When retro fashion retailer ModCloth left its Strip District headquarters for San Francisco in 2010, it left critical members of its engineering, marketing and customer service team behind to hold down the fort.
Three years later, company executives say ModCloth has succeeded thanks in large part due to ideas and strategies implemented in the Pittsburgh region. And with plans to hire 50 new employees for ModCloth's Crafton office and fulfillment center, the online-only retailer will lean on Western Pennsylvania even more as it enters its next stage of growth.
"Our Pittsburgh location is critical to our success as a company. It's not an afterthought, it's not something that has been abandoned," said Udi Nir, ModCloth's San Francisco-based chief technology officer.
ModCloth, a privately-owned company founded by former Friendship residents Susan and Eric Koger, recognized 2012 as a year of unprecedented growth, with more than $100 million in revenue and a year-over-year growth rate of 40 percent.
In a press release, Mr. Koger noted an emphasis on social media and customer service interactions as key factors in the company's growth, both areas that employees in the Crafton engineering and customer care departments oversee.
Citing the "Be the Buyer" program, which allows users to vote on garment samples to be produced; the "Make the Cut" program, which allows votes on winning designs; and the social outfit-sharing feature "Style Gallery" as keys to the company's success, Mr. Koger said those programs would likely never have come to being without direct customer engagement that is often routed directly through Pittsburgh.
"Shopping has always been a social experience. What's changed is that, when online, customers are able to come together as a community and heavily influence each other and brands," Mr. Koger said in a press release. "ModCloth is different because we've embraced this change."
According to Mr. Nir, Pittsburgh's engineers work in conjunction with customer service representatives to examine ways the website can be made more user-friendly or methods to streamline technologies behind the intake, return and shipping processes. On top of the social engagement initiatives, data analysis conducted by business intelligence teams in Pittsburgh and San Francisco have led to the creation of the user-friendly iOS apps, a private label brand to be launched in the fall and the company's efforts to expand its plus-sized clothing offerings.
With the plus-sized clothing market taking in $664 million in profits in 2012, according to market research firm IBISWorld, targeting those consumers would seem to be a no-brainer for most retailers. But Mr. Nir said data analysis of customer feedback showed that the plus-sized market was a perfect fit for ModCloth, which features a community of users who share body measurements and discuss whether a caftan looks like a muumuu once it makes its way to a wearer.
"One of the interesting things about plus, as opposed to other retailers, is it fits really well with our brand. If you look at our site, we don't just use slim models and we don't just want slim customers. We want everybody," said Mr. Nir.
For the company's customer service representatives -- dubbed "Mod Stylists," by ModCloth Pittsburgh vice president of service, Scott Casciato -- a Web interface allows them to help customers accessorize and style purchases, chase down orders and answer general questions to build relationships with customers.
Mr. Casciato said recruiters won't have to look far beyond Pittsburgh to fill open engineering, marketing and Mod Stylist positions in Crafton, a key reason the Kogers knew they'd always have one foot in their hometown no matter how far they travel.
"Pittsburgh really provides a unique opportunity because there are not that many cities where you can get great talent across that broad of a skill set," he said.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652.