Strategy

How have these 15 retailers managed to grow so fast?

In life it’s not always about being the best. Sometimes it’s enough to just be damn good at what you do.

Sometimes though you look at the success of others and think ‘how did they do that?’ What’s their magic formula? In this tough retail market, it’s a question that comes up often when we see a certain company taking off in a big way – like these 15 UK-based brands and retailers.

They have all been listed in the Sunday Times’ Fast Track 100 table. All of them have seen their sales increase on average between 50 and 80% in the last three years. Some have even seen more than 100% improvement.

How did they do it? Is it really magic or something else? Let’s find out.

 

Character.com

Character.com is an online retailer of branded character clothing and accessories for adults, kids and babies. The company currently sells to four countries in Europe and achieved sales of £6.5 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Well-priced and well-chosen products are the big drivers. The company sources apparel featuring all the big character brands from Harry Potter to Minecraft to Batman. Many of these brands have endless, long-term appeal, but the company is also able to tap into new character trends and properties as they appear.

Typically, its products cost no more than £20 so it’s an affordable place, particularly for parents, for shoppers to get their character fix. By stocking products for adults and children, Character.com has also ensured that it has a large customer base. The great thing about character brands is that we often feeling nostalgically positive towards the ones we grew up with, and in turn this makes us want to buy them for our children.

Operating an online only business has helped Character.com to expand into international markets, with Japan and Canada also on the cards. Each new market brings with it new growth opportunities as well.

 

 

Chi Chi London

Chi Chi London is an online retailer of its own range of womenswear and accessories. It also caters for children. The brand achieved sales of £13.3 million in 2017.

 

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Chi Chi has become known for its range of occasion dresses, which although not priced at fast fashion levels, are still affordable for most people looking to spend a bit more on something special.

This has seen it become something of a name for bridesmaid dresses. The company even offers its own low-cost wedding dress options. The brand has also benefitted from selling its products through retailers like Asos and Dorothy Perkins. The former in particular is a hotspot for Chi Chi’s target audience.

By focusing on an online, rather than offline, business, Chi Chi has also been able to avoid certain accompanying costs and to more easily expand its business into the US, Europe and Australia. These new markets have also helped to drive the company’s growth.

 

fast growing retail

 

 

Cult Beauty

Cult Beauty is an online-only seller of beauty products. It aims to be the place to find out about and buy the best beauty products in the world – as chosen by its expert panel. If there’s a brand everyone is talking about you can probably find it here. As a result, the company made £37.6 million in 2017.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Cult Beauty does what it says on the tin. It stocks the best and most sought-after cult beauty brands from big names like Anastasia Beverley Hills and Charlotte Tilbury to the up-and-coming everyone’s new favourites like The Ordinary and Pixi.

There’s always a new ‘it’ brand or product in the beauty and skincare world, helped in no small part to the power of social media like Instagram. It’s so easy for brands to get traction when they’re onto a winner and customers want to be able to buy the latest thing easily.

At the same time with so many brands being hyped, it can be hard to know what’s actually worth investing in. Cult Beauty’s star power comes from the fact that its picks are expert chosen, which gives customers confidence, as well as actually giving them a place to buy them.

Beauty is now a truly global market. Over 40% of the company’s revenue came from overseas last year, which is likely partly driven by the fact that being an online-only business makes it far easier, and cheaper, for it to expand into new markets.

 

 

Eggfree Cake Box

Eggfree Cake Box makes and sells cakes and bakery products made without eggs. It has more than 70 stores and achieved £8.7 million of turnover last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Eggfree Cake Box is another successful niche business. Set-up because the founder noticed a lack of egg-free cakes in the market, the company can now attribute much of its success to its franchise model.

The stores are operated by franchisees who then pay Eggfree Cake Box for supplies, the brand name, support and more. Unlike a lot of companies, Eggfree Cake Box is incredibly open about its franchise process with a lot of information on its website. The aim is to entice new franchisees in to continue to fuel the brand’s growth.

Having a huge network of stores has helped spread the word about Eggfree Cake Box which builds confidence in the brand. Customers can go in-store and pick from a range of pre-made cakes, which can be personalised, or order their own design. You can either place an order online, which means that customers can always shop in the way that works best for them.

 

 

END.

END. began life as a shop in Newcastle, before expanding into selling its high-end curated menswear brands online. A second shop in Glasgow has helped to boost sales to £69.8 million in 2017.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Unlike a lot of retailers on this list, END’s recent growth can be largely attributed to the opening of its second store. Aside from acting as a place to make sales, the store is still one of the best marketing channels out there. Just having a presence on the high street means that people discover and become familiar with your brand. This in turn drives traffic to the website.

