Very few women can say they gave birth to their baby while sifting through the racks at a maternity shop. Shannon DiPadova is one of them. In 2003, frustrated by a futile search for clothing that made her look fashionable, not frumpy, DiPadova was struck by a sudden realization. It was time.
Time to take matters into her own hands, that is. It was there, in the middle of a Santa Monica store, that Due Maternity was born. Needless to say, DiPadova didn’t find the dress she was looking for, but she didn’t come back empty-handed either. She returned home to San Francisco carrying something that would profoundly change her life – a brilliant idea. Now three years old and growing bigger by the day, DiPadova’s online store and wildly popular collection of maternity wear boutiques has matured into a multi-million dollar endeavor.
While the idea that spawned this baby boom came easily to DiPadova, determining how to announce the new arrival was a bit more involved. While marketing is important in all businesses, it’s especially critical to those who sell maternity clothing, given the specific – and temporary – nature of their clientele.
“Our customer has a really short lifespan,” DiPadova explained. “They start buying three months in and drop off seven months in, so we have to continually build the community side of the website and find a new audience in a way we wouldn’t with regular emails.”
Eager to find marketing tools that would aid in customer retention as well as the customer acquisition required to deal with inevitable turnover in the customer base, DiPadova turned to the Web for answers. After evaluating email marketing providers from across North America, DiPadova landed on VerticalResponse, an industry leader based just a few miles from their San Francisco home. What caught DiPadova’s eye was the simplicity of a solution that satisfied her aesthetic sensibilities without testing her technical acumen.
“Originally we just did a web search and looked at all the competing services,” DiPadova recalled. “What it came down to was how easy it was to setup and manage the VerticalResponse interface – it was like an Apple interface - and it was so simple to get the campaigns up and running. There was just no barrier for us.”
Selecting VerticalResponse was one of DiPadova’s earliest business decisions. When Due Maternity started mailing with VerticalResponse in the fourth quarter of 2003, the company was less than six months old. Since then, Due Maternity has blossomed to the point where it operates stores in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Austin and Atlanta in addition to a well-trafficked online retail site where visitors can shop by designer, department or clothing category, such as dresses or active wear.
“Initially, we were just using these basic templates, which are fantastic for a novice, which is what I was at the time. As I learned more and more about the web and learned how to create an HTML email, I brought HTML email into the custom template. Now we’re seeing our email outreach become more sophisticated because we’re using referring URLs which allow us to track what part of a campaign they’re clicking on and what offers are the most effective.”
It’s clear that the offers strike a chord. Due Maternity plans to open at least two stores a year for the next five years and the once-a-week mailings the company sends its audience have played an important role in driving that growth.
“The response is fantastic,” DiPadova noted. “I can count on a 1 percent to 3 percent conversion rate for our email outreach. That’s a solid ROI for the money spent.”
As Due Maternity has grown, the scope of the company’s email campaigns has expanded as well. Where DiPadova once viewed email merely as a revenue generation tool, he now sees it as part of a broader strategy to reinforce and promote the Due Maternity brand.
“The national brand is about getting the big message out. Originally we were announcing big sales and needed ROI. Now it’s more of a branding mechanism and it’s not so much about how many dollars we can bring in because, ultimately, we’re building a community.”
The community section of the Due Maternity website has become one of its most popular attractions. Visitors flock to the site to research baby names, order custom announcements, access “Due-O-Matic” calculators and listen to maternity-themed podcasts. Soon, they’ll be able to order baby prints, upload and customize photos and share videos.
Due Maternity fans are apprised of updates to the site and receive helpful tips and advice by virtue of the weekly newsletter. DiPadova also segments the lists so members who live in areas with a Due Maternity boutique receive offers and information relevant to their local store.
“The great thing about VerticalResponse is how we can automate the segmentation of the lists,” DiPadova explained. “Our three big markets are California, New York and Florida, and we do target in Atlanta and Austin to keep those messages specific to what their stores are doing so as not to step on our partners’ feet. What’s nice about segmentation is that we can send email to Texas and not worry that our partners are going to be upset that we’re offering a sale online.”
Due Maternity does more than $2 million a year in online sales alone and the profits from that business enabled them to open their latest boutique in San Francisco last fall. Driven by a desire to go wherever motherhood and style aren’t mutually exclusive, Due Maternity will continue to rely on VerticalResponse to help Fashionable Mothers of the World unite.
“It’s critical that we reach out to our customers and email is a big building block, if you don’t have it you won’t get the results you need,” DiPadova said. “There’s email and viral marketing as well as communities and you can’t just do any one of them, you’ve got to do them all, all the time. I feel like without VerticalResponse and that competence, we wouldn’t be as successful.”