A sports trade online hub

Introduction

I was intrigued to come across a business article this weekend announcing that StreetHub, a network of independent retailers, had raised $2.6m (£1.7m) in their latest funding round, led by Octopus Ventures.

The group also received investments from Index Ventures, which has stakes in online retailers Asos, Farfetch and Net-a-Porter, among others, as well as a number of other angel investors.

The element that intrigued me was the phrase “network of independent retailers” and I began to dig deeper to establish whether there was anything in this business model that could be applied to our own sporting goods industry.

Streethub

Launched in 2013 with a $1.2m seed investment round Streethubs aim was to bring together a network of independent fashion retailers into one website. The main targets were those boutiques that did not have a web presence but did have ranges of fashion lines that they wished to sell to a global audience.

The online venture provides world-wide shipping, with click and collect and one hour Shutl delivery available in selected postcodes.

StreetHub co-founder Mandeep Singh said the success of the company’s iPhone app, which launched last year, had shown the firm “the compelling opportunity to also serve people who are keen to discover shops which are a little further afield too, and offer worldwide shipping”. According to StreetHub, now renamed Trouva, the app has been used by over 40,000 customers since it launched.

Trouva is the logical next step for us in our mission to help our amazing independent retailers to reach an even wider audience and help more customers to discover these inspiring, individual collections of products,” added Singh.

Sales Impact

Dan Rigby, owner of home and gift shop Rigby & Mac said: “Trouva is already having a significant impact on our sales.”He added that over the last month, the shop’s sales had gone up 10 per cent “thanks to Trouva”.

Lawrece Roullier White, owner of East Dulwich-based lifestyle boutique Roullier White, said: “Being part of the Trouva community is great, because it brings together a selection of retailers that stand out and offer a really inspirational mix of products, enabling shoppers to find something a bit different wherever they are based.”

Could it work in sports?

So, so far the principal is clear. Bring a network of independent retailers together, provide a simple platform for them to retail from and open up their product range to a wider audience.

However if we look a little closer its not that simple.

The success of Trouva is the fact the these individual boutiques have differing and unique product ranges that often cannot be found in other towns or cities. They may feature local designers, small companies and small product runs – a proposition not dissimilar to those products brought to market by notonthehighstreet.com.

With our sports retailers there are often common product ranges from the same suppliers and therefore a trouva environment would, arguably, only be driven by price – much as the amazon marketplace is driven and often to the detriment of the brand and the detriment of retail margins.

But hang on.

Perhaps it could work from the brand supplier side.

Sportshub

My work brings me into contact not only with large leading brands such as Uhlsport and Spalding, but also with smaller sports brands, start-ups and sporting goods manufacturers looking for a route to market.

Often my advice is simple – the wholesale route is becoming increasingly difficult; in each category there are many competing products; the consumer is demanding lower and lower prices; many retailers don’t want to take a risk on new brands/product etc etc…..

But imagine there was a credible alternative.

A place where new, niche, innovative products could be brought to market. A hub where these “artisan” brands could showcase their wares. A place where sporting goods products with limited distribution (and therefore not found on the High Street or the big online retailers) but with unique propositions could be found.

An Aladdins Cave of specialist sporting goods.

Challenges

Of course there would be some challenges. However one could imagine some strong PR driving initial growth as the platform would allow small businesses the chance to showcase their ranges and be a strong traffic driver.

Logistically the brands could simply create new product listings and all fulfilment would be done by them also with the hub simply taking a commission.

Not only could this provide a new revenue stream for these brands but it could also act as a shop window for, the wider trade to see new products – acting a little like a virtual trade show.

The future

We are not short of new brands coming into our industry but we are short of retailers to stock all of these new ranges forcing many new brands to sell direct either from their own website or through third party channels such as amazon.

Maybe, just maybe, a sportshub could create a new environment bringing them all together under one roof.

A simple way for the consumer to find the latest new and exciting thing in their sport.

A specialist environment but where the brand is in control of elements such as pricing and the way that the product is presented rather than the retailer.

An opportunity to ensure brands and product messages are not diluted.

I’m off to raise my seed capital if anyone fancies joining me….!

Social Media and the Sports Trade

We’ve all heard of it. Many of us use it. But few of us understand how to make money from it.

Facebook was launched 8 years ago and today has over 1 billion active users – over three times the population of USA – and nearly 60% of the UK online population (31 million+) use Facebook . For many of these users it is the “go to” site for information, interaction, gaming and much more.

Global brands and celebrities dominate the rankings when it comes to the number of fans, however there is a small group of our own sports trade retailers and brands that are beginning to recognise the power of Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media and beginning to understand the revenue generating opportunities.

Before we explore these further we need to take a step back into eCommerce marketing history.

Back in the late 1990′s early 2000′s it was all about building email databases. If you were able to capture a name and an email address then you had a target. Back in the day people were ex citied to get emails and, even if it was some sort of marketing message, were happy to read them.

Wind forward a decade and we all strive to reduce the number of emails in our inbox – in fact I know several people who measure their entire days productivity on how many emails they have managed to reduce their inbox by!

In this environment we are looking to delete as much “noise” as possible and thus, whilst still a tool within the marketing departments armoury, email shots dont always get the same response as they once did.

So where has our attention gone? Well, one only has to look around a train, bus, queue, pub or any social place and see that our attention has moved to mobile devices and, within the context of this article, social media – Facebook, twitter, youtube, linkedin, google+ and more.

Opportunity

So, if that’s where our attention is, that’s where, as brands and retailers we need to concentrate.

As consumers we seem to have an inherent trust in the information that is presented to us through social media platforms. Of course much of it is directly influenced by our friends likes and recommendations. It is this “comfort” factor that companies can exploit.

Some of the leading brands and sporting goods retailers have already got the message but how can the independent sports retailer take advantage?

If we take the model of a successful independent sports retailer we usually find that the retailer has very strong links into local sports clubs. Communication with these clubs is, however, often done through a select number of individuals (Chairmen, Team captains etc) who disseminate the information down through the club e.g. a particular discount or offer for club members.

Imagine now that, instead of this being the case, the retailer has a database of all of the individual members of these clubs and communicates directly with them.

Traditionally the most successful way to achieve this was to collect customer data through, for example, a customer loyalty scheme. The customer completed their details (name, address, email etc) and the retailer communicated special offers etc through mail or email.

In the world of Social Media this whole data collection process is simplified. All you need is Facebook Fans or Twitter followers and these mediums can be used to communicate directly with the end user e.g Special offer this weekend on X.

To collect the data is also relatively straight forward – a sign at the till that says “Like us on Facebook and/or Follow us on Twitter”can be all you need.

Since more and more social networking is being done through mobile devices the consumer can be promoted to “like and follow” whilst they are standing waiting for, for example, their credit card transaction to go through.

No filling out of forms. No production of loyalty cards. No pressure.

Results

Once you have the followers and the likes this becomes your core marketing database.

It is extremely targeted (as the consumer has bothered to like/follow) and its local (since they came into the store.)

Once you have this information begin to engage your customers with regular news, competitions etc.

You have a powerful targeted marketing tool that costs nothing and that is likely to return a much greater level of revenue generation than a local newspaper advert.

Once you are comfortable with building the likes/followers in this way you can become more proactive and begin searching facebook and twitter for local users and their likes.

This requires a greater understanding of the way in which the sites are constructed however the results can be very exciting.

Its important to remember that before “social” became the buzz word we talked about “community” and at the heart of most communities is sport.

If the local sports retailer can tap into this community directly through social media then the results can be extremely beneficial.

Good luck!