Post graduation, Cherif Habib founded a business in the telecommunication industry that he says became the largest distributor of mobile accessories in Canada. Upon his return to grad school at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Habib could no longer live his working-professional lifestyle, but he still had the entrepreneurship bug. His solution? Create a company that brings steep discounts to students on popular retail brands in a private, online shopping community.
Habib and Stephan Jacob, a fellow Wharton student, came up with the idea for Kembrel in January 2010. By April, they had four entrepreneurship awards from UPenn and the site had already launched in beta. Over the summer, Habib said it amassed 20,000 members, which he adds was "pretty much through word of mouth."
His most recent launch was on Aug. 23, when Kembrel kicked off the first-ever private shop application on Facebook. Given their target demographic, Habib said Facebook is where the company's customers spend the most time. He said people could enter their credit card number and shop "without ever leaving Facebook. It's this whole idea of social commerce."
Kembrel starts a sale at 9 p.m. and it runs for five days. Habib said there are about 20 sales per month, and more than 50 brands signed on to sell. For each sale, Kembrel's buyers select a group of merchandise from a specific brand. "Whatever's on there is because we think it's a fair product," said Habib. Keeping the customer in mind, the buyers select brands and items that students want. "If Gap wants to do a sale, I think Gap's a fantastic company, but it's a block from every campus, so it's not of any value to our customers," said Habib. "The brands that we try to carry are ones that are not as accessible."
The discount on these items could be as little as 35% or as much as 70%. Habib said the company's aim is to give discounts at 60-70% off the retail price. "Sometimes, we have items that if you walked into the physical retail shop, you'd find it," he said. "We also have items that are previous season [and] we can give a big discount on that."
In order to access the shop, students have to create an account using any address. This makes deals truly exclusive for students and prevents search engines from finding them.
Past sales have included brands such as Seneca Rising, American Apparel and Original Penguin. Student shoppers can expect upcoming sales to include Neivz, Aryn K, L.A.M.B., and C & C California.
Kembrel is giving students more bang for their student discount. "They give student discounts at local businesses like pizza shops, but getting big discounts on brand new merchandise like apparel and accessories was not a common thing," said Habib.
Students aren't the only one benefiting. Habib said when the company first reached out to brands, these companies were very receptive to working with them. "When we spoke to brands, we realized one of their strategic initiatives was to reach out to the youth," he said. "We agreed with the brands that they would give huge discounts and they would hopefully acquire lifetime customers."
The company sends Kembrel samples of the selected sale pieces. Using student photographers and student models, the staff comes up with the images that will accompany the sale. Once they run the sale for five days, Kembrel buys the stock from the company. This set-up, Habib said, does not take any inventory risk. They order what they have already sold.
The Kembrel team includes its two founders, two buyers and a marketing pro, but, Habib said, "As in any start-up, all five of us are doing everything." Habib and Jacob are still managing their grad school classes while the other staffers are recent grads. As they expand onto to other campuses with pop-up shops and campus reps, more students have the chance to become involved with this growing company.
"Our vision for our company is to become a platform for consumer brands to reach students," said Habib. "Students have become very wary of any marketing that's done to them so we want to be seen as a fair, trusted channel."
With Kembrel, Students can now say see-ya to paying full price on clothing and accessories and start putting their student status to use for more than just acquiring student loan debt.
Alysse Dalessandro's writes about college entrepreneurs. Send her tips at MoneyCollege@Walletpop.com .
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