The Story Behind the D2C Brand with a 10,000-Person Waitlist

Lori Coulter, co-founder and CEO of Summersalt, explains the strategy behind building demand in the D2C space.

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Lori Coulter’s journey to co-founding Summersalt began early on. Coulter says she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but she didn’t act on those tendencies until she began to narrow her sights on blending fashion and technology.

Through research and cold outreach, Coulter built her first small start-up in partnership with Macy’s as an in-store vendor doing digital body scanning, initially focused on providing made-to-order swimsuits. After scanning more than 10,000 women and optimizing the quick production and delivery aspects of the business, Coulter knew that this was something she could scale, especially since the big brands had yet to catch on..

“When I shared with [my eventual co-founder] the IP I was sitting on, what I was seeing in the market with regards to consumer trends, and that I didn’t see a true path to scale for brands that were pursuing that traditional wholesale model in the apparel space,” Coulter says. “She got really excited… and she really inspired me to look hard at that direct-to-consumer business model. So, I went away from that conversation with the initial business plan and strategy for what is now [Summersalt]. Then I developed a collection, which I think separates the dreamers from the doers — the ability to actually manifest a concept and then go out and do it. And then, I went back to Reshma in December of 2016, a full six months later …shared what I was working on, and her response was, ‘I’m interested,’ and that’s how we joined forces.”

The two women created Summersalt, a direct-to-consumer women’s lifestyle brand that has seen waitlists for its bathing suits surpass 10,000 people. That’s a staggering number, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Summersalt received that much attention in only its first summer of existence.

Clearly, the demand for the product existed, and Coulter has her theories on why the waitlist spiked in the way it did.

“When we saw that waitlist continue to build, we knew there was an incredible amount of pent up demand and I think it’s twofold,” she says. “One, the brand itself is resonating with the modern consumer and so much swimwear had been done in an over sexualized, tired, outdated way and Summersalt’s fresh, new, and fun, and our whole mission is to inspire joy, the childlike joy we all felt at the beach as children …And clearly the fits, the aesthetic, this idea that you can be fashionable and cheap but so comfortable, is important to the core of the brand.”

How Summersalt achieves that fit is by tapping into the modular system Coulter had created long ago that offered customers a mix-and-match element of purchasing.

“We had developed a modular approach to allowing the consumer to mix and match the perfect building blocks of the swimsuit,” Coulter says. “So, whether that’s changing the neckline, or the leg height, or the seat coverage, or the bra, or the lining, or the straps, or the back, it was a mix-and-match approach, which in reality is an unlimited license to continue to create on an ongoing basis and still hold that basic fit. That’s the approach we took 10 years ago and we’ve benefited from that at Summersalt with every new style that we’re bringing out. It allows us to not have to move at a snail’s pace. We can roll out new products at an exceptional speed and then have confidence that they’re going to fit the consumer when we bring them to market.”

Obviously, the approach was a winner and Summersalt continues to see positive results in the form of orders and buzz around the brand. The success wasn’t guaranteed, though. And as a female founder, Coulter says she, like so many others, had a hard time getting investors to buy into the idea at all.

Coulter says that one of the reasons women have such a hard time getting investment is because of the questions those investors ask.

“65% of the time, women founders are asked what [researchers] refer to as prevention questions and 35% of the time promotion questions,” she explains. And the opposite is true for men. Male founders, men are asked 65% promotion, 35% from it prevention. The strategy we took immediately upon seeing that research is to always answer a prevention question or a promotion question with a promotion answer and not to get into that cycle of mitigating risk, which is essentially what happens as a female founder. If you’re asked a prevention question, you answer in a small way, ‘Here’s what we’re doing to keep us from failing,’ versus, ‘Here’s what we’re doing to be the biggest and best possible company we can be.’ It makes a big difference in the outcomes with regards to fundraising.”

Using that approach, Coulter was able to get the investment she needed and Summersalt has grown into the brand it is today. But there is more growth to come, and Coulter is very much looking forward to the future and her plans. If you would like to learn about all of them, check out Up Next in Commerce.

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