integrate social mission into social media, more a part of retention and customer experience then a driver of sales.

Awl and Sundry on FIYB 1Focusing on quality vs. design, “plain-Jane” shoes lacking visual sizzle, and whether the need for comfort and utility trumps fancy design. Marvania and Lanzarotti start talk about work on their sizing app utilizing photos of feet, on some similar vein as a process used by Normal Earphones, talk of the response time of the live chat personality “Zoe”, what keeps people from conversion, and the implications of not being able to touch a custom made product, how the process is time-involving with too many variations and options, how to help customers narrow down their selection, and clarity of options on website.

Democratization vs. customization, making products affordable, why customization is time traveling but ready-to-wear is new, has craftsmanship gone away, and is the play for luxury vs. price point? The difference between custom shoes and hand crafted shoes like Awl and Sundry, and why Italy doesn’t have to be where the best shoes are made. The basic premise of name and concept of Awl and Sundry is unpacked, the story of Mario’s shoe, how telling stories and reducing selection can have a direct impact on sales. A startling absence of an important piece of he story on the home page of the website, the need for messaging tweaks, and the process that led to current site leads to process.

Relating identity to personalized shoe design, the importance of identifying with influencers as shoe inspirations, showing the best version of brand on the site, and what if every shoe had influencer personalities. Should brand positioning include products for women, the possibility of influencer fashion couples, and building story. Issues with live chat timing and maximizing it’s use, and possible solutions. The usefulness of events such as bringing clothiers together in one space, influencer poker games, concierge services to bring shopping experiences to visitors, etc.

Finally, plans for implementation as clients of Open Source Fashion, including doing what’s needed to get in front of customers, storytelling refinement, connecting with hotels, scotch tastings with SWILL, influencer nights, looping into a contributor network of thought leaders, wearing the shoes, and more. Custom lasts, how launching a ready to wear line is right to scale business, using Kickstarter as testing ground, and a ready to wear line would fit into the overall story. Pop-up possibilities, owinng the story and focusing on storytelling, developing road shows, building ambassadors, connecting with the luxury hotel space, and developing influencers. Plus, takeaways from the Awl and Sundry team.

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