Last year, Indiana native and Indiana University graduate Emily Roggenburk made the decision to leave the corporate world. Now, Roggenburk is the owner of SLANG Apparel, a Cleveland-based online marketplace and printing press designing in-house prints for ready-to-wear apparel. Since its fruition in January of 2017, SLANG is running a successful online presence and is selling their products in local Cleveland boutiques and Northeast Ohio Bed Bath and Beyond locations. PATTERN talked with Roggenburk to get some insights into running a successful online apparel business in the Midwest.
What do you sell in your store? We sell a variety of celebratory aerial photo prints and frames as well as apparel and gifts.
Why did you decide to start your own apparel brand? To be honest, my journey in entrepreneurship began on a whim. In the Spring of 2016, I was still working for American Greetings when I decided to start a photography business taking portraits and family photos as a side gig. It wasn’t until the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals that I decided to take my photography business to the next level. On the morning of the Cavs Parade, I called every helicopter company in the city and finally was able to charter one from Detroit to fly above the city and take photos commemorating the day. It was probably the most exciting experience of my life. From there, my photography business was born and pushed full speed ahead. After that, I knew there was no looking back. After months of selling only photo prints and frames, my husband and I decided to add apparel to our selection. We quickly saw the demand for our apparel products skyrocket, which led to the launch of our newest venture, SLANG Apparel.
Where do you sell primarily? We primarily sell on our online storefronts. However, we also have products in local Cleveland boutiques, a freestanding stand at a local outdoor shopping center called Crocker park, and Northeast Ohio Bed Bath and Beyond locations. We would love to expand to Indy boutiques as well!
Which came first the online store or the opportunity to sell in brick and mortar location? The online store came first. The stand at Crocker park shortly followed, and last fall, we were lucky enough to be placed in Bed Bath and Beyond!
List five skills/qualifications that you think are important to have before launching a retail business.
– A great product/service that is in demand
– Excellent customer service
– Time management
– Willingness to work 24/7
– Innovative Ideas
What’s the most effective marketing tool that you’ve been using recently? Honestly, social media continues to be a huge marketing tool for us all the time. We engage with a lot of sports fans through our Twitter and with a lot of young entrepreneurs and artists on our Instagram. We also saw a great deal of success using Facebook ads because of the way Facebook allows you to select your target audience.
What’s more important when opening a storefront: location, having a nice cash cushion, or having a lot of retail experience? All of that. If you don’t have any retail experience, it’s going to be extremely difficult to open a retail store, whether brick and mortar or online.
Having the cash to build your inventory levels and invest in promotions is key for any new business. And finally, as we all know, location location location, makes all the difference.
How do you decide which vendors/products/brands you want to carry in your store? Quality. We have always enforced strict quality standards. As a consumer, I expect the best when I make a purchase, so I took on that same mindset as a retailer. We researched the best printer in Northeast Ohio, the best custom framing company in the industry. When we saw that we weren’t getting the quality and fast turn around times we desired from other apparel manufacturers in Cleveland, we decided to invest in our own Direct To Garment apparel printer.
Do you work with vendors on a consignment basis? Absolutely! We currently work with Cleveland boutiques and Bed Bath and Beyond but are always looking to expand!
Do you carry any local vendors/brands? We do offer some photography from a few local Cleveland celebrities, but I would like to get more items from other vendors soon!
What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business? I think demand is always the biggest challenge in any business. In order to keep our demand up, we have to release new and exciting products that are relevant to our current and future consumer base. Balancing that is always a struggle, but it can be extremely rewarding, too.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of launching their own brand? There is never a right time to take the leap, so don’t be afraid. If your product/service is right for the market and you’ve seen positive response from your customers, you can do it.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming brand looking to build a strong relationship with a retailer? Be willing to reach out and be persistent. For every 10 retailers you contact, you may hear back from one or two. Make sure you’re talking to the right people in the organization.
Are there any online resources that you regularly visit to help you run your business better, or keep up with the latest industry trends? Definitely! We love Squarespace as an e-commerce platform. MailChimp is a great way to connect with your customers via email. ShipStation easily allows you to print your orders directly from Squarespace. And I love Canva. It’s a great quick and easy tool to use to create fun graphics for marketing and promotions.