Meet this Lady: Her Passion for Vintage became her Business Advantage

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Susan Gregg Koger

Susan Gregg KogerFounder and Chief Creative Officer , ModCloth

Many college students sell items online to make ends meet during the semester. Little did Featured Lady Susan Gregg Koger know that when she started selling vintage clothing on her website, ModCloth, it would turn into a $50 million dollar company. Founded in 2002 while she was a seventeen year-old undergraduate, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based-company now boasts 108 employees, plans to add offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco this year and quadruple 2009’s sales by the end of 2010. Impressively, over ten million women have viewed the ModCloth website in the last two years.

Amidst the textbooks, class papers, computer, desk (and boyfriend Eric) in her Carnegie-Mellon University dorm room, Susan ran ModCloth part-time from a basic website and shipped her vintage clothing to buyers. “Back then, I was the photographer, shipping department and customer care representative,” she says. A native Floridian, Susan’s business idea was inspired by her many trips to thrift stores preparing for her first Pittsburgh winter. “I was buying these amazing jackets for five dollars, knowing they were worth so much more,” explains Susan. When Eric suggested she put up a website and sell the vintage clothes to make money, Susan was all for it.

It was a promising start – Susan had a sale on ModCloth’s first day, January 4, 2003.

In 2006, Susan and Eric graduated from college, tied the knot and began working on ModCloth full-time from their home. The couple realized the company needed to grow, but knew it couldn’t by only selling single, random pieces of vintage clothing. They looked at the website traffic and discovered it was much higher than the actual sales numbers. Taking a leap of faith, they raised enough capital to offer a full inventory of vintage-inspired and indie designs.

After securing the first round of venture capital in 2008, Susan moved ModCloth to an office in a hip, progressive neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as the Strip District. Today Eric runs the business as the Chief Executive Officer while Susan, the Chief Creative Officer and head buyer, makes all the final decisions about brand, designs and products.

clothingModCloth is an online clothing, accessory and decor retailer that aims to provide a fun and engaging shopping atmosphere for its customer. Susan does this by interacting with customers via Twitter and Facebook and requesting customers’ feedback through the ModLife Blog and product reviews. Website visitors can also vote on potential inventory with the innovative “Be the Buyer” program.

“I noticed there were samples that never went into production,” Susan explains. “I realized some of those pieces would do really well. So I spoke with the designers to get photos of the clothes, posted the pictures on the website and let the customers vote on which ones we should sell.” As a result, visitors have a say in the fashion they wear. “They tell us what they want,” she says.

This is all with the intention of running a fashion business in a democratic style. “Supplying customers with the opportunities to have their voices heard is what keeps our company fresh, relevant and growing by leaps and bounds,” Susan explains. “My vision for ModCloth is to create a social commerce experience and evolve into a lifestyle company.”

Susan also believes that knowing your customer is critical to growth and success. “Figure out what problem you’re solving for your customer and see your business from their point of view,” she advises. As ModCloth’s target demographic and psychographic, Susan definitely understands her client base. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that 70% of the company’s employees are females in their twenties. As a result, ModCloth’s staff is able to have very genuine conversations with customers which resonate with them and keep them coming back.

As the face of ModCloth, it stands to reason that fans know who Susan is. The first time she was recognized by a customer was six months ago in San Francisco. “I was walking in the Ferry Terminal Building and this woman said, ‘Wow! You’re Susan from ModCloth!’” she says. It was her best ModCloth moment so far.

In addition to landing at #3 on Inc. Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 last year, Susan and Eric were recently named as finalists in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs 2010. ModCloth’s apparel has appeared in Cosmopolitan, InStyle, NY Daily News, LifeStyle Weekly, Retro, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Seventeen, People en Español, Pregnancy & Newborn, Lucky, Us Weekly, Get Married, People Style Watch, and Women’s Wear Daily as well as European magazines Bilba and Envy.

What we learned from Susan: “Twenty-something entrepreneurs should not apologize for being young.”

You Gotta Believe…
“One of the biggest things we aren’t prepared for and the really high points and the very low points. As an entrepreneur, you may wake up one day thinking, “‘Oh, crap. I have no job and no income.’ You need a fierce belief you’re going to do it.”

Make it Work
“Entrepreneurship is about adapting and figuring it out. My job changes every day, as the business grows so do my functions. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger