Jalem Getz’s Latest Retail Startup Wantable Targets Women, Fast Growth

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Milwaukee serial entrepreneur Jalem Getz swore he was done with companies that sell widgets back in 2010, after he left BuySeasons, the online retailer and distributor of costumes and party supplies that he co-founded in 1999 and helped grow to $170 million in annual revenue.

But he has returned to the ecommerce startup world with Milwaukee-based Wantable, a fast-growing startup that sells young women boxes of makeup, fashion accessories, and intimate apparel based on style profiles generated by customers online. Getz founded the company in 2012 after he spent more than a year experimenting with digital startups through Startup Republic, his self-funded skunkworks incubator and “private playground,” he says.

“I realized very quickly I was very good at retail and not so good at anything else,” Getz says, sitting in the conference room at Wantable’s office in Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward neighborhood near downtown.

During the period between leaving BuySeasons and starting Wantable, Getz and a small team of software developers worked on two ventures: Hopscotch, a peer-to-peer video chat platform based around specific topics, and Siide.com, an online marketplace for soliciting quick side jobs. Getz says they were both “cool ideas,” but he wasn’t passionate enough about them to see the businesses through.

Instead, he scrapped them and decided to do his third retail startup, Wantable.

“I came to the conclusion that if I want to build something, I can go out there and learn everything from scratch like the 20-year-olds, or I can just go down the path that I’ve done before,” the 41-year-old says. “If you’ve done it before, you might as well lean on the skills that you’ve honed over the decades.”

He co-founded his first retail startup, GMI, at age 22 with business partner Jon Majdoch. Their portfolio of specialty retail brands included seven Milwaukee-area franchise stores of seasonal outlet Halloween Express. Getz and Majdoch later co-founded BuyCostumes.com, an online retailer of Halloween costumes, which became BuySeasons. Getz sold his stake in GMI to Majdoch in 2001, with Majdoch continuing to run that business and Getz leading BuySeasons, based in New Berlin, WI, a Milwaukee suburb.

During Getz’s tenure as BuySeasons’s CEO, the company eventually captured a third of the global market share for online costume sales and became the largest employer in New Berlin, with more than 500 full-time and 2,000 seasonal employees, he says. BuySeasons was acquired in 2006 by Englewood, CO-based Liberty Media for an undisclosed sum, and Getz remained CEO.

Getz says he quit BuySeasons four years later because he believed he had done all he could do to grow it and he was leaving it in the hands of a good management team. Getz, who considers himself a “dirt under the fingernails kind of entrepreneur,” also says he felt like some of BuySeasons’ “entrepreneurial drive had started to go away” because the business had grown so large.

“Now over the last couple of years I’ve gotten back in that groove,” Getz says. “I look forward to the day that Wantable is the same, where it’s going to be a $100-$200 million company, and I have no doubt that we’ll get there. We’re larger than BuySeasons was at the same time today, and we have a very compelling value proposition which is not seasonally at risk the way BuySeasons was,” with a significant portion of its revenue coming during Halloween season.

Wantable, whose competitors include Birchbox, asks customers to complete an online quiz that determines their personal style preferences. Based on their likes and dislikes, an algorithm generates a list of “unique, specialty, and premium brand” items for custom boxes of makeup, fashion accessories like jewelry and scarves, and intimate apparel like panties and socks. Wantable will ship the products to customers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. for $40 for a single box or a $36 monthly subscription for each of the three categories.

Getz declined to share specifics, but says revenue is doubling every four months. The staff has grown to 23 from just a handful of people a year ago. In a few weeks, the company will begin renting additional office space three floors above its current space, which will more than double its physical footprint to 7,800 square feet, Getz says.

Wantable raised $800,000 in seed funds last year, with Getz among the company’s investors. He declined to comment on the prospect of additional fundraising.

Getz recognizes that Wantable’s business concept isn’t unique and it wasn’t the first to try this model. But he pointed out that BuySeasons wasn’t the first costume company, yet it gained substantial market share through execution and focusing on the “details” and “nuances” of the business.

Unlike Birchbox, which launched in 2010 with a focus on women and has since expanded to include men’s products, Getz says Wantable is targeting one specific demographic: women aged 24 to 35.

“We compete on emotion,” Getz says. “If a customer knows what she wants [to buy], she can go to Amazon, or go somewhere else. If she wants value, she wants to discover new products that she didn’t know existed, she wants to develop a relationship, that’s where Wantable is.”

Wantable order fulfillmentOne tactic that has helped Wantable grow, Getz says, is its “one-roof model” in which it does everything in-house, from order fulfillment to customer service to technology development. The personalized cards that go in every box are printed and cut in Wantable’s office, most of which is currently taken up by several rows of cardboard bins, stacked six shelves high, that hold the clothing and accessories. On a recent morning, staff members busily picked items and packed them into boxes to be shipped to women around the world.

“Everything about this business is in our control” except the shipping, Getz says. “If you want to control the experience and create an incredible value proposition to your customer, you have to own every single nuance…Every employee here is committed to filling the needs of the customer and is accountable to it.”

So why start Wantable in Wisconsin, as opposed to a bigger startup community like northern California, where Getz was raised? For one thing, Getz knows the Milwaukee-area business community well.

And after BuySeasons, he spent some time living with a friend in San Francisco. Getz realized that he was “essentially a nobody in California,” where there’s a lot more entrepreneurs who have achieved successful exits.

“I was a little fish in a big pond,” Getz says. “Here they still talk about the company that I sold eight years ago. I’m a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Ego aside, the value of that is attracting talent, having your local network.”

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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