The fall of Nasty Gal and why slow growth is the key to lasting success.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Nasty Gal vintage?  In 2011 Sophia Amoruso started a little vintage shop on Ebay and it grew like wildfire.  I remember watching her success in awe as I was also running my first vintage shop back then.  While my shop was steadily puttering along hers was taking off like a concord jet. I was blown away by how quickly she rose from a San Francisco hipster slang-ing old clothes to the Girl Boss she would come to be known as. 

In the beginning her fan base, like mine, was small and dedicated. She had a five star rating and regularly interacted with her fans on social media but within a few short years Nasty Gal would become a multi million dollar business and land Sophia on Forbes richest women list.  Even though we had started in the same place, she had grown so much faster.  I was in awe (and a little jealous) of her rapid success but I failed to realize at the time that lighting fast growth can be a double edged sword.  When a tree grows too quickly it does not set down strong roots.  Those are the trees that are often fall when strong winds blow. 

As Nasty Gal exploded in popularity, product quality started to decline.  Sophia stopped picking vintage herself and hired a team to do it for her.  The company also began selling mass produced fast fashion that customers would often complain of the quality, or lack thereof.

 The last time I looked at the reviews I was horrified, it was not the business I had once looked to for inspiration, it had become a monster.  Recently the company went bankrupt.  Luckily Sophia was able to get out with a cool 20 million, but considering the fact that the business had once been valued at over 200 million, it’s kind of a sad ending.  

I’m not trying to slam on Sophia, I surely would not have done any better if given a rocket ship to success in my early 20s. What she did is still so inspiring to any of us vintage sellers out there. But I do look to this story when I get down on my shop for growing so slowly. In many cases slow and steady growth can actually be a blessing in disguise.

It costs four times more to gain a new customer than it does to keep a customer you already have so wouldn’t it make sense to nurture our small customer base first and foremost?  So often I see other businesses like Nasty Gal rise to huge levels of popularity and stop being the brand that earned them that popularity in the first place. 

Even as I grow, I hope to never forget where I started from. There are a few core values that make my business what it is and are things I would never be willing to compromise on for growth.  I would never put out poor quality products to make a quick buck.  I would never exploit underpaid workers to make my products.  And I will never knowingly do something to make a customer feel small or unimportant.  As your business grows I encourage you to ask yourself some key questions;  What matters to you? What do you refuse to compromise on as a brand? And how can you make the customer base you do have feel valued? Growing slowly will allow you to hold on tight to these values as you come into your own.

I’m still in the dawn of my business and can just now see the sun peeking over the horizon.   My shop is still just a sweet little baby that I get to feed and love and nurture.  I haven’t been swept away in the chaos of success and so I get to define every day who I am and show up authentically.

Would I trade my little baby business for Sophia’s 20 million dollars? Maybe, in a moment of weakness I would, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still grateful to be where I am.

If you’re just starting out and slow days have you feeling down, remember, you’re putting down those thick strong roots. Spend time nurturing the relationships you are building one at a time. Be generous with people and give 100% of yourself to whatever audience you currently have, even if its just 10 face book friends and your mom, businesses have grown from less. Show up everyday from a place of integrity and watch that business slowly and purposefully grow into something that will stand up against even the strongest winds.

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