The range of brands sold by END. are typically higher-end. Most products cost more than £100 and many are much more. This means that its strategy is not so much about endless small sales to lots of people, but about selling to the right customer. Forging a relationship is one of the best ways to ensure repeat business and a physical store helps the brand to do that in a way online can’t.

 

 

Gymshark

Gymshark is an online sportswear clothing brand. The company sells a range of vests, T-shirts, leggings and hoodies. Based in the UK, it exports its goods to more than 150 countries worldwide. It achieved sales of £40.7 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Gymshark is all about the power of the influencer. It sponsors some of the most popular YouTubers, bloggers and Instagram influencers in its field. They rave about its products. They promote them. Its name is associated with them. That gives it star power.

The company also makes sure that its brand is seen in the right places by going with its sponsored influencers to major fitness expos all over the world. That’s a living, breathing promotions machine. If others see someone they admire wearing Gymshark then it gives them confidence to try out its products as well. There’s also an aspirational element to it – if they buy the same products they can be like them.

Gymshark has also managed to gain a strong foothold in the US, with more than 40% of its sales now coming from that market. Like Cult Beauty, the online nature of its business means it’s not hampered by the costs and challenges associated with maintaining an international network of stores.

 

fast growing retail strategy

 

 

Missguided

Missguided is a fast fashion retailer for women. Its range is inspired by celebrities and the latest trends with the company releasing up to 1,000 new products every week. It achieved sales of £205.8 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Missguided does what it does so well. It knows that its customers are always after the latest thing but don’t have a lot of money to spend on it. As such it keeps its prices low and it makes sure there is always something new for them to buy every week.

It also is brilliant at communicating with its customers on their terms. The brand’s tone of voice and social media channels are perfectly pitched. Tie-ins with high-profile celebrity names like Jourdan Dunn give the brand an aspirational quality – if you want to look like her we can help.

Another great example is its recent partnership with Love Island. The show was a ratings hit which helped to drive customers to Missguided’s site to buy the clothes they saw the contestants wearing. Missguided’s ability to bring new styles in fast meant it could keep up with the speed of the show.

More recently the company opened its first physical stores which it views more as marketing spaces than sales channels. This means that the look of the flagship Westfield Stratford store changes all the time making it a place to keep coming back to. The stores have helped to cement the brand’s name more widely into the general shopper’s consciousness.

 

 

Net World Sports

Net World Sports is an online sports equipment business selling everything you need to play football, cricket, golf, rugby and other sports to the public, schools and football clubs. Its sales reached £18.2 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Last year Net World Sports was named an approved supplier by the FA for its aluminium football goals. This legitimises the brand as well as associating it with the top force ion the footballing world.

As such, people feel more confident buying from it. Given that the company sold more than 100,000 football goals in 2016 this is a big part of its business, so any extra traction is incredibly valuable.

The company is also known for providing high quality products at a good price. It promises to help sports fans be as good as they can be. Net World Sports’ website is full of helpful content for customers including videos on how to assemble products or with tricks or tips on improving some aspect of a particular sport. It is not just a retailer, but a community hub.

As previously mentioned, as an online retailer Net World Sports also has benefited from the ability to scale up and widen its business easily.

 

 

Pink Boutique

Another online retailer, Pink Boutique sells fast fashion of every colour. Its clothes always reflect the latest trends at affordable prices. Having started as a bedroom business, the company achieved sales of £9 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Social media wins the day again here. Pink Boutique has built a massive online following across its various channels. It posts multiple times a day about its products, which helps keep it in customer’s minds, but it also shares amusing content, memes and questions that appeal to its target audience.

These posts often get more interaction than Pink Boutique’s own promo ones which helps to establish it as a place of community. People want to get its content because they feel a connection with it – and if they then in turn spot something they’d like to buy all the better.

Pink Boutique also prices most of its wares affordably which means customers can afford to splurge regularly or pick up something from the latest trends without having to overly justify it. For regular shoppers it even offers a next-day unlimited delivery pass for a year for just £10.

The most interesting thing about its model though is the fact that its warehouse has its own catwalk and photography studio. This lets Pink Boutique shoot content around new styles the moment they arrive in stock, share it and then ship them out to customers immediately, It’s a fast shopping experience that’s perfect for today.

 

retail brand growth success

 

 

Skinnydip

Skinnydip sells an array of millennial and Gen Z friendly accessories and lifestyle products. It first gained fame for its bags, purses and iPhone cases. Although the company was an online-only brand at the start, Skinnydip has also moved into brick-and-mortar retail.

