Cassandra Tomeo – Runway Regime
Cassandra Tomeo is the founder of Runway Regime, an innovative and exciting fashion hire service. With a strong corporate background, Cassandra is typical of today's smart female entrepreneurs, who bring their extensive professional and organisational skills together as they juggle family life and the demands of a growing and dynamic business. It was an absolute pleasure chatting to Cassandra and getting to know more about her business and especially great viewing her fabulous gown collection.
Cassandra pictured with her fabulous Runway Regime models at her recent Preview Night of her new retail location in the Hawaiian Bassendean SC
How did you come up with your business idea?
Honestly, for as long as I can remember I have always known that I would like to start a business of my own one day. There have been so many ideas over the years but it wasn’t until a recent and personal experience that I had my light-bulb moment and actually made it happen. This was the start of Runway Regime.
I think some of the best business ideas come from frustrating experiences that aim to solve a ‘problem’ …or gap in the market. Marketers refer to it as your ‘niche’. A few key realisations really got me thinking seriously about this particular business idea…
- Personal Experience
I was shopping for a special outfit for an upcoming event. I was struggling with the very limited options available to me due to my very recent post-baby body changes.Not only was it challenging to find a dress in my size, I found the whole shopping experience really deflating. It was embarrassing, walking into a store not knowing if they would even have anything that fit me! With limited options, it became a mission against the clock instead of something I was looking forward to.
- Market Research
My experience got me talking to friends, family and anyone who had the time to listen to me about this obvious gap in the fashion hire market – truthfully I spent a couple of months complaining about it!At the time I didn’t realise that my ‘whingeing’ was essentially market research for my future business. Because, as it turned out, I wasn’t alone! Many women had the same experience as I did. One particular piece of feedback was “If you’re looking for a special occasion dress and you wear size 14 or above, it’s a nightmare”. With some women, choosing not to go to events and others spending an outrageous amount of money to get items custom made.
- The Environmental impact
With an increased awareness of the impact our ‘single wear’ purchases are having on our environment I was hoping to hire my ball dress, but found nothing suitable in my size.After talking to a number of ladies about my experience I found there was an absolute need for hire options across sizes 14+. In many cases we do not go to formal ‘black tie’ events that often, for some of us we find our size may fluctuate and for others a simple social media photo ruins any chance of wanting to wear that outfit again. So, whatever the reason the reality for many of us is these purchases hang in the wardrobe in pristine condition after heading out just once or twice. It seems like such a waste.I believe a hire wardrobe is the convenient and responsible way of the future, regardless of size.
And so Runway Regime was born!…….
What hopes do you have for your business and your customers?
When I think about the future of the business, the possibilities are endless but above all I want it to remain customer-focussed and customer-driven. At this early stage, my hope is simply that we continue to learn, grow and evolve over the next 12months and to build a trusted brand in the fashion industry.
My hope for my customers, is that Runway Regime becomes their first choice when it comes to their special occasions. I want them to be able to RSVP with the confidence that, like Cinderella, they shall go to the ball – looking fabulous.
I am particularly keen to reach the Year 12 girl looking for the right on-trend outfit to help make their graduation ball experience a positive one regardless of size. Graduation is a special milestone in a girls’s life, as well as for their family. Being able to give her the opportunity to try on lots of dresses, pick the one she feels most beautiful in and have money left over to pay for the make-up artist, hairstyling and stretch limo without her parents taking out a second mortgage is a win-win.
Seriously though, what I am really trying to say is I want to be able to take the ‘stress’ out of what should be a special moment. Whether that stress comes from simply not being able to find a dress that fits, negative body image or financial worries. I want Runway Regime to be a great option for them.
What start-up challenges have you faced?
Hmmm! How long do you have? There have been lots of challenges… It’s all new!
To give some context of how new some things have been for me, I setup my business Instagram account the day of our product shoot back in March and this was my first introduction to the world of ‘insta’. I think I spent about a month hearing friends in my business network talk about things like Instagram’s ‘algorithm’ before I had an opportunity to get my head around what that meant. And then it changed! Don’t even get me started on SEO haha.
I am constantly learning new things – thank goodness for YouTube clips! I’m not sure how I would have done half of things I have without Google! Fortunately, I am also surrounded by a number of brilliant people who have generously helped guide me through uncharted new business territory. Providing helpful advice and feedback. It can be a challenge working as a sole business owner especially in the early days so I take every opportunity to share ideas and ask lots of questions.
Some of the challenges I have faced are connected directly with my industry. Each industry has its own set of challenges that need to be recognised and overcome.
