Entrepreneurs can wear blinders. Laser-focused on their business, oblivious to the world, they forge on, driven by their original vision.
That sort of determination is necessary for success, but it can backfire if it blinds entrepreneurs to new realities, ones defined by their customers. Take Shawn Boyer, for example. He thought his company, Anatomie, made high-end women’s activewear.
His customers told him otherwise. And, because he listened to them, Anatomie is one of the fastest-growing clothing firms in Miami’s fashion and design industry.
“It was the best possible thing we could have done,” he said of the pivot.
A good fit
Shawn, 47, began designing clothes because he couldn’t find any that fit. A competitive bodybuilder and student at the University of Akron, he taught himself to sew shirts and then began making them for friends. He met Jim Chones, the 6’ 11” center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who asked if he could make him pants.
That led to tailoring for other NBA players and the Harlem Globetrotters in addition to bodybuilders. He had studied marketing and communications, but decided to pursue a career as a fashion designer.
He moved to New York and then Miami, working as a freelance designer for several companies. A friend invited him to visit a clothing factory in Montpelier, France, to check the fabrics. There he met, Kate Posztos, a former gymnast and MBA student from Hungary. Like Shawn, she had begun designing clothes (in this case for a girls aerobics team) when she couldn’t find any she liked.
He began working for her and then, as Shawn put it, “business turned into monkey business.” They married; she moved to Miami and, after doing some private label work, they started Anatomie in 2005. Kate is CEO; Shawn is creative director.
Anatomie began as high-end workout gear, but that’s a crowded sector dominated by inexpensive brands. Because it made its clothes in Europe from expensive fabrics, Anatomie did not compete in the mass market. Then the Boyers began hearing from customers that their $200 pants and $300 jackets were ideal for traveling: lightweight, comfortable, stylish and low-maintenance.
“A lot of times companies think they’re one thing, but their customer thinks they’re something else. And they don’t pay attention. And we couldn’t afford to not pay attention because we’re self-financed and every customer matters,” said Shawn.
So Anatomie pivoted.
Today, it has collections devoted to yachting and safaris and a blog that discusses the best way to pack travel shoes.
The clothing is classic and simple, body-conscious without being revealing or trending too young. Anatomie’s target customer is aged 35 to 65, wealthy, sophisticated and a regular traveler, often with two or more homes where she keeps wardrobes.
“They’re active,” Shawn said. “They’re grandmas, but they work out every day, they eat right and they want to look good. They’re defying all laws of gravity.”
“Our goal is to be the world leader in designer travel wear. I think it’s the right product, the right time. So my goal is to blow it up,” Shawn said. “Blow it up.”
Following the customer
Anatomie’s customers don’t stay in one place so neither does the company.
“We follow them like the lions follow the wildebeest,” Shawn said. “Wherever they go, we go.”
In addition to its Miami headquarters, Anatomie has showrooms in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Milan and a summer pop-up in the Hamptons. It sells online and in roughly 400 specialty stores, many of them at exclusive country clubs, spas and resorts, like Canyon Ranch. It also holds trunk shows at high society events such as the Jackson Hole Wine Auction and the Hampton Classic Horse Show.
It partners with NetJets, the fractional private jet ownership company, to offer $1,000 gift cards to new customers, a gamble that they would like the clothing and become regular buyers.
“When somebody can afford a million-dollar jet, that automatically puts them in our target customer zone. It’s a strategy for customer acquisitions,” said Shawn, who called the campaign a success. Anatomie also provides freebies through Virtuoso, an elite travel agency.
The company acts as more than a retailer. Through its blog and the attentions of its at-large sales representatives and stylists, Anatomie is a travel wardrobe counselor, telling women what they should wear at Lake Como in May and the best outfits to pack for St. Barts in January.
“We’re really able to give them a lot of TLC, which, when you’re a small company, is the only competitive advantage,” Shawn said.
Word of mouth
The company relies upon word-of-mouth advertising, a conversation that begins, as likely as not, with one woman complimenting another on her outfit.
Shawn recalls one customer, the wife of a St. Louis executive: “She goes to play bridge and then I get a phone call from her that three of the ladies at bridge want the same outfit that she’s wearing. She sold $5,000 worth of stuff for me, playing bridge. Our customers are our spokesmodels. And these are ladies whose opinion you cannot buy. You have to earn their trust first and then they spread the word.”
Arlyn Miller, general counsel for a large beverage distributor in New York City, has been an Anatomie customer for three years, ever since asking a woman in her Barre exercise class about her pants. The 50-year-old just returned from a trip to Miami where she bought 30 new pieces. The girlfriend she brought along also filled some shopping bags.
“I know quality when I see it and I’m not afraid to spend money,” she said. “Their clothes are an amazing price and the quality is out of this world.”
Sweet home Miami
Though much of the selling happens on the road, Miami makes sense as a company headquarters because its customers gravitate to southern Florida in the winter, Kate said. And Anatomie and Miami share the same worldly, sophisticated vibe.
“The city has a sex appeal and a beauty culture that are successful here,” she said.
However, the couple said it hasn’t been easy to find the talented designers they need locally and that Anatomie has recruited from Europe. “Any time you go to a sunny state people don’t care to work too hard,” Kate said.
However, Miami’s fashion industry is growing, she added: “There’s a modern design scene that wasn’t here when I moved here eight years ago.”
Anatomie will do $3.5 million in sales this year, Boyer predicted, up from a little over $2 million in 2013. It has 14 employees and about 45 independent sales reps concentrated in the wealthiest regions of the country. But the Boyers are not content.
The company, which recently completed a brand strategy review, is looking for outside investors to accelerate that growth. The ranks of the ultra-wealthy are growing and they’re going to need clothes to wear. Right now, Anatomie is eyeing Asia, a growing luxury market. Shawn also said he plans to return to menswear, where he got his start.
“I think that we learn as we go,” Shawn said. “The past successes and failures, all that leads up to putting this company on track and we’re in a position to grow. Everything is relevant for moving forward.”