This blog is a part of our series highlighting and celebrating Black founders within the subscription industry. With thousands of SUBTA members, we’re proud to tell their stories. Stay tuned for more blogs throughout Black History Month.
Launching and scaling a subscription company is a journey filled with unique experiences and challenges. The path to success looks different for every entrepreneur. For the founder and CEO of Splendies, a leading underwear subscription, it involved many lessons learned, a new way of understanding his target market, and dealing with prejudices as a Black entrepreneur.
Anthony Coombs, Founder and CEO of Splendies, is no stranger to the modern challenges Black business owners face today – but “no” is not a part of his vocabulary.
Yet, while prejudices continue to exists, Coombs is so much more than his identity as a Black man. He is also a man in a woman’s industry who is truly embodying the brightest qualities of his brand: class, quality, and camaraderie.
Anthony — or AC, as he’s affectionately known by his peers, colleagues, and friends — shares his story of building a successful subscription business, being a male CEO in a business that caters exclusively to women and dealing with what he calls “casual racism.”
Read on to learn how AC overcame a failed app company to become the owner of a successful underwear subscription brand that embraces all sizes and skin colors.
The Splendid World of Undies
Splendies is a monthly subscription box delivering three pairs of fun, quality and comfy undies for ladies with curves. “There aren’t many options for plus-size women, nor black nude colors, in the world of underwear,” says AC. “I wanted to change that.”
When he first started Splendies, AC had significant time to dedicate to building the business. He’d just closed the door on a failed app company and knew his future was meant for something new.
“I researched like crazy,” says AC, describing how, as a man, he had to learn how to build a business based on what women want to wear under their clothes. “What you don’t know, you find out on the 30th page of Google. It takes a lot of learning, research, and tenacity. But I decided I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
His tenacity paid off, and Splendies launched in 2013. Flash forward to 2020, and AC found himself sharing groundbreaking news with his team in their company Slack workspace. They’d hit 95% customer satisfaction in their recent surveys — a stat that’s nearly unheard of in the subscription industry.
“Members don’t quite understand everything that goes on behind the scenes,” says AC. “And we want it that way because our goal is to fix any issues before they ever get to the customers.”
As AC and his team look forward, their plans to scale serve an overarching goal: to make as many customers happy as possible. “The growth happens when customers are happy,” he says.
Splendies will be opening a facility in Canada to ensure faster delivery so local subscribers get their boxes on the same timeline as U.S. customers. And, in other news, socks and sleepwear are coming soon to the Splendies online store.
A Man in a Woman’s World
AC understands that being a male CEO of a company catering exclusively to women can have its challenges.
“I rely a lot on my team. I’m constantly learning about what it’s like for women,” he says. “There’s a lot that I’m never going to know, but as a CEO who employs a team of mostly women, I have seen a profound impact for the business because there are just some things a man is never going to know or feel or fully understand.”
AC is also realistic about Splendies’ position in the marketplace — and he and his team have used that knowledge to grab the top spot. “There are several other women’s underwear subscription boxes now. But we are the most affordable subscription service for women’s underwear that provides great value, quality and service.”
Despite his struggle to fully relate to his customers, AC is an advocate for them. “Any and every woman deserves to feel sexy and have fun,” he says. “We’ve created the freedom for women to talk about underwear in a fun, safe way.”
AC’s attitude of inclusion and representation has carried over into his target audience. In fact, Splendies customers took it upon themselves to build their own online community. It wasn’t until the group hit about 4,000 members that Splendies became aware of the growing community and got in touch with the group admins.
Since not everyone gets the same undies in every box, the group is a place for women to share what they receive and even trade if they want to. “I never knew people would trade underwear, but they do,” says AC. “It’s an amazing community and one that was completely organic from the customers.”
Being Black in The Subscription Space
Being a man in a woman’s marketplace isn’t the only hurdle AC has overcome. When asked for his perspective on how Black Americans are represented in the subscription industry, AC shared some touching insights and personal experiences.
“Black business owners need to understand that you are your brand,” says AC. “More than likely, your race won’t be a hindrance to you building a successful business. But you have to understand that there is prejudice everywhere… and it’s best if you decide right now how you’re going to deal with that when it happens.”
A few years ago, AC was attending SubSummit and had a troubling interaction with a fellow attendee. While he was standing in a group with two other Black men and a Hispanic man, a white woman walked by and casually said, “Now don’t you boys go getting arrested tonight.”
“Me and the other two Black guys just shrugged it off because we’re used to it,” AC says. “Our Hispanic friend was floored. He was so angry, he wanted to confront her. We talked him out of it, but to this day he remembers that experience and says he’s going to use that story to teach his son what casual racism looks like.”
In his own business, AC takes a hard stance of non-prejudice in his hiring practices. “I’m looking for people who don’t want to settle for anything less than my standards. I’m not looking at race,” says AC. “Diversity seems to just naturally happen in our business. For instance, we’re all remote and as we’re growing our team, we had one lady working with us for two months before I found out she was Black. I just literally don’t care what your race is as long as you’re attentive to detail, doing good work and upholding our company goals.”
According to AC, at the end of the day, customers, colleagues and other businesses really only care about whether the customer can get a good experience at a good price; or, on the business-to-business (B2B) level, whether your company can help their company make money.
“That’s pretty much it in the business world. But on an individual experience, there will always be prejudice and you can’t let it rile you up or distract you from your goals.”
AC and his success with Splendies are a perfect example of the persistence and resilience it takes for Black business owners to succeed in the United States. There’s hope, though, says AC. “I think highlighting people is what you can do. Sharing positive stories and uplifting others. Lending a hand, providing resources, and helping those who have been marginalized.”
Despite the “casual racism” AC faced and his being a man in a woman-centric industry, he created a much-needed product for women of all shapes, sizes, and races. As a result, Splendies has become a leader in the industry while creating a safe, fun space for its customers.
SUBTA is proud to have members like AC who openly share their stories and experiences while helping others grow in the industry. Our organization represents both our association and you, the members. We’re committed to continuing this journey of growth and knowledge sharing alongside our community from all walks of life.