The Groomsman Suit

The Groomsman Suit

The Groomsman Suit: The Small Business That Went From “I Do” to “We Can”
Published August 2016

Stylish suits and tuxedos for purchase at less than the price of rentals.

2016 Alumni Choice Award Grant Winner
The Groomsman Suit
Chicago, IL

When Jeanne Foley got married, she knew that she was wedding the man of her dreams. But, she never could have guessed that walking down the aisle would lead her to an entrepreneurial venture. However, that’s exactly what happened.

During the wedding planning process, Foley focused on her dress and what her bridesmaids were wearing, leaving her now-husband, Kevin, to outfit the groomsmen. He deferred to a popular big box retailer for the rentals, only to discover that the suits came with sticker shock.

“I had two brothers in the wedding and was shocked to learn that the rentals were $250 each, for a one-time wear,” Foley said. “They were expensive, and their look and fit didn’t live up to the cost.”

To make matters worse, most of the wedding party flew home the morning after the ceremony. To make sure the tuxedos were returned on time, Foley and Kevin had to make a pit stop to drop them off at the rental place the morning after their big day.

“The cost and inconvenience of the whole process didn’t make sense to me,” Foley said. “Why wasn’t there a more modern-looking tuxedo and groomsman suit option that could be purchased for less than the price of a rental? Something that the guys would want to wear again?”

Even with Foley’s background in apparel, there was little she and Kevin could do in Columbus, Ohio, to test out the concept.  Then, as luck would have it, Kevin got transferred to New York. That changed everything.

“With all of the resources here, the idea was no longer impossible to pursue. I could research the market, explore products and sample houses, and connect with a reliable manufacturer without leaving my neighborhood,” Foley said.

Love at First Sight

Everyone Foley talked to loved the idea, so the couple decided to make a go of it.  That’s when they brought in Diana Ganz, Foley’s friend, bridesmaid and branding expert as the third co-founder. Together, they set out to bring The Groomsman Suit to life.

“We were able to connect with a manufacturer that could give us the modern fit and quality fabrics we wanted,” Foley said. “The caveat was we knew we had to hit a $179 price point. Anyone can make a quality $300 or $500 suit. We had to find a way to offer quality and style at a purchase price less than the traditional rental.”

The only way they could keep the overhead low enough to support their model was to sell exclusively online.

“We spent some time validating the business idea and sourcing our initial products: a black tuxedo, a blue suit and a grey suit,” Foley said. “The more we got into it, the more we saw that there was a hole in the wedding market, and we had the opportunity to fill it.”

After looking at options, the trio decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign, both for funding and as a proof of concept.  

“Building out those five paragraphs, taking the right pictures and putting together the videos were key for us. We knew we had to get that content right, so we spent a year — editing and re-editing — until we nailed it,” Foley explains.  “I think covering the story behind the start-up is almost as important as the product in a crowdfunding campaign.”

Launch day finally came. Week one, sales started to trickle in very slowly.

“There was a moment when I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s not going to work. All the time, effort and energy we put into this was wasted,’” Foley said. “Then, things started to happen.”

The Groomsman Suit raised $11,000 and sold more than 60 suits in just 30 days.

Keeping the Romance Alive

“One of the smartest things we did was to set up a functional website before we hit our Kickstarter goal,” Ganz said. “We knew we had to have something to click on for people who wanted to order after the Kickstarter campaign was over. With a website in place, we could immediately transition our momentum to our online store, continue our grass roots marketing effort, and not lose those customers.”

Additionally, Ganz immediately started guerilla marketing — sending personal emails to over 1,500 wedding planners, and sending suits so they could see the quality for themselves.

“We received such a great response. Wedding planners and couples were loving our product,” Ganz said. “For the first couple months we worked really hard to accommodate every order with very limited inventory. We never told a couple we couldn’t outfit their wedding party. We just made it work and that’s one of the reasons we are where we are at today.”

As the orders began to pick up, Foley and Ganz made The Groomsman Suit their full-time jobs. They now average about 100 shipments a month, with growth to 300 a month anticipated by year-end.

“When we started out, we went with the cheapest shipping option,” Foley said. “But, after one of our shipments went missing a few days before a wedding, and we had to send a replacement overnight through FedEx, we learned that going with the cheaper option could actually end up costing you more in the long run.”

Once Foley and Ganz collected themselves, they realized that they didn’t want to spent time and effort on trying to find missing packages.

“So, we began using FedEx,” Foley said. “Working with FedEx gave us peace of mind that our packages would actually get where they needed to go.”

Winning the “Alumni Choice” Award in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

When Foley and Ganz entered the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, their goal was to make it to the top 100. But, they keep on dreaming from there.

“We were completely aware of the day that FedEx was announcing the top 10. We wanted to win and we thought we had a shot, but the morning of we reminded each other that making it to the top 100 was a huge achievement and we would be proud of ourselves if that is where we stayed,” Ganz said.

Then, Foley got the call.

“I looked down at the caller I.D. and saw ‘FedEx’ and I said, ‘Oh my God, they wouldn’t call if we lost,’” Foley said. “It was surreal, like everything was happening in slow motion. And then to find out we won the Alumni Choice Award — that we were chosen by previous grant winners — that  made it even more of an honor.”

They’ll use the grant money to advance the functionality and user experience of The Groomsman Suit’s website.

“Every wedding party has accent colors. We would love to add a rainbow grid on our site to compare how the suits look with different colored pocket squares and ties,” Ganz said. “We’re also updating the website with new product photos.”

By all indications, the future looks bright. The company is debuting a new, higher-end tuxedo this year, and continues to gain traction with wedding planners and end-customers alike.

“My father-in-law started a company after 35 years in corporate America. He told us, ‘Starting a business is full of doubts. But, when you hit, it feels like you caught a lion by the tail,’” Foley said. “The first time we had a customer come back and order a suit in every color, I understood what he was talking about. It’s all becoming a reality for us.”

What’s not to love about that?

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