It has been 13 years since Greg Selkoe set up virtual shop in his parents’ basement and launched his Internet-based company, Karmaloop. Selkoe, who had no retail or merchandising experience, wanted to offer the cutting-edge, young designers that he loved to everyone in the country. “I was really into this type of clothing and lifestyle and I noticed that if you lived in small cities – out of New York or Los Angeles – you wouldn’t have access to it,” he recalls.
Looking back, Selkoe admits it wasn’t easy. “I didn’t have any financial backup, and it was not easy to convince designers to let us sell their brands,” he remembers. “We had to build a reputation and prove that we could add value to a brand. We had to show the designers that we could sell their brand.”
Although success did not come overnight, the young entrepreneur kept pursuing his dream and pushing to extend its reach. “The first year we did something like $140,000, the next we did $300,000,” he says. “Last year, we posted close to $200 million.”
Selkoe believes it was the company’s unique products that enabled its growth. “We have a lot of brands that other companies don’t have,” he says. “Also, a lot of things we offer are made exclusively for us, so if you go to Karmaloop, you know you are going to find unique products you won’t find anywhere else.”
The company went international last year with the acquisition of European brand streetamo.com. The company now has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Copenhagen, with its headquarters still in Boston. “We have about 260 employees in Boston, 30 in New York, 10 in Los Angeles and 25 in Europe,” Selkoe notes.
Karmaloop’s relationship with its customers goes beyond the exchange of merchandise for money. The company keeps an open dialog going with interactive postings of events and ideas on Twitter and Facebook, and it even enlists the help of its own customers to promote its brand. “We have something called a rep program where our customers act as reps for us and earn points and free clothing,” Selkoe explains.
Customers who want to be part of the rep team just have to sign up, receive a rep code and, for every purchase done using that code, they receive points that they can redeem for reduced-price or free products.
Feeding its customers’ desires for one-of-a-kind products, Karmaloop has a program called Monark Karmaloop Elite. “It’s a subscription-based program,” Selkoe explains. “You sign up and you receive a box every month with a surprise product specially made for members of the Monark program, so you will not find it anywhere else.”
Selkoe also tries to reach out to its customers through Karmaloop TV, a part of its website with a variety of original shows and content. “The brand Karmaloop is part of a larger lifestyle; there are lots of musicians who like our brand. We have access to different celebrities, so we started creating original content and showing it on the Web,” Selkoe explains. “We have interviews, comedy, etc. The fact that we have really great content makes us stay relevant.”
At the end of the day, Karmaloop is more than a business for Selkoe. “We’re trying to be different and we’re trying to do things in a different way,” he says. “We care a lot about our customers and we consider ourselves more than just a retailer – we are a community.”
As part of that community, the company makes an effort to raise awareness of issues it considers critical for the country, encouraging its customers to register to vote and participate in the democratic process, or giving money to programs that bring art to kids in schools. “We are always involved in different things,” Selkoe notes. “I started a nonprofit in Boston that tries to help the cultural life in the city.”
Selkoe expects to increase his company’s international presence in the next year while also continuing to come up with innovative ways to keep the brand creative and cutting-edge by improving and fine-tuning the company’s website. “You have to constantly challenge yourself, push yourself and ask yourself: ‘Am I being creative?’” he explains.