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LittleMissMatched has legs


“Nothing matches but anything goes” is the motto at LittleMissMatched, which got its start in 2004 by selling packs of colorful, mismatched girls’ socks. Flash forward six years, and the start-up now has a product range that extends across more than 50 categories and multiple distribution channels. The novel merchandise—distinguished by unusual pairings of colors and patterns, and endless customization opportunities—is central to LittleMissMatched’s operating philosophy.

“Since our products are creative, we incorporate that essence throughout all the different areas of our business,” said Jonah Staw, 34, CEO and co-founder of LittleMissMatched, New York City. “We bring the kid out in people and give them a fun way to express themselves.”

Staw and some friends came up with the concept after a discussion about the mystery of disappearing socks. A business plan was developed, and then a logo: a cartoon image of a little girl in mismatched clothing.

It didn’t take long for LittleMissMatched to find its footing. Selling mainly through specialty retailers, department stores and its Web site, the company experienced a growing demand for its colorful goods—and not just by young girls. Through various partnerships, LittleMissMatched has extended its offerings to include everything from slippers and clothing to bedding and furniture to accessories and school suppliers. Tween girls (and whimsical legwear) remain its sweet spot, but the company also has items for boys, infants, toddlers, teens and adults.

In 2008, LittleMissMatched struck out on its own retail-wise with two holiday pop-ups. Encouraged by the store’s performance, the company opened its first permanent location, in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, in May 2009. It was followed by an additional Big Apple store, on Fifth Avenue, and stores at Downtown Disney, in Buena Vista, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., as well as in Chicago and Washington, D.C. The freestanding units average from 1,000 sq. ft. to 1,500 sq. ft., and are located in high-traffic locations with lots of walk-by traffic.

“Since we are working with a small footprint, we design our stores like a game of pinball with an unscripted walking path,” Staw said.

LittleMissMatched is designed to encourage creativity. In the “Unmatch-a-Batch” station, for example, customers can create a personalized three-pack of socks by testing out styles on freestanding foot forms.

For its Anaheim location, the retailer turned to retail design firm JGA to create an interactive experience not only inside, but on the outside, as well.

“We created a dynamic exterior to get people interested in the brand as they walk by and ultimately lure them into the store,” said Ken Nisch, chairman, JGA, Southfield, Mich.

Similar to a tic-tac-toe game, shoppers can mismatch socks on 10-in.-by-14-in. panels located on the storefront. As they enter the store, customers are bathed in polka dot or grid-like patterns of projected lighting, allowing them, in effect, to become mismatched themselves.

“This location uses more visual merchandising and graphics to bring the store to life,” Nisch said.

LittleMissMatched is an enthusiastic, if unconventional, marketer. It relies heavily on word of mouth, and networks on the Web via Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. When a new store opens, it plasters the areas with “Lost Sock” posters.

“We are scrappy when it comes to marketing,” Staw said.

The truth is, rather than spending big dollars on marketing campaigns, LittleMissMatched prefers to invest in customer touch points, including sock tags and packaging.

“We try to tell our story at every touch point,” Staw explained. “The packaging on our products opens like a book to tell the story of our brand. And we always direct shoppers to our site so they can play games and interact with our brand. In the stores, we do quirky, fun and memorable things to reinforce the brand.”

LittleMissMatched is gearing up to expand in 2010, but Staw would not reveal specifics. (In addition to its own stores and online, the company, whose sales reportedly hit $32 million in 2008 and are expected to rise 40% in 2009, sells its product in some 3,000 specialty stores and department stores nationwide.)

“We’re still looking at consumer behavior, different markets and demographics to help determine what will work best for us,” Staw said. “But we’re a young company and very opportunistic—if the right opportunities come our way.”

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