“I think when you specialise in a particular product and your whole business is geared around that, you can’t help but become a bit obsessed,” Claire Lewis, buyer at Truffle Shuffle explains to Licensing.biz.
While I wouldn’t go as far as to say obsessed, it’s certainly the case that the team at Truffle Shuffle are passionate about their work. A longstanding love affair with all things 80’s and a chance encounter with a Dukes of Hazzard t-shirt were responsible for the start of the site, says Lewis.
“After buying said t-shirt on a trip to New York six years ago, Pat [Wood] wore it to the pub and after getting tons of comments from his fellow drinkers asking where they could get something similar, realised that there was a gap in the UK market for a store selling licensed, retro tees,” Lewis tells us.
The duo started selling a few tees on eBay and, with their first £10 profit bought a domain, naming it after the famous dance from 80s classic The Goonies. “Pat set up a basic website, we sourced some tees from the US and then, for the first year or so, we operated from our flat in between my final year studies and Pat’s full time job,” Lewis continues. “We never imagined that it would become anything more than a hobby.”
Nearly six years later, Truffle Shuffle is operating from a 7,500 square foot warehouse and shipping up to 23,000 products a month. In December 2009, visitors peaked at 355,000 (although on a normal month this is closer to 300,000). Sounds like much more than a hobby.
“It’s funny because when we first started, sourcing premium, licensed product from within the UK was a huge struggle for us,” Lewis remembers. “We wanted to position ourselves above the typical record retailers and grocers, but we weren’t able to buy custom ranges from any of their suppliers at that point because their minimum order quantities were so huge. That’s why our only option was to source brands from the States for the first year or so, because they had the set up to supply independent stores like ourselves, and so we were the first UK-based store to bring the likes of Junk Food, Mighty Fine and American Classics to the UK.”
These are all still strong brands on the site, while the firm has steadily added other labels including Chunk, Amplified, Urban Species and Disney Couture. It has also started working more with licensees such as BC and Fashions UK, which both create exclusive lines for Truffle Shuffle. However, its biggest brand by far is its sister label, Famous Forever, which was set up in conjunction with two designers a few years ago. It holds around 40 licences including the likes of Top Gun, My Little Pony, Transformers, Count Duckula and Button Moon.
In terms of other big sellers, Lewis says that Goonies product has always been successful: “Our Goonies Never Say Die slogan tee is a long-term bestseller after it was worn by Anne Hathaway, although anything which has been spotted on a celebrity moves up the bestseller list pretty quickly to be honest. Other than that, superheroes is our best selling category overall, mainly because we have so much product related to the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. Disney Couture jewellery has also been a huge hit in recent months.”
Coming up, and Lewis highlights Alice in Wonderland, plus Famous Forever’s upcoming Poddington Peas t-shirts.
“Gifts and accessories are a relatively new addition for us, but they’ve both been hugely successful so far so we’re also working hard on expanding that further,” Lewis says. “There are some great licensees operating within this category, like Half Moon Bay and BB Designs, and we keep unearthing more every month, so we will be adding to our current range quite heavily with produces under licences like Where’s Wally?, Mr Men and Little Miss and Ladybird to name a few.”
Looking ahead, and further growth from the site is likely to come from a number of new categories, plus growing awareness of the site overseas.
“Although we operate in a niche sector, we’re constantly surprised at just how much relevant product there is available to us and we’ve already identified tonnes of new avenues to grow our offering,” Lewis continues. “From a product point of view, we’re working on introducing lots of new shapes into our apparel category, so things like dresses, vests, sweaters, oversized and v-neck tees. We’re also going to be launching a fancy dress offering and we’ve found some great retro toys for our younger fans. We’re also looking to add in a new homewares category ready for next Christmas and we want to double our gifts and accessories offering by then, too.
“We also only just scratched the surface from a licence point of view; we get at least 20 suggestions a week for 80’s movies, TV shows, cartoons, etc which we’ve not yet covered so there is a lot of opportunity for growth there as well. Plus, as time goes by, we’ve always got the 90’s to start adding into the mix.”
Despite the planned expansion, Lewis is clear that Truffle Shuffle will not be diluting its retro licensed USP. “We may try the odd generic slogan tee here and there, but it would still have to fit within the retro theme,” she explains. “We are of the firm belief that specialisation is the key to setting independents like ourselves apart in the world of e-tail, which is becoming more and more competitive every day. There are tons of t-shirts retailers out there, but far less licensed, retro t-shirt specialists.”
Truffle Shuffle has come a long way in a relatively short space of time, but where does Lewis see it in five years’ time? “Obviously, we’re known mostly for our selection of retro t-shirts, but we’re working really hard to broaden our product range, so within five years I’d like us to have grown into more of a retro superstore with lots more product categories under our belt,” she concludes.