No longer do men need to play hide-and-seek when scoping out the underwear department. Thanks to Robert Clark, men can purchase their undergarments without blushing, whether they are searching for long, short, tight, loose, satin, cotton, or barely-there.
In 2000, Clark found himself two credits shy of graduating with a business information technology degree from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. To earn those credits, he convinced a professor to provide him a project; he was assigned to design a 50 page business plan. Clark wanted to entertain himself in the process, so he developed Skiviez, an online retailer of men’s underwear.
"When I was in school, I thought I would do what everybody else was doing, just sitting behind a computer all day and programming," Clark says, "but the more I worked on [the business plan] I thought, ‘This just might work.’"
Today, Skiviez, www.skiviez.com, is a thriving online business that serves international buyers from as far away as Japan, markets top designer brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Champion, and Calvin Klein and is growing at a rate of 85% per month. In the summer of 2004, Clark also opened his first brick-and-mortar retail store in Blacksburg.
However, Skiviez‘s beginnings were not so smooth. Clark did everything from advertising to management to accounting to custodial duties. He borrowed $50,000 to cover expenses but came up dry within six months. Clark even moved Skiviez‘s headquarters to his parents’ basement.
"At that point I thought the whole thing was stupid and would never make money," he says.
For more than two years, Clark pestered designer names like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger to market their products with Skiviez. Eventually, those brands accepted, and the business received its competitive edge.
Today, the company averages 30 to 40 online sales per day, with an average order of $70. Clark expects Skiviez‘s 2005 revenues to hit just under $1 million. Skiviez‘s international fan base boost those numbers, with Japan and the United Kingdom being his most loyal customers.
"We are growing so fast, we beat December  sales in March , which we beat again in April, which we totally annihilated in June," says Clark, laughing.
Skiviez is geared towards men who desire high-quality comfort with the bonus of anonymous shopping. Clark, once shy himself, unabashedly discusses the soft fabrics, well-stitched waistbands and "extra features" of the products he sells.
"What we find is, someone will buy one thing, like it, and come back and buy ten more," Clark says. "We want customers to have a good shopping experience. We ship fast and are the only place [online] that sells [primarily] underwear and lets customers give feedback."
Customer feedback is helping launch big dreams for Skiviez‘s future. Clark plans to add a large warehouse for stock, open additional retail stores, and then, sometime in the next five to ten years, sell to an investment group.
"My goal is to sell [Skiviez] for as much money as I can and then do nothing," he says, only half joking.
Until workless bliss, the young entrepreneur aims high. "We only want high-scale merchandise," he says. Italian designer Versace is top on his list. Clark expects cheaper brands will slowly fade from Skiviez. Still, he admits many high-quality items lie in the reasonable $18-to-$30 range. His top three sellers–C-IN2, 2(x)-ist, and Calvin Klein–range in price from $10 up to $35.
Also, Clark finds new designers regularly come to him to market fashions, but he is not easily convinced. "The hot trend now is starting your own underwear line, but even if you have a great pair of underwear, you need a great box to put it in and great marketing."
Meanwhile, Skiviez‘s own name-brand is undergoing a makeover and will be re-introduced in 2006 with "very interesting features" designed by Clark. (For now, those features are secret). So, what is Clark’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? He stresses that understanding costs, networking, and building a strong base for any new business is key.
"Figure out exactly what your competition is doing, look every single place they are advertising and then do exactly what they are doing," he says. "I have found figuring out what our competition is doing and using similar advertising has [created] more business than me going out on my own."
Now, though the days of struggle are not far behind, Clark appreciates that experience and looks optimistically into the future. "The bullet point thing I can tell someone is never give up," he says. "Once you are in it, you can’t get out and give up without trying everything."
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