HOLM was founded by personal stylist Cristina Holm and business consultant Steve Johnson after the husband and wife team spotted a gap in the market for fashion personalisation software that offered accurate data from day one. The start-up joined SETsquared in 2017 and has just completed its first seed funding round.
Fashion personalisation technology – the automated recommendation of clothes for individual customers – has (to date) been used solely by e-commerce retailers with the hope of increasing sales and reducing returns.
However, HOLM felt that technology that relied on past purchases or users ‘guessing’ their own body measurements was starting with flawed data.
“If you consider that 30-60% of clothes in the average person’s wardrobe are left unworn, algorithms that work on past purchases are starting with incorrect data,” Cristina says, “Other systems we tried, rely on asking a customer to describe their body shape; women in particular can be terrible at this – how many of us have heard a gazelle-like friend complain of her ‘giant thighs’! We wanted to create something that would use accurate, objective data from the off.”
Moreover, existing technology was focused solely on the online experience, completely side-lining physical stores, that still account for a higher percentage of sales than online at a ratio of 3:1.
HOLM wanted to bring back traditional customer service, but with digital results.
In response, they designed an in-store ‘express styling’ system that could be used by any shop assistant with minimal training. The sales assistant takes two minutes to measure the customer with a tape measure and inputs the data into the HOLM app on an in-store tablet. The customer then instantly sees ranked results as to which clothes best suit their body shape – to try on there and then.
“The simple act of measuring someone, provides both a positive customer experience and an accurate data set that can be used across all of the retailer’s channels, both online and off,” says Cristina.
Early trials of the technology showed it more than doubles average transaction values in-store without any need for more staff. Online sales grew by 63%. Adopting this methodology also saw a reduction in online returns by the same amount.
Holm’s system operates with little input from the retailer. It works from existing inventory photography and classifies each garment according to what body shapes it suits. The algorithms recognize over 4,000 different female body variations rather than consigning the customers to the traditional fruit-based description of ‘apple’ or ‘pear’ etc.
HOLM won an ERDF funded place in Basingstoke, on SETsquared’s incubation programme after pitching to its team of mentors.
“We joined for two reasons,” says Cristina, “Firstly we’re not shy to learn from others, particularly those who’ve pioneered a business from scratch. Secondly because the programme takes no equity whatsoever, which is less common than it should be. We really feel the advice is unbiased and we immediately clicked with the like-minded mentors. So much so, one is now on our Advisory Board.”
Regular SETsquared workshops helped HOLM sharpen its marketing message and was the catalyst to securing seed monies from a private investor. It also provided Steve and Cristina with a valuable network of startups at a similar stage in their journeys. An added bonus has been the network and guidance from support service providers who regularly attend fortnightly ‘townhall’ days.
“We’ve enjoyed being part of a community of startups, as it can be quite lonely on your own. We help inspire each other with ideas and encouragement. Sharing pain and success in equal measure,” Steve says.
The next business goal for HOLM is to secure a full scale trial with a national retailer. It will use its seed fundraising to advance its technology beyond prototype to a fully scalable, commercial technology.
Steve says, “We’d absolutely recommend SETsquared, particularly the Basingstoke hub. What’s more this is just a taste of what’s to come; I’m certain Basingstoke will become a renowned ‘Silicon Suburb’ before long. For any budding start-ups considering SETsquared’s incubation – I can assure you – it’s a no brainer!”