An Interview with a growing online retail customer ‘Alterego Fancy Dress’.

Earlier this week, we caught up with one of our eCommerce Fulfillment customers to report on their journey so far. We interviewed Andy Dodds from ‘Alterego Fancy dress’ to find out how the founding foursome developed their exciting company.

The online shop specialises in high quality fancy dress costumes from sizes small to XXXL.

Fittingly named Alterego, the team lead double lives themselves running the business between adventures sailing in Antarctica, upholding day jobs and sourcing suppliers/new markets around the world. The company was formed by couples Sarah & Andy and Lindsay & Tom who are looking forward to visiting Moscow next July as part of the business growth plans.

What’s the background, how did it all start?

Back in 2007 best friends Lindsay and Sarah started selling end of line designer clothing through ebay as a hobby when Sarah became ill and “had to leave her full time employment and was looking for something to fill the void.”  So the seeds of the business were planted amongst “G&T and Daytime TV”. They began to see the potential in developing the project but this “had no longevity or structure”. When Andy retired, both he and Tom were recruited and the team began sourcing and selling fancy dress gear instead of fashion.

“It’s been a steep learning curve”, initially we got our hands on some budget stock in the UK but soon realised there was a high return rate due to the poor quality, “the denier of the cloth was thin and looked nasty”. On a quest for high-end costumes, they travelled to the USA where this brazen quartet marched into a handful of suppliers to try their hand at negotiating some quality stock. Since this successful trip, they’ve nurtured those relationships with the suppliers and are now the only UK stockist for ‘Charades’ costumes which are “near theatre quality".

Do you have a personal favourite costume?

“Our favourite costume by a country mile is the iconic Big Frank”. Frank retails at £47.99 and is a big hit for the Halloween Season. “Our Medieval costumes, 20’s, 50’s and Plus Size costumes are also best-sellers.”

Why did you decide to outsource your fulfilment?

Alterego’s growth was getting overwhelming, they’d reached a tipping point and had fancy dress costumes coming out of their ears. “We had stock stored in 2 houses, 3 sheds, a loft, a garage, 2 spare rooms, 2 external lockups and a marquee on lawn” it was physically spilling into their everyday lives so much that it was becoming “difficult to see the TV”. Andy and his wife Sarah spend 3 months of the year as crew members on a tall ship to Antarctica and on their voyage they saw a fellow crew member make a phone call every morning at the same time on a satellite phone, after repeatedly observing this pattern over his morning coffee, he finally asked the man who he was calling every morning. As it transpired, he was a business owner overseeing the management remotely via satellite phone. He was able to run his business in this way because he outsourced everything which meant he was able to act as the control tower from any location in the world, providing he had access to a satellite phone. This conversation inspired them to seek a fulfilment company to take over the storage, picking, packing and shipping, so they could restore the work/life balance. The transition to outsource was logical, “80% of the girls time was spent picking packing and dispatching. Now we can look at the business in a completely different light and get the fun back in our lives”.

How did you meet TSB Supply Chain?

“We first met Graham at the eCommerce expo back in October at Olympia in London, He was standing there with his hands in his pockets and we thought we’d give him something to do”. 6 weeks later and Alterego’s stock was rescued from all the nooks and crannies and transferred to our Fulfillment centre in Telford.

How did you find the transition?

The transition to outsourcing their fulfilment was logical, but “there’s no denying it was a difficult step for us.” For best friends Lindsay and Sarah, the transition was a bit like “tearing a teddy bear from a child’s arms, but was it the right decision? 150% yes. For what it costs to outsource, it buys you so much time.” Andy wonders why more companies don’t do it. “It was all or nothing. It takes courage but we’d absolutely recommend doing it, it’s a common sense thing to do.”

What does the future of the business look like now?

Alterego are now able to focus on marketing the business. They’re launching a brand new website and ebay store design in a fortnight as well as a new logo to freshen up the shopfront. “Ebay is still a huge channel for us, we sell around 17000 items a year through ebay”. They already deliver throughout Europe and are going to focus on expanding this market coverage to sell to more countries. “We’ve developed a very productive business, and are extremely proud of building the company from nothing to a revenue of around a third of a million turnover.” Alterego have supplied costumes to Strictly Come Dancing, Emmerdale and Coronation Street and are enjoying spending time investing in the growth of the business with the work, life balance restored.

Pictured: 'The Europa' for adventures in Antarctica.
Pictured: 'The Europa' for adventures in Antarctica.

Written by Monk Chipman