Everybody knows that Victoria’s Secret is one of the top clothing brands in the world. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know the story of how it got to where it is. It’s a tale befitting of a fascinating book or a movie. A tale full of tragedy, lost opportunities, and riches-to-rags. This tale also contains valuable lessons for aspiring and current entrepreneurs.
1. What Do People Want?
In the 1970s, Roy Raymond walked into a department store to buy lingerie for his wife. The saleswomen were disgusted with his presence, and he felt uncomfortable under their scrutiny. Also, the store sold some very tacky nightgowns. Seeing that most men have the same problem, Roy decided to open a shop that men wouldn’t be ashamed to enter.
At the time, underwear was little more than plain clothes. Lingerie was something that was saved for special occasions such as honeymoons. Roy’s plan to make men comfortable in his store, was to sell lingerie.
I’m just curious, have you ever noticed how many companies and inventions were made when the creator had a problem? General Motors was born when William C. Durant heard the public demand for safe automobiles. A wounded veteran, John Pemberton, created a medical tonic from coca leaves and kola nuts to fight his addiction to morphine. William E. Boeing crashed a seaplane, and when he was told that it would take months to get replacement parts, he built his own — and better — plane in that amount of time.
The more you know!
So here’s a tip for aspiring entrepreneurs: find a common problem that few to no one else is solving, and solve it. You never know; that problem you’re complaining about right now might lead you to your own multi-billion dollar corporation.
2. Know Your Target Audience
In 1977, the first Victoria’s Secret store was opened. The catalog soon marketed his business throughout the country, putting sales through the roof. Roy did achieve his goal of making a store where men wouldn’t be embarrassed to shop. The bad news is, this plan backfired. Ironically, the women were now embarrassed to buy the clothes, as they were too sexual. Within 5 years, the company was heading for bankruptcy.
The tricky thing about marketing something that you don’t personally use, is that there’s only so much you can know about the people who do use it. So it’s a good idea to get opinions and ideas from your target audience. If you’re a woman selling men’s clothes, consult with men and find out what they want. If you’re selling toys, talk to some kids and find out what they like.
3. Don’t Sell Your Ideas (Yet)
In the 80s, Victoria’s Secret had a visitor by the name of Leslie Wexner. Leslie saw potential in the store, as he owned a clothing store of his own that sold women’s sportswear at a time when women were trading dresses for a variety of outfits. No other American store was making lingerie into a casual choice of clothing. He also saw the flaw in Roy’s business model.
In 1982, Leslie bought Victoria’s Secret, the catalog, and all five branches, for $1 million. From there, he studied European lingerie shops, as the women in Europe saw lingerie as an everyday essential. He knew that American women would be glad to wear the same affordable, sexy clothes. Victoria’s Secret stores were already giving the vibe of class and glamour associated with the Victorian era. Wexner wanted to combine that sense of luxury with affordable prices and clothes that appealed to the people who would actually wear them.
By 1995, Victoria’s Secret was worth $1.9 billion, and had 670 stores worldwide. Two years prior, Roy Raymond jumped off the Golden State Bridge.
Leslie took the advice in lesson 2, in that he studied his target audience. He made some simple tweaks to what Roy was already doing, and took it from near-bankruptcy in the 80s, to earning about $5 billion per year today. Napoleon Hill said that “Every mind needs friendly contact with other minds, for food of expansion and growth.” Victoria’s Secret probably could have gone further if Roy and Leslie formed a partnership. Heck, Roy likely wouldn’t have taken his own life.
You may want to especially keep this part of the story in mind. Rather than sell your idea or company, why not negotiate a partnership with the potential buyer(s)? Those people may be the key associates that not only lift your ideas off the ground, but bring them to the top. No matter how bleak things look, never give someone the opportunity to run away with your ideas!
Make a nice day!