Personal styling services in fashion aren’t new. But entrepreneur Tamir Buchler believes he has found an untapped market with sneakers.
Buchler’s latest venture is Kicksnation, a service that sends you a curated selection of sneakers that are personalized to the subscriber’s tastes, with a focus on lifestyle and athletic looks. The service, which launched in June 2020, operates in a few simple steps: customers take a quiz, then three pairs of sneakers are curated using data and artificial intelligence and shipped out, and you only pay for the pairs kept.
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With Kicksnation, Buchler — the company’s co-founder who serves as CEO — believes an industry-wide problem could be solved: overwhelming consumers with options.
“The marketplace is flooded. There’s just so much out there,” Buchler told FN. “You might walk into your local boutique or footwear retailer, and that place is curated a certain way to who they think their customer is — but then there’s a whole other offering in the marketplace.”
Buchler has two decades of professional experience with online marketing and direct-to-consumer companies, including stints at Pronto.com and Pricegrabber.com.
However, it was his tenure at his most recent stop, eSalon, where he best witnessed the power of personalization firsthand.
“The hair color business for the past 50 years has remained unchanged. If you walk into a CVS or Walgreens and go to the hair color aisle, there was never anything different between stores. ESsalon was the custom solution to that market,” Buchler said. “We custom-formulated 2 oz. bottles of hair color based on a user’s preferences in their profile. We found out that people like to be told what to do in the sense of they need an outlet, they need help, they need guidance. They need someone to say, ‘Tell me what’s best for me, and if I believe in what you’re doing, I’m going to jump on board.”
As his time with eSalon came to an end in August 2019 — after Henkel acquired a 51% stake in the business — Buchler set out to find the next frontier in personalization.
“I had gone down the spiral of personalization, starting to think about other verticals, other ideas, other areas where there were gaps in the marketplace,” Buchler said. “I came across what Katrina Lake did with Stitch Fix and thought to myself, ‘Why does this not exist in the footwear landscape?'”
If Stitch Fix is serving as any type of inspiration for Kicksnation, the company may be on the right track. The online personal styling service reported $536 million in net revenue for Q3 of fiscal year 2021, a 44% increase from the prior year.
Kicksnation is carving out its own lane in the sneaker world as other subscription-focused companies are attempting to do the same. Most recently, online sneaker subscription platform Kyx World launched in June, a non-committal model built to offer the most hyped and sought-after styles on the market, giving subscribers the ability to try the sneakers before purchasing them.
With the idea sparked, Buchler — alongside his wife, Racheli Buchler, a Kicksnation co-founder and its chief merchandising officer — put together a profile quiz for friends and family, curated sneaker boxes with three pairs each for them based on their preferences, and then shipped the pairs out — for a $15 styling fee.
“People enjoyed the service, loved the curation element and were excited about the discovery component of the business,” Buchler said.
To get Kicksnation off the ground, it started raising money in October 2019. To date, the company has raised $1.7 million from angel investors as well as friends and family.
But not surprisingly, in the competitive sneaker world, Buchler faced several challenges getting Kicksnation up and running, none bigger than engaging in wholesale and brand partnerships. “When we kicked things off, we had zero wholesale or brand relationships. We were leveraging the online retail marketplace, a la Zappos and Amazon, to essentially fulfill orders,” Buchler said.
Although that challenge hasn’t been conquered quite yet, he has made significant progress. Today, the entrepreneur said Kicksnation has secured more than 30 wholesale partnerships. Its brand portfolio has grown to include companies such as On, Altra, APL, Koio, Clae, Cariuma, Brandblack and Veja.
“They have taken an interest in what we’re doing, how we curate boxes for our customers and how we get their shoes in front of these customers in their homes, which is sort of a unique approach and one that really hadn’t been done before,” Buchler said.
Although he wouldn’t share how large his consumer base is yet, Buchler confirmed that the split is even between men and women. And Kicksnation is working to build on that base with a slim team, which Buchler said consists of five employees and “an army of interns.”
Looking ahead, the company will move beyond sneakers and enter new categories. Buchler confirmed that sandal and hiking categories will soon launch, and that Kicksnation has already secured relationships with leading labels in those spaces including Birkenstock, Danner and Merrell.
Kicksnation also has aspirations of expanding abroad.
“The domestic market is massive, but ultimately, we would like to grow and move internationally. That, however, will be something that would require headcount growth,” Buchler said.
To fuel that growth, Buchler confirmed that Kicksnation is in the middle of a fundraising round and engaged in discussions with early stage venture funds, family offices and strategic investors.
“This round will enable operational growth to scale the business and support personnel, key hires, inventory expansion and marketing initiatives,” Buchler said.
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