CEO Series

This M'sian Online Shop Grew Into A 6-Figure Business, All Thanks To A Pair Of Sandals

  • Ants Tribe is an online store that curates affordable footwear for Malaysians. 
  • Their bestseller is actually an in-house brand called ANTS, with their Candy Sandals being the bestsellers on the website. 
  • Learning from mistakes, Ants Tribe puts customer needs at the forefront while continuously growing the business.

Joseph and Caryl were two good friends who decided to get into business together, after brainstorming session at a coffee house.

The result? Their platform, Ants Tribe, an online store that sells a curated list of affordable shoes with prices that range from RM5 to RM80. The listings are curated based on the founders’ finds, and supplemented by their own in-house developed brand ANTS.

The Ants Tribe page.

“People always ask me why a guy like me chose to sell women’s shoes online. Yes, it was very awkward in the beginning when I walked into a women’s shoe store to do our research,” said Joseph.

However, he and Caryl both agree on the importance of shoes as a fashion statement, and wanted for it to be affordable for the middle class and “the bottom of the [class] pyramid”.

“There are many brands that provide good quality products for top of the pyramid, but we aim to balance the quality and price, which give back the benefit for customers by cutting out unnecessary cost. This is what we want. “

The launch of the platform feels like yesterday to Joseph. But it has been around since late 2016, and now they see almost 100,000 monthly visitors and have 50,000 registered users mostly made up of 18 to 35-year-old women.

They started off just buying products from suppliers, but along the way, they noticed an issue.

“We insist on doing a strict selection of style and quality when comes to supplier purchases. But, sometimes it’s hard to find products that match well with Ants Tribe. It can be a long process to see the results.”

“So, we had an idea—why don’t we manufacture our own product?”

Their first ANTS product, Candy Sandals, was designed with both function and style in mind.

Candy Sandals / Image Credit: Ants Tribe

“We did a lot of research to find a style that can be generally accepted by Malaysians as we want every Malaysian to be able to wear it.”

They took a few months to bring it from an idea to manufacturing, and finally launched it in May 2017.

Joseph recalled the very first time he saw someone wear his sandals “out in the wild”.

“I felt immensely satisfied and proud but at the same time, worried that the business might not take off. I thought that if the business didn’t take off, I’d probably open a stall selling chicken rice next.”

But the sandals did take off, to the point that the team had to figure out how to dispatch such a big volume of parcels on the same day, as part of their business promise.

The Candy Sandals are now still one of their bestsellers, going at RM24.90 a pair.

The sandals have reached a 500% growth from the date of their launch. Even though they were listed together with competition on the very same platform, the founders report that their Candy Sandals have sold 30,000 pairs to date. All in all, this has brought them to a total 6-figure monthly revenue, according to the founders.

Since then, ANTS has launched two other product lines, with three more planned for release later this year—including options for men.

The sales are also a result of customer acquisition strategies.

“Customer acquisition is always a long-term struggle for us. In our early stage, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to bring orders to our sale pipeline starting from zero.”

One key tool for the Ants Tribe team was social media, where they found the right audience that resonates with the products they sold. Eventually, they managed to grow it into an Ants Tribe community.

To Ants Tribe, sales require a combination of both product and marketing skills, with a major dose of understanding customers.

After all, they learned this the hard way.

Jelly Sandals, another design by ANTS / Image Credit: Ants Tribe

“Without much understanding of what customers want, we’ve made mistakes and bought over 3000 pairs of shoes,” recalled Joseph.

“We were lost when we were holding a large number of stock that we were unable to sell off in our early stage. It was a very long process to clear them and now some of them had become obsolesced (outdated) stock.”

The key to growth: act fast and grow fast.

“We had so many ideas, but they only ever remained as ideas as we lacked the courage to go out and execute them. It’s not about the idea, it’s about starting and executing brilliantly. In the first year, we strove to grow and until now we are still thinking how to grow non-stop.”

Now they’re capitalising on the online shopping trend.

In the debate between retail and going online, Joseph thinks that they made the right choice starting an online store. It serves their vision of “big but cheap” well.

“There is room for the local fashion industry to expand as the country becomes more receptive towards internet shopping. The local scene will need to embrace the Internet in order to compete with established brands in terms of market exposure and visibility.”

The core principle, to Joseph, is to remain optimistic while also being realistic.

“There will be lean times more often than not, especially in the initial phases. So, this is where optimism will come in handy. In good times, we should maintain a degree of realism that it won’t last forever and plan for other initiatives or businesses.”

Besides launching three more of their own designs, Ants Tribe might soon extend to providing products beyond just shoes. Other than that, they plan to turn Ants Tribe into a major player by expanding into other SEA countries in the next 5 years.

Their policy of keeping the customer experience as front and center of their business seems to have yielded positive results for them so far, despite hiccups. Finding affordable shoes is a very relatable pain point, and it seems like Ant Tribe’s designs have resonated with the middle-class Malaysians.

  • You can find the Ants Tribe website here

Feature Image Credit: Ants Tribe

 

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