As Oak Park, Mich.-based The Suit Depot approaches the $3 million mark in projected sales, owner Marty Babayov knows he has eBay to thank for much of his success. The once online-only men’s suit retailer leveraged his success on eBay to open a 13,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store front outside of Detroit that continues to grow.
But he hasn’t given up his eBay roots. The Suit Depot continues to sell new men’s suits online and off, with eBay still generating more than 30% of the company’s annual sales, while serving local clientele through his physical storefront and customers worldwide through his eBay store, Amazon and website.
An Early Start
Many successful entrepreneurs tell tales of selling things at a young age. Babayov is no exception. The owner of The Suit Depot recalls reselling store-bought junk food to classmates back in second grade. At age 13, when his family moved into a home with vintage cast-offs lying around, his older brother started selling it on eBay and Babayov followed his lead. When relatives offered clothing they were done with, he took them and began dabbling in fashion online.
In the hunt for more inventory, Babayov turned to thrift stores, which he would visit on the weekend, stocking up on clothes of all types and sizes to turn around and sell on eBay. “I was a generalist at first,” he says.
From used clothing at thrift stores he moved to new clothes sold at discount retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. His thinking was that, “If TJ Maxx and Marshall’s can sell it and make a profit, then so can I.” And he did.
Then Babayov expanded his new merchandise acquisition even farther, into department store liquidations. He would buy up last season’s merchandise at a deep discount and sell it on eBay for a profit. During college, he would arrange to buy up store returns and his mother would ship them to him so he could list and sell them from wherever he was.
To be successful as a clothing generalist, Babayov worked hard at improving how fast his merchandise sold. He understood that, “I don’t need to be the cheapest, but I do need to list it best.”
He also saw how being a generalist was putting his business at a disadvantage. “I realized that people wanted to buy from an expert,” he says. While selling everything from women’s clothes to men’s clothes, to shoes, to children’s clothes, to accessories, it would be nearly impossible to position his business as a specialist.
So he opted to become a niche seller specializing in men’s suits. That decision made, he researched four or five major players in men’s clothing who were selling on eBay to see how they approached their business. He wanted to find a way to be a better version of their stores.
So he looked for weaknesses in their listings, to identify how he could improve his odds of getting the sale. What he found, almost across the board, was that other men’s clothing sellers were not using quality images, had bad product descriptions, and rarely included measurements. He knew that by providing this information to eBay shoppers, he could set his business, which he named The Suit Depot, apart.
Does Babayov aspire to own a chain of Suit Depots? No, he says. “I’d rather expand one store than open additional stores,” he explains. “We have a long way to go when it comes to growing our retail store. That alone has the potential to bring in more than 300% of what it is currently doing now.”
“For the coming year, I’ve put an emphasis on manufacturing. I’m very disappointed with the declining quality standards of many of the major brands and lack of innovation when it comes to design. I’ve put out my own suit line and am working on shirts, ties, gloves and other accessories,” which Babayov hopes to start selling wholesales to other boutiques.
With The Suit Depot’s eBay business growing in parallel with his offline venture, expansion is as easy as adding more inventory to his online store.
Marcia Layton Turner writes frequently for and about small business. She is the author of The Unofficial Guide to Starting a Small Business and many others.