Today on the show, I'm talking to Erica Neumayer of Rare Dirndl. (I had to ask Erica how to pronounce that — [durn-dl]). Her business is raredirndl.com and she creates super fun, unique dirndls for a very niche audience. She's got a six-figure business and is also a mom to a 2-year-old.
Press play on the podcast player below to hear the full interview.
What is a Dirndl?
A dirndl is a dress that is worn to German events like Oktoberfest. It's traditionally associated with Bavaria, southern Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland. The basic elements of the dirndl are a sleeveless dress, a blouse, and an apron (although variations abound!).
Erika's Involvement in the German Community Gave Her the Inspiration for Rare Dirndl
Erika Neumayer has very German ancestry — both sets of grandparents came to the United States from Yugoslavia after World War 2. The area they were from was very concentrated with German culture, so they were used to eating German food and speaking the language. Once in America, they found people in the area who were like them and joined German social clubs. Erika's parents even met each other in a German club!
When Erika was 4 years old, her parents put her in the German club dancing group for kids. She attended German Club throughout high school, practicing dances and wearing dirndls when the group would perform during the summer.
Erika received a degree in fashion design from Dominican University in 2009. When she graduated, she says she was so disappointed to see that Germany's dirndl designs were lightyears ahead of the designs coming out of the U.S.
“You could either get something that was cotton with small florals or you could get something that was polyester with embroidery. Those were your options. And I was like, ‘This is not fine,'” Erika says. “When you're dancing in the same outfit all the time, you want to change into something more exciting!”
Erika made a couple dirndls in the beginning to see if people would enjoy them. Her friends started to like the designs, and her idea snowballed from there.
That is so neat! Who wants to perform in the same costume week after week? That's no fun! Erika saw this need and a niche where she wanted more unique dirndls for everyone.
Erika officially launched Rare Dirndl in 2010 as an online store. She was selling a couple things on the site, mostly to friends and family, and then there was one time she got an order for a dirndl from a stranger.
“And that was when it was the most like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I can do this. I'm doing this. I have a real business!'” Erika says.
Marketing Rare Dirndl
In the beginning, Erika's main source of marketing for Rare Dirndl was word of mouth within the German community that she had grown up in.
“In Chicago, the German community is really tight knit, so word was traveling fast and it grew slowly over time. I found new pockets of different German clubs that I didn't even know existed before. So I started reaching out, and I felt like if I could get one or two people to buy something and love it, then they would do the rest. And that strategy worked really well for quite a long time,” Erika says.
Jen and Linda, the Customer Avatars
Erika markets to two different customer bases, which she characterizes as “Jen” and “Linda.”
Jen has a dirndl closet and knows what is involved in getting dressed in a dirndl. She probably has a couple go-to German restaurants. Her grandparents speak to her mostly in German, so she's got a little bit of knowledge of the language. She can kind of mix up German and English and it's funny. Other things she does are on the weekends, primarily in the summertime. She's got German club events, a lot of friends in the German club, perhaps even her significant other.
In the beginning, this was Erika's 100% target customer, and she still focuses most of her year's marketing toward “Jen.” But in the past few years, she's added a secondary customer avatar, “Linda,” who she gears her marketing toward during the leadup to Oktoberfest.
Linda is attending Oktoberfest or another German special event for the first time. She needs a dirndl, but she's not really sure what all goes with it. Does she need socks? Can she wear tights? What kind of shoes does she wear? Does she have to put her hair in braids? Why is the zipper in the front? The concept of a dirndl and the accompanying dress are unfamiliar to her.
I love that Erika has those two different customer avatars! She knows who they are, what their needs are, and she's speaking right to them.
Erika's Marketing Messages Channel Her Spunky and Fun Personality
Erika wants to communicate to “Linda,” the dirndl newbie, that the whole point of wearing a dirndl is FUN!
“It's about eating pretzels and having a beer that are both bigger than your head,” Erika laughs. “You don't have to worry about being authentic and traditional. Just wear something that makes you feel fabulous, and I'll help explain the rest of it.”
Erika writes blog posts about dirndl wear and etiquette (What kind of underwear goes with a dirndl? Ask Erika!), and offers a travel checklist for Oktoberfest and other events.
She really wants to get subscribers to her email list because that's where she drives most of her sales. To build her list, she has what she calls IFOs (irresistible free offers), such as Oktoberfest packing checklists and a Dirndl Style Quiz.
“Everybody still seems to love a good quiz, and that goes automatically into a little funnel that eventually tries to sell them a dirndl. The conversions on that particular funnel aren't wonderful, but I think a lot of it is just getting on that list because I create and give a lot of content,” Erika says.
I thought it was so interesting that for Erika's quiz, people have to enter their name and email address before they even get started!
Erika promotes her quiz in a link tree on Instagram, on Facebook, and on the sidebar of her blog. She tries to mention it every third or fourth post unless something else really exciting is happening. It seems to be working: In a recent seven-day period, Erika has gotten 42 new subscribers from the quiz!
“I talk about it quite a bit,” Erika says. “I have to remind myself that people see one-tenth of what we do, or even one-twentieth, so we have to remind them quite a few times.”
