When businesses face unexpected threats, the directors usually call emergency board meetings. A leadership team gathers in the boardroom to thrash out a survival strategy and take decisions that they often hide from customers and the wider team.
Here’s what women’s clothing company Snag did when facing a crisis during 2020’s first lockdown: founder Brie Reid took to Instagram and invited her customers to share their solutions. There was no secrecy and no formal summit for company VIPs. In any case, it would have been tricky for Brie to call an EGM even if she’d wanted to — her company has no office and discourages formal meetings. Incredibly, Snag is run almost entirely through WhatsApp.
So, this is not a traditional, top-down company. Instead, Snag, which launched in 2018 and employs 120 people, places customers at the heart of its decision-making process. And those ‘Snagglers’ – the company’s nickname for its faithful fans – are essential to Snag’s growth.
Saved by the Snagglers
You might be wondering about the outcome of Brie’s Instagram plea. She explains: “At the start of the first lockdown, our revenue quartered and we weren’t eligible for Government assistance. We tried not to panic and even donated 28,000 pairs of tights to the NHS. But by April 2020, we knew we would run out of money.
“I went onto Instagram and started talking directly to customers. I wrote: ‘This is the situation and we need to find a way out. Does anybody have any ideas?’ The Snagglers came back with: ‘We think you should run a buy-one-get-one-free offer. We’ll pay now and you can send us two pairs of tights in November.’”
Brie’s Instagram message went out on Sunday night. By Monday, Snag had the offer on its website. By Friday, the promotion had raised £1.25m.
“We got through the entire pandemic because our customers did that for us. It’s absolutely mind-boggling,” says Brie.
How to make your customers love you
Part 1: Honesty & transparency
So, Snag has a unique relationship with its customers. But how has it created such a powerful bond?
The company’s founder has always treated customers as equals, maintaining friendly, honest dialogue with them, almost seeing them as team members. This culture of transparency and openness is rooted in the company’s early development.
Brie describes the series of lightbulb moments that led to Snag’s formation: “In 2018, while walking down George Street in Edinburgh, my tights started falling down.” (Not a typical start to a business origin story, but then Snag is not a typical business).
She continues: “I tried shuffling them back up but eventually had to stop and take them off in the street. The manoeuvre didn’t go quite a smoothly as she’d hoped and so attracted quite an audience. Later, to deal with the emotional fall-out, I had a laugh about it with friends, and I discovered they’d all endured similar moments.
“I thought, wow, all these people, whatever their size, are having tights issues. How big a problem is this? And because I’m a data nerd, I wanted to put numbers on it. So I did a Google survey of 3,000 people and found that 90% of women said their tights didn’t fit. Of those, 70% said life would be significantly better if they did have perfect tights.
“OK, but how big could a tights company be? I soon found that the global tights market is worth $56 billion, so launching a business seemed like the next logical step.”
So, Snag’s first act as an embryonic business was to share an embarrassing moment, uncover its customers’ problems and understand how to improve their lives. This culture of ‘chatting as equals’ has continued over the years.
Brie says: “The way I see it, our customers co-own the brand. They drive everything from product evolution to website development, and we respond to every comment or piece of advice they offer, whether on email or social media. For example, during the first 2020 lockdown, we received 10,000 emails from wellwishers; we split them among the team and replied to every single one. We’re in constant communication with our customers and that’s so, so important for us.
“But it also means that when they have a need, we have to turn it around really quickly.”
Part 2: Act fast on customer feedback
To deepen the customer relationship, speed is of the essence. If you ask your customers what they want and then react slowly, you may damage the bond. But if you unearth their desires and give them what they want ASAP, you prove that you’re listening and trustworthy.
To achieve such speed, Snag has developed a radical way of working. Brie says: “We’ve built a unique work culture because we need to be super-fast and efficient. So we don’t have an office – we were a virtual business even before Covid. And we don’t have any fixed working hours. Also, all our communication is via WhatsApp and we don’t plan meetings. Basically, the whole business is run from my iPhone.”
