Behind the Scenes at Eden In Love's Online Launch

How a local boutique opened its online store while competing in a national contest

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Bryson and Tanna Dang, owners of the clothing boutique Eden In Love.

 

Photo: Greg Yamamoto

Tanna and Bryson Dang operate a popular women’s clothing boutique called Eden in Love at Ward Warehouse, and have been planning for a year to sell products online. Their site, edeninlove.com, was set to go live on Sunday, April 22, the same day as their bricks-and-mortar store held a big birthday sale.

If that wasn’t enough to keep the 30-something entrepreneurs busy, their video was at the same time one of 10 finalists in the National Retail Federation’s online video contest, “This Is Retail.” The video highlights the many contributions made to local nonprofits by the store, its owners and their staff. The contest’s grand prize: $25,000. (See the video on YouTube.)

The Dangs allowed Hawaii Business behind-the-scenes access to the preparations and pandemonium during the hectic week leading to their online launch and, later, to the video contest’s finals. Interspersed with the Dangs’ story is the broader story of how online retail is forcing shopkeepers across Hawaii to change the way they do business.

Monday, April 16, 3:30 p.m.: Nine people jam the 15-by-40-foot Eden in Love warehouse space on the floor above their Ward Warehouse store, feverishly unloading 15 giant cardboard shipping boxes. In semi-controlled chaos over the next eight hours, 3,000 clothing items need to be hung, sorted, priced, steamed and styled in preparation for the company’s next huge step: going live online to sell to the world.

“It’s a new frontier. … It’s scary,” admits Bryson Dang, hunched in a corner of the warehouse, punching an endless list of prices, access codes and descriptions into the computer so the printer can spit out sticky labels for every dress, skirt, camisole, blouse, belt, scarf and pair of shoes.

Online retail sales in America topped $35 billion for the 2011 holiday shopping season, 15 percent higher than a year earlier. Even with that growth potential, it’s an expensive and risky gamble for a small, two-year-old Hawaii company to launch an online sales site. Only 9 percent of retail sales locally and 7 percent nationally occur online now, though the amounts grow each year. That growth is what the Dangs are banking on to expand beyond their bricks-and-mortar space.

Many Hawaii retailers have already taken the leap into cyberspace sales. According to the latest BOSS survey, 53 percent of Hawaii retailers say they have a site offering products for sale online. On average, “these retailers say their customers are about 56 percent from Hawaii, 33 percent from the mainland and 11 percent from other areas,” says Barbara Ankersmit, president of Qmark Research, which conducts the BOSS survey for Hawaii Business.

Monday, 4:30 p.m.: “We’ve been hesitant (to go online) because of needing to double the inventory and double the staff,” admits Tanna Dang, the driving force behind Eden in Love. The store is a spin-off of their first shop, The Wedding Café, and the name is meant to suggest a Garden of Eden paradise for shoppers. The next step is to take Eden online.

“They’ve got to try it,” says her dad, Steve Takekawa, a retired photo equipment salesman, who shakes his head at the speed of contemporary commerce and the challenges faced by his daughter.

“It’s the next phase,” he says. “… It’s something my generation doesn’t quite understand and so we watch the kids. A new generation is taking over.”

Photo: Courtesy Tanna Dang

Monday, 5:30 p.m.: Tanna’s sister, Tessa Gomes, Eden’s general manager, has been nibbling at the fried rice she bought for lunch, but most of the food is still in the takeout box and has long since gone cold. There’s no time to eat now.

At the far end of this skinny warehouse room, Tessa’s face turns a little dismayed as she opens a box of neon pink, green and blue slouchy shirts. It was one of Bryson’s occasional buys and, while neon is huge on the mainland, she knows Hawaii customers are more conservative.

Nearby is another box, this one with scarves in soft grey and cream, or grey mixed with electric orange and pink. Tessa nods, imagining them against the neon. Yes, it will work. And it will be something that online customers now living far from Hawaii will appreciate.

With a week to go, the Paypal account is still being finalized so customers can pay online, flat-rate postal boxes are being collected and item descriptions are being written. Tanna is also pondering which fashions stay in the store downstairs and which go global. Just pricing the latest order will keep more than half the staff of 19 working until midnight tonight.

It’s been a year of this kind of detailed planning: Not just for the right mix of fashion, but figuring out supplies needed for a demand they can only imagine. They need not only the New Age skills of building a sales website and marketing it, they also have to create systems for packing, wrapping and shipping.

Marketing on Facebook is huge for us. … At least 30 percent of our sales in a day (at the store) are driven by Facebook,” says Tanna. “And when we do a ‘Like’ promotion on Facebook – putting items on sale for 50 percent off if we have 150 ‘Likes’ or more – it drives 90 percent of our sales.”

But the store’s Facebook page is only for marketing; it can’t handle online sales. Until now, the Dangs could only handle off-site orders individually from an email or a phone call, with the clothes to be picked up by a mother or cousin for forwarding to the customer. With each order, marketing manager Michelle Fujii or designer Jillian Parel had to dart through the shop to find and bag the requested items, then hang them on hooks lining the staircase. Not exactly cutting-edge retail.

Monday, 6 p.m.: “For online, sizing needs to be easy,” Tanna says, tugging a rolling rack of soft, swishing dresses out of the way so boxes can be stacked and handbags hung on other racks. “It always has to be easy to fit for the customer who isn’t here and can’t try it on.”

She pauses. What if the 700 items she has pulled for online sales go in the first day? The shop’s Facebook page already has 8,000 fans and counting, and gets hundreds of hits daily. Items featured on the page sell out inside the store in a few hours.

“We may be on an airplane to L.A. two days later to do another buy,” muses Tanna. “Bryson said last night, ‘We better start looking at flights,’ and I said, ‘Don’t be crazy.’ ”

Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.: Four mannequins in various stages of undress await the deft work of sales associate Cara Kuramoto. She slips colorful dresses over their headless torsos, clips the backs with wooden clothespins and pulls them into position to be photographed.

The “merch” shoot needs at least 24 shots of items going up for the online launch. Photographer Michael McDermott adjusts the large, white, circular light reflector and bends in close as designer Jillian stands at a nearby laptop, typing descriptions as fast as she can, queuing them up for Facebook and edeninlove.com.

“Keep it simple,” advises Tanna. “Just with a belt.”

Wednesday, noon: In anticipation of Sunday’s birthday party sale, 35 orders come in by email. That’s just in the first hour this morning. “Please call me,” some customers ask. At Eden in Love, someone always does. Today, it’s Bryson making all the calls.

“We’re already packing, taping and ready to ship 800 dresses we’re giving away (as part of the video promotion),” says Tanna. “It was like a post office here last night.”

Sunday, 7:30 a.m.: Tanna’s father struggles in the Ward Warehouse parking lot to erect two tents borrowed from his sister, as marketing manager Michelle and several volunteers blow up 150 balloons. Three University of Hawaii student workers move racks of clothing onto the sidewalk, shaded by a deep overhang. Cars slow down, as drivers peer at the hubbub and the gathering crowd.

Sunday, 8:30 a.m.: The line has already formed, and gets longer by the minute. By 10, it snakes down the sidewalk and around the corner, with more than 100 shoppers. Half a dozen have babies, toddlers or significant others in tow.

Nursing student Kelsey Yamane has brought her mother as the clothing holder while she shops, standing on the sidewalk as she pulls tops and dresses over her head for her mom’s opinion. Courtney Fujieki and Kimi Andrew are two others in the throng of women trying on items. Kimi already knows she’ll be “mostly” using the new online store, as does Courtney. “If they have online, I would definitely do that if I can’t come down here,” Courtney says.

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