Rare Dirndl Facebook Group Creates a Community Around Her Dirndl Fans
Erika uses her Facebook group, the Rare Dirndl First Looks Club, to give her followers sneak peeks, early access to new items, and first dibs on sale items. She says she tends to post in the group more often than on the Rare Dirndl Facebook page, because the members (there's more than 1,300 of them!) are more engaged there.
Rare Dirndl Makes Most Sales from Email List
Erika has about 6,400 people on her email list, and she sends emails weekly — 3 content emails and 1 sales email per month.
Erika says she doesn't worry about creating all-new content for every email she sends. She has a lot of content built up on her blog, so she pulls from that.
“I'm trying to just use what I already have. It's so hard to think that these people haven't seen it, but someone could be joining my list for the first time today and they have no idea what I sent out two years ago. So why not send it out again?” Erika says.
And even for the people that saw it two years ago, it's going to be a great reminder. They'll maybe remember that they learned that thing before, but it still feels new to them, too!
Short sales, like one- or two-day runs, work really well for Erika. If one of her popular items, like an off-the-shoulder blouse, goes on sale, she sends out 3 emails on the day of the sale. She also uses her email service to segment people who have clicked on the product but didn't buy, so she can target them a little more. At the end of the day, Erika sends out a last-call email, and she typically gets another couple sales from that email.
So here's the thing: Erika has 6,400 email subscribers, and her take-home pay is almost the same as her husband's take-home pay! I love that, because I think people assume they need an enormous email list in order to have a six figure business in order to bring home a great paycheck. And that's not true!
I would describe Erika's email list as small but mighty because it's highly targeted. Everyone on her list is very interested in dirndls, so they respond when she has a sale or promotion!
Erika says she tracks her email list on a weekly basis and doesn't dwell on unsubscribes. She is confident in her product, and she knows from her sales and marketing activities that email is definitely where she gets most of her sales.
“If I send out an email and my phone makes the ‘cha-ching!' noise, they're totally related,” Erika says.
She hasn't had the same sales success through Instagram, so instead of putting a ton of energy into Instagram, she's focused on getting her Instagram followers into her email list.
Dealing with Business Burnout
Erika reached out to me after I did a podcast episode on my experience with burnout, so I asked her about her journey and how she came back from that.
In 2015, Erika was able to quit her waitressing job to focus on Rare Dirndl full time. The next year, “things just exploded,” she says, and her business was doing really well. Then she found out that she was pregnant! So she decided to not work as hard and enjoy her maternity leave once her son was born. After that, she slowly got back into the workflow and maintained a steady pace.
In 2018, Erika says she went back to her old ways and was hustling too much, especially with a toddler now in the mix! “Toddlers are a super time suck,” Erika says. “They suck all the energy out of you.”
She realized that the pace she had set for herself wasn't sustainable, so at the end of the year, she took a good chunk of time to reflect on what was working and when she was most productive. She didn't want to miss out on all the fun stuff her son was going to do so she knew she had to work smarter.
This year, Erika has been more organized, and she says she's done a better job at time-blocking when she's with her son.
“I try to be present and be there, which is easier said than done. But taking walks and getting out of the house even when it's cold and terrible Chicago weather is really helpful for balancing that burnout. He's a toddler and he does a lot of funny stuff, so really cherishing that and letting work just relax for a minute has been super helpful,” Erika says.
I love that Erika took that step back and didn't just throw everything away and say, “I'm over this.” Instead, she took inventory and figured out what worked really well and what wasn't working so well. She made some wise decisions about where her time would be best spent.
When Erika feels herself slipping back into her old habits (what she calls “2018 Erika”), she stops and asks, “What do I need to switch up? Am I in charge of how I feel and what I'm doing?”
Erika has chosen to focus on selling her highest profit margin items — dirndls and blouses — instead of getting bogged down in marketing smaller items like accessories and jewelry.
“I realized that I need to stop trying to sell all this little stuff and focus on what I'm really good at — dirndls and blouses,” Erika says.
Just take this in for a minute: Erika is focused on two main products. That's it! Dirndls and blouses are the foundation of her business.
“It just feels so freeing to only have these two things to focus on. And it's surprisingly enough! So many people ask, ‘Is that all you do? How are there enough people? How is this enough money?' And I tell them, ‘Well, if you make sure that your profit margins are there and people want what you have, there's so many people out there in this world that have a need for something specific,'” Erika says.
Those of us who are creative, entrepreneur, idea-filled people might feel like this approach is limiting, but it's actually freedom from exhaustion, burnout, and trying to do all of the things 100% of the time.
Focusing on a High-Quality Experience Helps Erika Maintain a Faithful Customer Base
Erika says that when she keeps her focus narrow, she's able to create great quality products. She's focused on being the best in her niche and offering the best product to her audience.
Erika designs all of her dirndls, and they're produced in small quantities in the United States. She wants to provide the best customer service possible by bringing all of her knowledge, content, and expertise to the table. She focuses on excelling in the little things so that she stands out against the competition.
That is gold right there! I feel like Erica, without realizing it, is supporting everything that I try to teach my Brilliant Business Moms all the time — focus, dig deep, know your customer, be an expert in your field, and put out great content.
It is so important to serve your customers well, have a focus, and be excellent at what you do, and Erika is a great example of these principles in action!
Connect with Erika
Erika's website – Rare Dirndl