She explains why: “We want to eliminate unnecessary processes; reduce time-wasting; improve efficiency. For us, it’s about outcomes, not hours worked. At Snag, you spend your time working, not asking somebody how their cat is after its operation, so we strip out the chatter and superfluous meetings. People who live for social interactions do not tend to enjoy working here. We totally ‘get’ those people, we love and respect them, but Snag’s culture is not for them. Contrastingly, other personality types flourish here.”
Snag’s focused ‘non-office’ culture is built with customers in mind: time spent chatting with team members is time not spent making Snagglers happy. This company prioritises customers above all else, which is why it has such a bond with them.
Part 3: Give them a product to be proud of… and one that fits
Once Brie decided to launch a business after her George Street experience, she had many questions to answer. Why were 90% of women unhappy with their tights? Why was fit such a problem? Why had no other companies fixed this?
She explains: “What I discovered is that all tights only varied by length. So extra-small and extra-large were the same width, just longer or shorter, which is crazy.”
Eventually, Brie found a manufacturer (“the amazing Francesco, probably the only person who loves tights more than me”) who could create tights in different widths. And Snag produced its first run.
Her next move was to try the new tights on 100 women to see if she’d solved the all-important fit problem. She says: “Everyone loved them and we realised it was time to launch.”
Today, Snag takes at least six months to develop each product, testing them on people of all sizes. The founder says: “Normally, clothing is fitted once on a size-eight individual, then mathematically graded for other sizes. We do the opposite: we test fit in every size on many different people at every stage. Then, when our product hits the market, we know the fit is perfect.”
Unsurprisingly, getting the basics right — creating well-produced clothing that fits — strengthens your customers’ respect for you. With so many poor-quality, ill-fitting tights on the market, Snag has positioned itself as the high-quality tights manufacturer that cares and reaped the rewards.
But it’s not just about fit. Brie says: “Our customers also know our products are ethical. Our factories pay the living wage, we’re single-use-plastic-free throughout the supply chain, and we don’t use harsh chemicals. We also listen. If enough customers say they don’t like something, we change it. And if enough ask for a certain item, we make it. We greatly value having that open, two-way communication.”
Part 4: Be ‘radically inclusive’
Snag’s ethos is to welcome every customer as they are. Brie describes this as “radical inclusion” and it’s an essential part of Snag’s identity. It’s also an important reason customers feel a close bond with the company.
She says: “At Snag, everybody’s welcome, everybody’s loved, no matter what gender they are, what size they are, who they are, or where they are. We call this ‘radical inclusion’ and it’s tricky to get right. For example, we once considered launching a loyalty scheme. We ran it past the Snaggers, as we always do. They came back with: ‘How can you be inclusive if you create something exclusive?’ Their response blew me away. I thought we were doing a nice thing, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t inclusive. That experience taught us so much about what being inclusive really means.”
By forging a deep connection with its customers, Snag has raced from a simple idea to a £40m company in just four years. It now has two warehouses — one in the UK and another in the Netherlands (but, as we’ve heard, no office). Brie’s ambition now is to grow into a £1bn company. If Snag continues to build such a supercharged customer relationship, there’s no reason why it can’t get there, especially since it has now widened its range beyond tights. The founder is also eyeing South America (“the biggest tights market globally,” says Brie), Africa and China.
Two stats back up the idea that Snag has forged a uniquely special relationship with its customers. First, its conversion rate is 10%, so one in every ten people who visits its website buys a product (the global e-commerce average is 2-3%). But here’s the real clincher: Snag’s repeat rate is 84%, meaning more than eight in ten people who buy return to buy again.
So if you want inspiration in your quest to make your customers not just like you, but adore you like a beloved family member, look no further than Snag. You’ll need to be as honest as a best friend, as good a listener as a priest at confession, and more responsive than a needy boyfriend. Most of all, you’ll need a relentless desire to give your customers what they want. If you prioritise all those things and do it well, you might get close to Snag’s relationship with its Snagglers. But don’t count on it.
by Matt Wright