For example; working with designers and wholesaler can be tricky as a hire business, sourcing the right mix of garments in the size range we offer has proven to take more time than expected and time delays in supply has been something I have had to come to terms with.
These challenges certainly keep it all interesting! And I think secretly I live for it a little… I take a lot of pride in working through it all and I am loving the opportunity to learn so much very quickly! I feel like I am in a whole new world. It can be exhilarating and exhausting too, being responsible for everything. It’s very different to my corporate back ground where everyone had their own area of expertise, as a sole business owner you have to know at least a little bit about a lot.
What has been your biggest achievement in your business so far?
A worthy mention goes to winning first prize in the Bassendean Business Festival ‘Pitching Event’. This amazing opportunity has allowed me to fast track the business in a number of ways by accessing over 15K in prizes including a Pop-Up retail store, business consulting services and membership of Engine Room Hub.
I measure my achievements in the day-to-day feedback from our customers. The opportunity to help them find their dream outfit and not just settle for the only outfit that they can fit into.
Many of our clients are very confident in their own bodies and the only issue they have is the fashion industry isn’t catering to them. However, for those who are anything less than positive about their bodies, being part of helping them develop a strong and positive body image and self-confidence is a huge privilege.
Also, but not least of all, listening to our customers’ post-event stories. Hearing them say how good they felt wearing our gowns, the compliments they received on the night and watching the growth in their own self-confidence is wonderful.
Knowing that Runway Regime is doing what it was created to do, to build a strong client base of repeat customers, I see as a huge achievement also.
With your strong online presence, how important is a ‘try-on’ facility for your business?
Online shopping has become so popular these days it’s not only an advantage but it can be an expectation. Customers enjoy the convenience of shopping from home in bed, in the office, sitting on a train… anywhere really and at any time.
Our customers appreciate the service of having their outfit delivered to their door before their event and then in some cases collected from their door on the business day following. This allows them to spend their precious time on other important things!
In saying this, we acknowledge there are customers who are still interested in viewing our collection in person and trying items on. Since opening our Perth Showroom we have been able to offer this to our customers.
Being that this is such a ‘personal’ service, having a physical location means we get to spend precious time with our amazing clients, building genuine relationships and receiving their feedback first hand. Online website stats are great but they just cannot compare to an hour with your client, understanding what they like and what frustrates them to help guide future business decisions.
What goals have you set for the future of your business?
There are so many possibilities for the future! Some of our more immediate term goals are focussing on expanding our current collection; styles and size range (we’re going up!). We are working with new wholesalers and have, as of this week, started offering consignment opportunities!
What are your three top tips for business success?
1. Prototype and test early –
- Try not to be a perfectionist! It sounds cliché but it’s an important consideration to help manage your precious time. Keep the momentum going by building for the 80% and deal with the 20% IF it arises.
- Continue to test new concepts, products and systems with your customer BEFORE you go too far. Naturally, we can become over committed and emotionally invested in the things that we have spent time and money on, even if they are not working. Help yourself avoid getting in these situations by asking for feedback often and make changes as you go.
- Listen to the feedback. It is very easy to become ‘blind’ to the things we see day in and day out. Whether you are in big business or small business it is necessary to continue to take risks and adapt to meet ever-changing customer expectations.
2. Be disciplined with your time –
- Feel like there is never enough time to get everything done? The reality is it’s never ‘done’. Find a system that works for you to help manage your own expectations and monitor progress.
- Set aside regular slots of time to complete ongoing necessary tasks before they become a huge activity (like business expenses for tax time – I need to take my own advice on this one!).
- Set a time limit on activities that don’t have a finish point (like social media).
- Make sure you keep a bit of ‘life’ in your work-life balance even if you have to schedule it in the diary. You will be more productive for it!
3. Find your community –
- Working on your business can be at times an isolating experience. But, you are not alone! Try and find an ‘extended team’ who you can work with to trouble shoot, ask for advice and share feedback.
Do you have anything else you’d like people to know about you, the person behind Runway Regime?
While Runway Regime was born out of initial frustration, it now thrives on passion. I began actively working on this business venture when my daughter was only 7 months old. The best and worst time to start a business venture! The timing has not been without its challenges but the truth is my daughter has now become my motivation around creating an offer that not only fills a need in the market but one, which also promotes a positive outlook on body image and environmental sustainability.
I believe we all have a responsibility to shape the future of our beautiful world and I am excited about the possibility of contributing, even in a small way.
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