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Q&A: The Idle Man's Oliver Tezcan talks TV ads, investment and expansion

The Industry London
29 September 2015

Launched last year to plug a gap in the "under-served" menswear market, etailer The Idle Man has just raised a further £1.25m for expansion and this week has unveiled its first TV ads. We talk to founder Oliver Tezcan.

The Idle Man already looks like a mature business with a wide range of brands, and you have just launched your own brand, but the business is only a little over a year old, how did you achieve that?

OT – I’ve been in the fashion business a long time and was in the fortunate position of having good relationships with the brands we wanted to work with. They are all pretty excited about what we  are doing so that made the process easier. In terms of own-label it’s amazing what you can source in the UK and Turkey if you know where to look..

Why was it important to you to have an own-brand offer as well?

OT – It gives us a USP in that we are creating the capsule wardrobe of styles we think makes up a modern man’s wardrobe. The fact you can only buy the collection on The Idle Man is extremely important in such a crowded space as online retail. It also helps with margin as we’re sourcing direct so brands aren’t taking a cut – this benefits the customer and us as a business.

Clearly your background is menswear and etail (Asos) but what was it that made you think there was a gap for a new menswear etailer and what sets you apart from the competition?

OT – Menswear is poorly served online. There are sites like Asos and Topman with a very young, student-focused customer base, then there are very high-end luxury sites like Mr Porter or End Clothing which are lovely, but wildly expensive and appeal to guys in a 35+ age bracket.  There’s a huge gap in between of men who have grown out of Topman, but aren’t quite ready to spend £3000 on a Brioni suit – that’s where The Idle Man comes in. The fact that most of our competitors are womenswear businesses doing a bit of menswear as an after-thought means there’s an opportunity for us to be the leading authority on accessible menswear, as it’s all we do.

Who would you describe the typical "Idle Man"? (Age, attitude, behaviour etc)

OT – 25 years old, works in a creative industry in a big city. Shares a house with mates, or just moved in with a partner for the first time. He’s wants to look cool and up to the minute, but is not a total fashionista, so appreciates a well curated resource like The Idle Man to help him look good.

Do you have international aspirations, or are you already attracting a global customer?

OT – About 20% of our revenues come from international, despite only having a UK site and doing precisely no marketing outside of the UK. This suggests the opportunity is huge, and we have taken our first steps towards launching international sites in key territories, which we hope will go live early next year. 

You appear to have invested in rich content for your site, how important is that and how do you ensure your content is read/heard? For instance, are social channels crucial to get cut-through?

OT – Our blog The Manual has a huge following all of its own, and social media channels like Facebook allow us to really focus on whom we are targeting. Our aim is to help men look good – obviously selling great clothes is the major part of this, but content on subjects such as how to wear things, hair and grooming, the heritage of the brands we sell etc are also an important part of this. 

Asos must have been the perfect training ground to do what you are doing, but what have been the biggest challenges for you and how long did it take from coming up with the concept to getting the business launched?

OT – I come from a pure product background, so the challenges came from the areas that were new to me – namely marketing, which is the lifeblood of an ecommerce company. Luckily I had a great marketing director from the off so that helped. I left Asos in January 2014, and The Idle Man went live in May 2014, so we turned it round pretty quickly..

How did you get your first round of investment and what advice would you give anyone trying to secure theirs?

OT – Just using my own network to speak to people who had either raised investment themselves or were investors. Initially I agreed angel investment through family connections, but then had a conversation with a friend who works for an institutional investor, and they were keen to get involved from the off so were pretty fortunate to be well funded in the first instance. For anyone trying to raise investment the single most important thing they can do is prove their concept in some small way before seeking finance. This is not easy, and in some cases impossible, but if you can do it not only will raising money be far easier, but you will also be able to negotiate much harder than if all you have is a paper business plan.

You went on Dragon's Den and were unable to strike a deal due to the Dragon's (Touker Souleyman) equity demands, what did you learn from that experience?

OT – That Dragon’s Den is the cheapest nationwide TV ad you will ever get.

Of course you went on to raise over £1.25m in funds from your previous investor and some new ones, which was a lot more than you pitched for on Dragon's Den, how will that be used to transform your business?

OT- Marketing and stock. These are the pillars on which our business is built. Otherwise we are a very lean organisation: a small, high quality head office team backed by an outsourced logistics operation.

We've read that you are searching for retail sites, is that right? If so where are you looking and what can we expect from The Idle Man retail experience? 

OT – I would say we are passively searching for a physical space. It’s not essential to our growth, but if the right opportunity came along we would create a space that was part shop, part studio, part social space that would embody The Idle Man brand.

You're just about to launch your first TV ad. That is quite a radical move for an online business, we would expect a very targeted digital marketing approach. Tell us about the ad's concept, where and when it will be aired and why you feel that channel is right for you?

OT – We are sponsoring 4music for 3 months in the run-up tour Christmas peak. The target audience of the channel is spot-on for us and the ad is simple, but effective: it shows real guys each in over 20 outfits created from just a few key items, so illustrating how a well curated core wardrobe can see a man through all life’s eventualities (shown above). TV is an unusual channel for an online business, but we want to focus on the passive male shopper. The guy who is Googling clothing terms, and following online male fashion blogs will come across us anyway because we’re in his world . Instead we wanted to hit the guy who wasn’t necessarily searching for better clothes, but once he discovers The Idle Man will not believe he ever lived without it.

Go behind the scenes to see the making of the ads below.

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