With department stores like Neiman Marcus and companies like J. Crew closing up shop as a result of the pandemic, it is amazing to see that some brands are finding opportunity in these crazy times and even thriving. LA-based Rails, a fashion brand is one of them. Not only is their e-commerce portion of their business booming, they’ve even found a way to help several hundred of their boutique partners while doubling down on affiliate marketing. 

Rails South Africa Campaign

Rails Founder, Jeff Abrams, has been trying to strike a balance of giving back to his communities, taking care of his employees, and focusing on keeping his business afloat. “With the slowdown of traditional wholesale in the last couple of months, we’ve had to be creative in how we stay connected with our customers, both our retail partners and on our own e-commerce platform,” explains Abrams. 

Rails has made a concerted effort to lean into their direct-to-consumer business as well as other means to reach their customers. “Through dedicated email communication, personalized customer service, social media and in-home marketing, we are committed to staying connected and engaged with our customers during these times.” 

As a result of the pandemic and as a way to pay-it-forward to the community, the brand has also been making masks. “We refocused our production network to create more than 100,000 non-medical masks, which we are making available on our website and donating to local communities,” Abrams tells me. “We’ve sourced and distributed more than 10,000 medical grade KN95 masks to frontline healthcare workers and hospitals across the country. We’re challenging ourselves everyday to take our creativity to new heights in hopes of giving back to our local and global communities in as many ways possible.”

Rails Masks

Rails

Rails masks are made from 100% cotton from excess fabric from their production runs. “Our factories are working under CDC guidelines to ensure our masks are safe and follow all necessary requirements. We’re offering the masks in both adult and kids sizes in pre-packs of five, and for every pack purchased, we are donating a pack to essential workers and businesses throughout our local communities,” continues Abrams.

Rails works with roughly 1500 boutique partners across the globe with a network of more than 500 stateside. “Obviously, this is a challenging time for anyone in the consumer discretionary space,” shares Abrams. “We are adapting to this new landscape and working together with our partners, who have been there with us since the beginning, to offer support where needed whether its drop ship services, special discounts, or custom affiliate marketing programs. As retailers push forward and evolve their business, we will be with them every step of the way.”

To support their boutique partners during this pandemic, who in some cases partnered with the brand over ten years ago and helped build the foundations for the business, Abrams created the Rails Boutique Affiliate Program. 

Rails South Africa Campaign

Rails South Africa Campaign

“Once stay-at-home orders were put in place, many of these retailers were forced to close with no way of shipping goods to their customers,” states Abrams. “We immediately started thinking of ways we could support them. We created a special affiliate program that allows them to receive up to 40% commission on transactions they generate on railsclothing.com. Rails handles all of the fulfillment and returns, and allows our boutique partners to share in the success of this program with limited risk. We’re hoping that we can help our partners continue to generate revenue throughout these difficult times.”  Initially, Abrams made the program available only to the boutiques that are stateside, but recently opened up the program worldwide.

The Business of Fashion recently published an article stating that influencer marketing and affiliate marketing is going to disappear as a result of the pandemic. But Abrams doesn’t agree with the findings.  “I don’t think one thing just dies to make way for another,” Abrams tells me. “Affiliate marketing allows us to connect to our network on a deeper level. It is also a low risk way for us to gain access to a new customer base who may not be currently interacting with our brand.” 

Rails uses Pepperjam as their affiliate platform. “They are a one-stop shop when it comes to recruiting new talent, tracking performance and staying up to date on the latest marketing trends. They have a robust back-end system that is intuitive and user-friendly and allows both the brand and the partner to operate efficiently,” explains Abrams. 

Rails South Africa Campaign

Rails South Africa Campaign

“At a time when consumers are especially inclined in certain verticals and when cost efficiencies are vital but also achievable—affiliate marketing has been especially active. Paying for outcomes has never been a more powerful proposition than it is right now. Leverage is essential,” states Maura Smith, CMO at Pepperjam. “You see, with CPCs and CPMs on the rise, marketers need ‘operating leverage’ to essentially subsidize their presence in high cost channels. As tried and true to experienced marketers, affiliate marketing has certainly proved itself before. So, during the pandemic, it absolutely is a go-to solution. We’ve been watching the trends over the past two months very closely. We take a pulse weekly.”

Abrams feels the same about influencer marketing as he does affiliate. “One of the most important elements of Rails’ initial success was the incredible organic influencer following we built in the early days. In our first year, we had people like Chiara Ferragni and Julie Sarinana in Rails, which was amazing to help propel our brand into the market. Over the past 10 years, we’ve built a strong network of influencers who truly love the brand.” It’s the authenticity of the influencers that Abrams believes the Rails customer recognizes. 

Abrams continues, “By expanding our affiliate program, this allows an emerging and maybe not so well known group of influencers to connect and participate in the success of the Rails brand. It also gives us the opportunity to reach a new demographic of customers.” 

Smith couldn’t agree more. “While influencers felt the impact of budget cuts in recent weeks to fixed fee campaigns, they sought to offset these losses with alternative revenue streams, like affiliate. The weekly Pepperjam Affiliate Marketing Sales Index shows marketers leaning into pay for performance models, like affiliate, in favor of pay for access channels during the height of COVID-19 hitting the U.S. This position as a primary sales and marketing channel will stick after the pandemic, having been put to the test during the most challenging of times.”

Rails Team

More importantly, Abrams’ boutique partners are seeing success with Rails’ program, which is the true litmus test.  

Allie Board, Owner of JoeyRae Boutique located in San Carlos, California tells me, “Rails has always been a bestselling brand for us. Covid-19 has completely shifted the way our boutique operates, and they have had our back with their Affiliate Program. We are so grateful for their supportive help.” Another boutique owner, Mary Scasino, Owner of La Moda Fashions located in Hamden, Connecticut adds, “I am very grateful to Rails for partnering up with us through this most stressful time. Our website drove 135 people to the Rails site and we hope those customers will ultimately come back to La Moda.”

When asked what the overall sentiment for the future is amongst his team who’ve been separated for months, Abrams tells me, “We’re a very tight knit company. After more than 10 years almost all of our first employees still work here. While we are operating remotely, we rely on Zoom conference calls and WhatsApp messaging to stay connected. We’ve grown resilient and together we’ve been able to get creative and pivot quickly to maintain the Rails business during these unexpected circumstances.”

This content was originally published here.