By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 6-minute read
A husband-and-wife duo founded BuddyLove, a lifestyle brand and womenswear retailer, on their combined fashion and business savvy.
Over 10 years, they grew the business to include 2,000 wholesale accounts and a strong direct-to-consumer sales channel.
BuddyLove’s sales and marketing strategies have evolved over time, allowing it to grow despite stiff competition in the fashion industry.
What do you get when you mix Southern preppiness with the laid-back aesthetic of the Carribean? Husband-and-wife team Buddy DiFonzo and Grayson LyBrand DiFonzo call it BuddyLove, a “Southern boho lifestyle brand” which sells contemporary womenswear. The duo founded the brand, infusing it with the aesthetics of places they love.
Buddy and Grayson started in business together by wholesaling other fashion brands. They have spent the past six years developing their own brand and establishing a direct-to-consumer sales channel. Throughout the process, they’ve built an avid following of "BuddyLove Babes" -- fans of the brand’s bold prints and beach-inspired vibe -- and a business boasting 2,000 wholesale accounts across the U.S.
To stand out and drive sales out in the ultra-competitive fashion industry, Buddy said, the company relies on three factors: a multi-tiered sales approach, social media marketing and unique brand activations.
Womenswear retailer BuddyLove calls its defining aesthetic "Southern boho."
The love story behind BuddyLove
BuddyLove’s co-founders met as students in a fifth-grade classroom in New Braunfels, Texas. They became fast friends, and it was clear to Grayson’s family that young Buddy was also smitten. The family started calling him "Buddy Love,” and the nickname stuck.
After their freshman year of college, Buddy and Grayson were truly in love. As their relationship blossomed, Grayson followed her other passion, fashion and design. She studied fashion in college and then gained industry experience with stints at Nicole Miller and shoe designers Charles Jourdan and Kurt Geiger. She spent time traveling Europe and living in London and the British Virgin Islands, all of which influenced her sense of style and design aesthetic. Back in the U.S., Grayson honed her skills on the wholesale side of fashion, working with a Dallas showroom. Meanwhile, Buddy grew his business skills via roles in management consulting and technology sales.
The couple married in 2008, and a year later, they went into business together. They opened a multi-line showroom to sell women’s clothing, and naturally, they named it BuddyLove.
Buddy and Grayson built BuddyLove together after a childhood friendship and romance.
During its first few years of business, BuddyLove forged partnerships with womenswear brands and sold their products wholesale. After three years of selling these other brands, however, Grayson noticed a hole in the contemporary women's market. She decided to launch her own line and started designing the first original BuddyLove collection in 2012.
Today, BuddyLove no longer sells other womenswear brands and sells only its own, eponymous brand. Grayson serves as the creative force behind the BuddyLove brand and the lead designer of its seasonal collections. Buddy acts as the company’s president and COO.
From zero to 2,000
BuddyLove sells its products to over 2,000 accounts nationwide. Its modern approach to sales helped grow this wholesale side of its business, which accounts for over 90% of total sales. (We’ll explore that remaining 10% later.) According to Buddy, the approach includes:
Internal reps sell BuddyLove collections from the brand’s Dallas showroom.
External reps also sell BuddyLove, but they aren’t employed by the brand. In this category, BuddyLove sells via Uncommon Fashion Showroom, a multi-line showroom based in Atlanta, Georgia.
BuddyLove’s reps attend select trade shows like Magic, where they sell the product just like they do in the showroom. The brand’s main account base is in the South and Southeast, though it has also expanded into the West Coast market with its beach-chic vibe.
BuddyLove's founders sell their designs at trade shows.
A big push for BuddyLove in 2019 is enhancing its online wholesale portal, through which buyers can place orders directly at any time of day. The platform also allows BuddyLove’s accounts to learn more about the brand.
It’s becoming more typical for brands to offer this service, but it’s difficult to execute well, Buddy said. Some brands partner with a web developer to build their wholesale portals, while others use a ready-made e-commerce platform. BuddyLove chose to use a ready-made platform.
