With Shirts and Email Lists, Quality Matters: One Company’s Story

Emailing engaged subscribers

When the founders of men’s shirt company Twillory decided to drive traffic to their new online store, they had one big, ambitious goal: Grow the email list.

And it worked.

But as the company grew as well, the founders were faced with new questions: what would be the best way to make use of the emails they’d gathered? And was there actually a hidden downside to building a giant list?

Read on to discover how they gathered all of those emails in the first place, what they eventually did with them, and what they discovered about succeeding at email marketing in the process.

Starting out with a vision

Four years ago, two young entrepreneurs looked at the men’s button-down shirt market and saw an opportunity. They reached out to Ricardo Goldschmidt, an expert in sourcing and manufacturing men’s shirts for upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. The vision: work together to create an ecommerce men’s shirt brand with fair prices and exceptional quality.

“Ricardo’s family has been in the garment business for a hundred years,” Eli Blumstein,  Twillory’s Creative Director says. “He knows fabrics like nobody knows fabrics. He knows production like nobody knows production. And he was making millions and millions of shirts a year.”

There was just one thing Ricardo didn’t have yet: his own brand.

“We knew that we could really make the best quality shirt for an affordable price,” Eli says. “Industry trends also showed that dress shirts were the best-selling apparel item for guys online and that guys buy them in bulk.”

They joined forces and began working together to build Twillory.

“We were very, very passionate,” he recalls. “We were starting our business and working 24/7, just hustling. We were getting every single aspect of the business together, from the website to the products and different marketing strategies.”

As the date of their online store launch got closer, the pieces started falling into place, but a single thought loomed.

“We were like, ‘Holy cow, we’re launching this business, who are we launching it to?”’ Eli says. “It’s not like we were going to launch our website and have thousands of people there on day one. We had to ask ourselves, ‘How are we gonna get people to our website?’”

The solution they came up with was more successful than they even hoped for — but it came with one serious challenge that wouldn’t become clear until much later.

Bringing people to the website

“We’re a shirt company and we know the best thing that we have is our shirts,” Eli says. “But we couldn’t just stand in Times Square giving out shirts to people to promote our store. So before we could launch, we had to figure out how to convey that we we know product, we know shirt design, and we’re an awesome brand — all before they actually tried on one of our shirts.”

Turned out the answer was in the shirts all along: a high-quality take on an often-overlooked dress shirt accessory called the collar stay.

“Collar stays keep a dress shirt collar stiff and in place,” Eli explains. “This is an accessory that usually goes unnoticed but it’s important to men who want to look crisp and polished. So we decided to make the world’s nicest collar stays and give them out in exchange for email addresses.”

The promotion was a massive hit.

Emailing engaged subscribers“We designed magnificent collar stays and ran a campaign on social media. If people would follow us or like us and re-tweet our promotion, we’d send them a free pair of collar stays in the mail in exchange for their email address,” he says. “We did this a couple of months before we launched and it spread like wildfire.”

People loved the collar stays (an even better version actually for sale now as well). And they really loved getting them for free.

“We were getting tons and tons and tons of email addresses,” Eli says. “And for us, that was very exciting. The positive was that on day one we launched our business and we had thousands upon thousands of people who already knew about us. It worked so well for us that we’ve repeated that campaign a few more times since we launched.”

Twillory had brand awareness, great word of mouth on social media, and most of all, thousands  of email addresses.

But as they’d soon discover, gathering thousands and thousands of emails wouldn’t exactly be the key to email marketing success.

An email marketing false start

The team at Twillory loaded all of the emails they’d collected into an email marketing platform that will remain nameless — “it was kind of built for dummies,” Eli says — and quickly got into a routine.

“We had our emails designed and we’d send them once, twice, three times a week to our entire list,” he said. “For a long time, that was our thing.”

Eli researched email metrics and found that Twillory’s emails seemed to be performing reasonably well.

