Rent Frock Repeat co-founder Kristy Wieber. Photo: Arthur Mola

Kristy Wieber and Lisa Delorme had their aha moment in 2010, when both received invitations to a wedding and realized that, once again, they had nothing to wear. Looking around online for an affordable way to find new party dresses, they discovered a U.S.-based website that rented designer outfits. But when Wieber and Delorme tried to place their orders, they discovered the service didn’t ship to Canadians. “I could see the lightbulb go on Lisa’s head,” Wieber said, speaking at the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 Idea Exchange in Toronto on June 5. “She could see it go on over mine.”

A year later, they launched Rent Frock Repeat, offering designer dress rentals at 90% off retail cost. The business took off. It now has 60,000 registered members, and Wieber and Delorme recently completed a $1.5 million round of financing, led by angel investor Coralie Lalonde. Sharing the secrets of Rent Frock Repeat’s success, Wieber identified five strategic lessons for entrepreneurs:

Be flexible

Months after launching, Wieber and Delorme were getting lots of calls from potential customers, but many of them wanted to try on the dresses before renting them. “We kept getting the same question, over and over,” Wieber said, “and even though it wasn’t in our business plan, we knew enough to listen.”

The partners soon opened up a Toronto showroom where women could come in and try dresses before renting them. Wieber said sales immediately doubled. “If we hadn’t been flexible—if we’d said, ‘No, we’re going to force you to shop online and not come in’—I don’t know if we’d still be around. It was a real turning point for us.”

Perfect your pitch

Whether you’re presenting to potential investors or marketing your business to consumers, you need to make clear that you’re solving a problem for customers. Wieber advised all entrepreneurs to ask themselves if they’re filling a gap in a market. If so, “is that really clear in your pitch?”

Ultimately, Wieber and Delorme didn’t have to explain the problem-solving nature of their company to investor Coralie Lalonde—she came to their showroom initially as a customer who needed a dress. Once Wieber and Delorme realized who she was, they started a conversation about the business that led to a financing deal.

Stand by your decisions—and back them with data

Rent Frock Repeat recently opened a second location in Ottawa—a move that one potential investor seriously questioned, suggesting there wasn’t a big enough rental market in the city. But Wieber and Delorme produced piles of data, including results from a pop-up shop they’d opened in Ottawa to test the market: “We had Google analytics, sales data we’d collected, and we showed that it was going to work,” Wieber said. “If you truly believe in something, stick to your guns—as long as you can back up the decision.”

Seek counsel, not just dollars

“We’re smart enough to know that we don’t know everything,” Wieber said. So when looking for investors, she and Delorme sought people with specific expertise who could be useful to Rent Frock Repeat. “We asked ourselves questions like, ‘Who’s going to help us from an IT perspective?’ This group of investors was about the brains.”

Just because you don’t know how to finish something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start

Wieber said she and Delorme were so inexperienced when they set out to launch their company they “literally bought Starting a Business for Dummies.” Things weren’t perfect from Day One, Wieber said, “but we did it anyway.”

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What lessons have you learned during your entrepreneurial career? Share your insights using the comments section below.

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