Startup Success Story: The Trunk Club

Startup Success Story: The Trunk Club

Monday, October 29th, 2007

It’s called The Trunk Club.
It’s a great example of how market, identity, and focus come together
to build new businesses that combine new ideas with old-fashioned
serving the customer. It’s also a personal favorite because it’s the
brainchild of one of my former students.

Three years ago Joanna Van Vleck was a student at the University of
Oregon who wanted to build her own personal shopping business. Now she
and partner Brie Chapman have built a successful business in Bend,
Oregon and are looking to expand nationally.

I summarized the market-identity-focus trio as the Heart of a Business on Planning Startups Stories.

  • The market is about what people want, or need, who they are, why they want or need it, and how to reach them.
  • The identity is about who you are, your business, what you want, what you’re good at.
  • The focus is how you bring these elements together,
    differentiating, positioning, combining your market focus with your
    business offering focus with your strengths. 


The Trunk Club is a good example of how these three come together in a real business. You can’t really separate them.


Joanna arrived in my class a few years ago wanting to build a
personal shopper business. She developed a business plan for that
business. She had worked at Nordstrom while studying, she knew the
market, she knew she liked style and wanted her own business. I don’t
know Brie, but I do know Joanna is doing what she’s always been good at
and always liked doing. I also know that she’s young, personable, very
self confident, and very determined.


Joanna and Brie discovered their target market was men, particularly
men 35 and older who value service more than low prices. These men were
far more likely to want the service of shopping instead of doing it

Then came an important "Aha! moment:" relatively few men identify
with the phrases "personal shopping" or "personal shopper." "But men
join clubs," Joanna told me on the phone this month. "they join golf
clubs, athletic clubs, cigar clubs and hunting clubs." So the Trunk
Club was born.


Focus is magic. Once Joanna and Brie realized they were offering
personal shopping services to a high-end older male target market, then
the business offering and the marketing followed. The Trunk Club has
members who pay annual dues. They get sized and customized with what
they like. Then they call and ask for whatever — new suits, new casual,
new khakis, new cargo pants, whatever — and the Trunk Club delivers.

The Rest of the Story

The business model is pure gold. The target customer doesn’t want to
go shopping and is happy to get new things delivered, so The Trunk Club
doesn’t need or want a retail location or — more important — the
investment and working capital and fixed costs implications of a retail
location. In the meantime, though, there’s enough business volume to
land business relationships with several of the more stylish and
desirable clothing brand names and major distributors, so the member
gets what he wants, major brands and great styles, without the effort.
And The Trunk Club can make the same margin as the retail boutiques,
but without the overhead; and members get the same stuff for no more
than they’d pay in the store.

Joanna and Brie started in Bend, which is also one of the fastest
growing and most new-business-friendly cities in Oregon, with a view of
Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters Wilderness; a great place to live.
Their flagship Trunk Club has been operating for a while now and has 85
members. Having proven the model, they’re now looking for capital to
expand quickly into a selection of major markets: Portland and Dallas
now, others very soon.

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on Monday, October 29th, 2007 at 4:45 am and is filed under startup stories.
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