Wednesday at Rent the Runway’s Secaucus warehouse is its busiest day of the week. The company offers designer clothing as short-term rentals to its customers, at a fraction of the cost it would take to purchase the item. But since most of their customers are renting for events that take place on Saturday, Wednesday becomes the key day when items that have been rented are returned and need to be sent out again for the following weekend.
“You have to turn it around with essentially a zero day turn around time” says Rent the Runway’s co-founder and CEO, Jenn Hyman.
“If you go into any woman’s closet throughout the United States you’ll see that when you open the doors, most of the closet is black. It’s filled with black dresses and black tops. Why is that? Is that because women’s favorite color is black? No, it’s because it’s the most rational option,” explains Hyman. “The whole point of Rent the Runway is to leave some of your common sense at home and actually try something printed or pink or sequined or fun, just because you can.”
And sure enough, printed, pink, and sequined dresses fill the warehouse.
When the pre-stamped envelopes that the company provides to renters for returns begin to filter in to the warehouse, they’re scanned and sorted based on their contents.
If an item inside needs to be sent out that same day, it’s put into one bin; if it’s not needed just yet, it goes into another. The urgent envelopes are opened and the dresses and accessories inside are sent to be cleaned.
This is a huge undertaking. Luckily, Rent the Runway’s warehouse happens to be conveniently located near a dry-cleaner: their own. When Rent the Runway opened this Secaucus warehouse late last year, they became the largest dry cleaner in the United States.
And if a stain or a spot needs to be removed, they have experienced workers like Nick, The Stain Guy, to help out.
Click below to hear Nick, The Stain Guy at work.
The dresses are dry cleaned, and then sent on to a pool of about 50 seamstresses to mend anything that might be amiss. Some dresses are altered to fit the height of the customer who ordered them.
“One of the key insights that we had when we started the business was that women felt like they had to wear a new outfit for every occasion” says Hyman. She explains, “they had been photographed and that photograph was now up on Facebook and they couldn’t repeat their outfit.”
The company also offers a subscription service similar to Netflix. Users pay a flat monthly fee and receive three items at a time from their queue of dresses, accessories, and jewelry.
Many customers order multiple items – a dress in two sizes, and accessories. The company’s software helps keep track of what’s missing from an order and when an order is complete, ready to be packaged and sent out. At the end of the day, at about 8pm, UPS picks up stacks of Rent the Runway boxes, ready to be shipped out.
A large portion of the Secaucus warehouse is vacant but Hyman expects she’ll be expanding in to that area son enough. She has a grand vision for the Rent the Runway’s future.
“I believe that every woman in this country and later every woman in the world should have a subscription to fashion, just like you have a subscription to music or to entertainment and via that subscription, you would be able to just have fun with this amazing industry that we’re in.”
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.