Passion and Profit

How a Bootstrapped E-commerce Company Found Success Through Storytelling

What happens when two well educated women with creative backgrounds meet up and decide to start a business? In the case of Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo, you get www.ofakind.com, an ecommerce company with a higher purpose.

Claire Mazur always seemed to have an innate attraction for the arts. After a random meeting with Donna Karan, she landed an internship at DKNY at 16 (her AOL screenname was DKNYClaire). In college, she shifted her focus more broadly to the arts. Claire received her Master’s degree in Arts Management to work with art collections and individual artists.

Erica Cerulo had a successful background as an editor at Details, the fashion and lifestyle magazine, and later at Lucky (one of my favorite magazines in its era) which translated haute couture designs into more affordable fashions for young professionals.

In 2010, these two fashion forward women got together and founded their company. Claire saw how the art world was changing and saw the internet as a new distribution channel. The internet enabled a broader scope of people to have access to art. Erica was motivated by the idea to drive and build something from the ground up. This new company gave them a sense of ownership.’

The site name, “Of a Kind” represents the philosophy of the site. Some of the creations for sale may only be available in limited quantities, because they sell exclusive, emerging design fashion. They seek out upcoming designers and give them a platform, making their wares available to a broader audience.

Since the site’s inception, they have featured over 350 of America’s most promising new makers in fashion and the arts. Designers get a start here and many have grown into their own brands, like Clare Vivier’s “Clare V.” The web site has become an incubator of sorts; the founders believe in the designers, and they end up supporting each other and growing together.

Claire and Erica had a dream of bringing art and fashion to everyday women. They scoured previously untouched sources such as designs accessible from small boutiques; young designers that weren’t currently represented online. They gave these makers a platform to sell their goods.

To curate the fashion, they find things that they would want to wear themselves — things with a little bit of a twist. This approach appeals to their audience in the fashion discovery phase and they sell the designs at reasonable prices. The core of the Of a Kind shopping experience is facilitated by Erica’s expertise in storytelling. It’s the way they engage their customers with the products they are buying. It gives a sense of meaning to the pieces they are selling. Each designer represented on the site has their own page that’s filled with personal stories alongside their bios. The editorial portions of the site are strongly tied to featuring merchandise. It makes buying easy — that’s their secret sauce.

Initially, Erica and Claire ran the company out of their respective apartments. Some merchandise was stored with Claire, other merchandise with Erica. There were advisors and interns to help out and they grew by bootstrapping the business; reinvesting what they earned to grow the company. Shipping proved to be a challenge. It was done from their apartments, where they went through the trials of learning “how” to ship. Some items required boxes while other pieces could be shipped in envelopes. The goal was always to deliver the best possible customer experience. Success meant getting their hands dirty with all the nitty gritty aspects of running the business.

They learned that customers appreciated knowing that there are real people behind the business. The founders have been transparent about their story and who they are now. This storytelling expands throughout the site via well written editorials and fanciful photography. Personally, I went from page to page — just to read the tips, stories and the news. The web site is incredibly sticky and engaging.

There are many costs tied to shipping out a box. They try to keep prices reasonable. Currently their website features free ground shipping on orders over $75. Normally, they charge a flat $9.50 for each package, which is sent via FedEx Ground® service. Overnight orders are also available, sent via FedEx Standard Overnight® service for $19.50. Orders are shipped the same day they are received when placed before 2pm ET.

These days shipping is done through a family-owned warehouse in Maryland. The team in Maryland took the time to learn the business and the culture of the customer experience. Packages are sent out with a personalized touch — with certificates of authenticity and handwritten thank you notes. They maintain their loyal customer base by keeping in contact with their customers through a wildly popular newsletter called “Ten Things.” There’s also a podcast on the site.

From creative, unique sourcing to superior web design, Of a Kind has broken new ground combining culture, shopping and the personal touch to create a customer experience that’s appreciated by all.