“We knew the standard open rates and standard click rates, and that’s what we were seeing,” Eli says. “So at the time, we thought, ‘Great, we’re doing as well as everybody else is doing.’ We really didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

As the business continued to grow, however, “we knew that we had to start getting a little more data-driven,” he says. So they looked for alternatives to their email platform.

After seeing other ecommerce stores find success with Klaviyo, they decided to try it out. The setup, he says, was easy — but the initial take-home message was hard to hear, especially after gathering so many email addresses.

“Turns out we had a whole list of people who were really excited about Twillory, but we had also collected tons of garbage email addresses from people who were just interested in a freebie,” he says.

“So we were told that we really had to cut down our email list in order to be successful, because a lot of the recipients were just not engaged. They were just not opening the emails.”

In other words, they needed to stop emailing the whole list. The logic of focusing on an engaged portion of the list made sense — but at the time, the idea of having tons of email addresses and not sending emails to them still sounded risky.

“We heard the advice, but frankly, we scared to take it,” Eli says. “It was right before the busy season and the holidays. So we went back to our old email provider and ran our whole holiday campaign there.”

Switching to a precisely targeted approach

The 2016 holidays came and went, but Eli still hadn’t forgotten what drew him to Klaviyo in the first place.

“After everything settled down, I looked back into it again and I realized that we could be doing a better job with our emails,” he says.

That’s when he reached back out to Klaviyo — and Twillory’s been a customer ever since.

“With Klaviyo, we’ve figured out to how to create our most engaged list. Doing this cut our list down by half, or even more than that, but we’ve been getting better results,” Eli says.

In other words, Twillory sends most of its emails to a relatively small segment of its total list, made up of subscribers that meet a certain engagement criteria, such as opening a specified number of emails.

“Our open rates have doubled. Our click rates have doubled, sometimes tripled,” he says. “It was absolutely incredible to see. So even though we’re hitting a smaller market, we’re actually hitting the market that cares and that wants our emails and wants our products.”

As he’s discovered, sending to a more targeted subset of the list has helped Twillory’s sender reputation over time.

“We see now that the way Gmail reacts to different campaigns is by open rate. If a sender gets a higher open rate, Gmail improves inbox placement for that sender. And we absolutely see that. So we’ve really scaled back our list. It’s much, much tighter but way, way more effective.”

Not only do a higher proportion of recipients open emails that are sent to a targeted segment, but the rate of unsubscribes decrease — a winning combination. Klaviyo’s segments update dynamically on their own, which ensures that the recipients in the engaged segment are, well, engaged.

The outcome from this approach has been evident in driving store revenue, too.

“In Klaviyo, everything is financially driven,” Eli says. “So we’ve been able to really see down to the penny what each campaign does.”

What’s in store for Twillory

While Eli’s sold on the benefits of marketing to a highly engaged segment, he hasn’t quite given up on the rest of the list.

“I know there’s some more juice we can squeeze out of it,” he says. “We’re constantly trying to tweak different segments based on many different criteria. But we’re careful to keep the balance and to make sure that we keep up that good name and reputation that we’ve built within the email ecosystem. It’s really a science, and I’m learning it as we go.”

The highest-performing emails in recent memory have included Twillory’s April Fools’ email: “We introduced edible buttons on shirts,” Eli says. “I guess people really wanted that, but we don’t sell those just yet.”

The rest of the year, however, new products actually are being released, and the product announcement emails also do quite well.

“I think that’s a good thing,” says Eli, “because that means the people we’re emailing like what we do.”

On the horizon for Twillory’s email subscribers in the coming months: news of a brand-new kind of shirt (not edible, but unusually comfortable) and plenty of sales, announcements, and updates.

But if you want to hear the latest, don’t just join the list — open them and stay engaged to ensure that you keep getting all the emails.

Images courtesy of Twillory.

See how you can create an engaged subscriber list in Klaviyo »


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