MYSTIC — A mostly-online, Westerly-based apparel business committed to saving elephants has opened its flagship brick-and-mortar store in downtown Mystic, and the customers, known as “The Herd,” are coming in droves.
Ivory Ella’s new retail shop, which had its soft opening just before Black Friday in 2017 and its grand opening on June 16, is located at 40 West Main St.
“Since this is our first store, we wanted to just jump in slow and see how it went,” said Matt Fiano, 40, one of six co-founders of the company, which was started in the basement of his Waterford home in April 2015.
The brand launched online at midnight on April 18, 2015, with its first batch of 500 T-shirts sporting an original elephant design. The shirts sold out in 17 minutes. Within a week the company had 7,000 orders, quickly outgrowing Fiano’s basement. After several location changes, the company settled into a 45,000-square-foot warehouse space in Westerly in August 2016 and has grown to more than 50 employees.
Up until the opening of its retail location, the brand’s customer base was built through social media, college campus “ambassadors” and placement in about 50 boutiques and some larger retailers such as Lord & Taylor.
The brand’s fan base will drive for miles to touch and feel the product, said Fiano.
“People have come from New Hampshire, Western Mass., New Jersey,” he said. “Last summer we did our first warehouse sale in Westerly and we had people come from crazy places — one woman drove from Indiana and another drove from Virginia. I’m always amazed that people come that far.”
Store manager Lauren Lucia, 19, of Pawcatuck, said customers who normally interact with the brand online get excited about seeing the product.
“We have a lot of kids whose faces light up when they see the merchandise because they actually have it in front of them instead of looking at it through a screen,” she said.
Lucia, who started in the shipping department during the holidays in 2016, has taken on multiple roles at the company because of her experience as a social media influencer.
“They found out about my Instagram page. I’m a big influencer on Instagram ... I have 139,000 followers. I started doing makeup videos and it went viral from there,” she said. “I realized they needed to branch out in social media, providing shirts to influencers to promote the brand.”
Besides working in the store, she will be doing weekly segments on Instagram about the new Ivory Ella products.
“It will be what we’ve got in the store, inventory, sales going on, updates,” she said.
Social media will continue to be the company’s major marketing vehicle, Fiano said.
“Across social channels, we have about 2.5 million followers,” he said, referring to company’s total followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and others.
Social media marketing is changing the face of advertising, he said.
“This is ‘traditional’ advertising now,” Fiano said. “That’s the difference for our customer, that’s where they’re at. They’re not looking at the newspaper, barely they’re on the radio, they’re connected digitally.”
Social media is also how the company’s co-founders met, he said.
“I was a business teacher at Montville High School and I met all of my co-founders on Twitter, where as a side business I learned how to build social media followings,” he said.
Collecting data on who your customers are and where they’re going in the future is one of the biggest benefits of using social media data for finding and keeping customers, Fiano said.
“In order to evolve these days and scale your business, you really have to be in touch with who your customer is and what they’re looking for and what they want to be next, and I think that’s what we’re hoping, is that we’ve picked up a customer for life,” he said. “So you’re going to have to change with them as their life changes.”
The retail store will provide another set of valuable data as the company grows, he said.
“As we expand our wholesale and retail, we want information about what people like in the store. There are things that sell much better in the store than online and vice versa,” said Fiano. “As we expand our footprint, we want areas to be able collect data from. Up to this point we were 95 percent a direct-to-consumer business with a small percentage of wholesale/retail, but we’re shifting a little bit of that because it’s an area of opportunity and an area of growth.”
More “eyes on the brand” will also translate into more money the company can donate, he said.
“To date, we’ve donated a little over $1 million to savetheelephants.org and $1.6 million total, which includes other charitable causes such as childhood cancer, homes for our troops, breast cancer research, American Heart Association,” he said. “The more people see the brand, the more they come back to the website, the more money we’re able to raise and donate. It all kind of works together.”
And as the company grows, Fiano said, the original mission holds fast.
“Our goals are to continue to support elephant conservation and continue to give back and put positive vibes out into the world,” he said.