BuddyLove reps visit their accounts in the company’s Mercedes Sprinter van, which is outfitted as a mobile showroom. The sales vehicle (pun intended) allows reps facetime with their accounts and the ability to make curated styling recommendations for each boutique.
Thanks to the van, “We’re able to take a non-intrusive sales approach,” said Buddy. “Buyers can leave their store and view our line in a merchandised environment.”
While BuddyLove’s reps are the brand’s front line and a major driver of sales, the company’s continued movement toward digital wholesale is helping it access more customers. According to Buddy, this multi-pronged approach leads to more sales than if the brand relied solely on the trade show circuit.
BuddyLove's 2,000 wholesale accounts include many local boutiques.
Style, straight to consumers
Although wholesale is historically BuddyLove’s main sales channel, direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales are a growing source of revenue.
According to Buddy, DTC sales increased significantly from 2016 to 2017, sometimes as much as 40% month-over-month. Hiring a director of e-commerce and partnerships to run campaigns helped drive sales. So too did a digital marketing program that includes:
Online brand ambassadors and influencers are a primary component of BuddyLove’s digital marketing efforts. The company works with over 350 influencers using both a commission structure (i.e. paying commission on products sold as a result of an influencer’s Instagram posts, for example) and pay-to-play structures (in which influencers are paid a flat fee for posting, say, an image of BuddyLove products and tagging the brand).
BuddyLove employees also serve as influencers. The women on the team use their personal social accounts to promote BuddyLove and spread brand awareness.
This group of paid influencers, company employees and everyday BuddyLove customers make up the BuddyLove Babes, a lighthearted title for the brand’s devotees.
BuddyLove created a community around its customers, dubbing them the BuddyLove Babes.
Brands with an Instagram business profile can sell directly through the platform. With this feature, a shopper who “likes” an image featuring BuddyLove clothing can then click on an item to see its product page.
According to Buddy, Instagram is critical to BuddyLove’s DTC sales.
“You have to stay in front of your customers even if they’re not on your website,” he said.
BuddyLove also relies on traditional digital marketing techniques like paid search. It retargets potential customers who show interest in the brand on social media during influencer campaigns. If a user “likes” an Instagram from one of BuddyLove’s influencers, for example, they may receive a BuddyLove ad in their feed later.
BuddyLove is developing strategies to support both its wholesale and DTC sales channels and grow brand awareness. They include:
Website sales data allows BuddyLove to determine where its DTC customers are located, then host pop-up shops accordingly. So far, the brand has done pop-ups at Austin City Limits Music Festival and the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. They’re also considering college football games and other music events like Bonnaroo.
“The goal is to tie our brand into these events and make it part of the conversation," said Buddy.
To date, BuddyLove has collaborated with sunglasses brand Diff Eyewear, jewelry and accessories company BuDhaGirl and flip-flop brand Hari Mari on marketing campaigns and photo shoots. It works with Tito’s Vodka on events.
Brands that make good partners are non-competitors with similar customer bases that can add value to your ongoing operations, Buddy said. The brand’s director of strategic partnerships is constantly on the lookout as BuddyLove looks to grow in this area.
A continual project for BuddyLove is finding the sweet spot for production volume. The brand continually refines its ability to place orders with its manufacturers for the right amount of product to cover both wholesale and DTC demand without having unnecessary inventory left over or missing out on revenue opportunities by underproducing.
BuddyLove uses enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to analyze sell-through rate, along with other metrics. The brand is working on analyzing its data more closely in order to make smarter purchasing decisions and improve order management.
Looking ahead, Grayson (below) and Buddy plan to do more pop-ups shops, collaborations and data analysis.
🌱 The bottom line
BuddyLove is more than a couple’s love story. Excellence in craft combined with a thoughtful sales approach and a focus on cutting-edge marketing tactics have it positioned to win in contemporary women's apparel.