First came the concessions in key locations like airports and train stations, as well as retail stores frequented by its target customers such as Topshop. Now it also operates its own stores in a handful of locations across the UK and in New York. It achieved sales of over £12.8m in 2017.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Skinnydip has its target audience down pat. Glitter? Check. Millennial pink? Check. Unicorns? Check. Cool collabs with top brands like Nintendo, YR Store, Coca-Cola and The Simpsons? Check. Its designs are super Instagrammable. The company feeds this through its strong social media presence. But then who wouldn’t want to like and share photos of its fun, bright and colourful accessories?

Its accessories are affordable, costing from a few pounds up to around £35. This is important because Skinnydip is constantly dropping new products. There’s something new to buy every week and older products regularly leave the roster. Customers are happy to always pick up something new because it doesn’t break the bank. There’s also the fear of missing out, especially on collaborations.

Speaking of which, Skinnydip has a great eye for trends. Its designs always reflect the colours and themes that its customers are talking about. It makes it easy and cheap for them to incorporate the latest trend into their look and then move onto the next. When it comes to collaborations it partners with brands or names that will appeal to its customers.

The move into brick-and-mortar, whether its own stores or via concessions, has helped to keep the brand’s profile high among its target customers. It’s where they are – both online and offline.

 

 

Tropic Skincare

Tropic Skincare is a vegan, natural skincare brand that sells to customers via its website and army of 8,000-plus ambassadors. The company is backed by Lord Alan Sugar. It achieved £12.8 million of sales last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Tropic Skincare’s ethos is very on-trend now. Customers are asking more questions about where their products come from, how they are made, what ingredients are used. Veganism is booming. Natural and ethical is in.

Although Tropic sells directly to customers from its website, a huge factor behind its growth is its use of brand ambassadors. Like Body Shop and Avon before it, Tropic partners with real-life people to promote and sell its products through pamper parties. The great thing about this method is that it is people selling to their peers. People are generally more receptive (and supportive) of their friends and so are happy to give the products a go.

Once they get hooked they then go on to spend more buying extras and top-ups from Tropic’s website. They may even decide to become ambassadors themselves, which then spreads the word even further.

 

 

Victorian Plumbing

Victorian Plumbing is an online retailer of bathroom wares selling more than 13,000 items including taps, baths and toilet seats. As well as branded products, Victorian Plumbing has created its own best-selling design range. It achieved sales of £96.8 million in 2017.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Victorian Plumbing is relatively unusual in the world of kitchen and bathroom sales as it has just one real-life showroom at its main offices. All its products are sold through its website, which does a roaring trade with more than 1 million customers flocking to it.

A key factor in its growth has been advertising. While some may say that TV is dead as far as advertising power goes, Victorian Plumbing’s TV ads and sponsorship of shows helped to make it a household name. This has been vital as the company doesn’t have a network of showrooms for customers to stumble upon. At the same time this means it doesn’t have to spend money on kitting out, staffing and running said spaces.

The company also credits its growth in part due to growing confidence from customers when it comes to buying more expensive goods online. Again, this links back to the TV advertising. Customers feel more reassured buying from the company because they’ve seen it on TV. It must be legit by default.

Then there’s the fact that online shopping has become a normal everyday thing to do. We’re now so familiar with the process that we’re happy to use it for anything and everything, with confidence that our money will be safe and that if we don’t like it it can go back.

 

steps to fast retail growth

 

 

Watchfinder

Watchfinder is a marketplace for selling pre-owned watches. The company has a website and ten shops and has sold hundreds of millions of pounds worth of watches over the years. It achieved sales of £85.8 million in 2017.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Watchfinder was founded because there was no set place for buying and selling high-quality luxury watches. This is a niche area but with the average purchase from Watchfinder being £5,000 it’s a profitable one.

The company has also located itself in places where its customers might be. Its stores are in the more luxurious parts of London, Leeds, Birmingham and Kent. While this may cost it more in store rents and other costs, it gives it legitimacy and visibility. Some of the spaces are even appointment only which makes the process of buying second hand as luxurious as buying a brand-new watch.

Watchfinder is another example of a brand who has also seen a boost from TV advertising. It sponsored coverage of the Tour de France and reported a massive increase in website visits. This is another example of the brand working to build its reputation and penetration. The more customers see its name the more confident they feel in making a purchase – or from selling their own watch to Watchfinder.

 

 

Wed2B

Wed2B sells all the dresses you might need for your wedding. From wedding dresses to bridesmaid dresses, it has become a must-visit for UK brides. Not least because its dresses cost from £99 to £699 – a fraction of the cost of a super-designer dress. With 27 shops across the UK, the company is one of the country’s biggest wedding dress retailers. Last year its sales were over £15 million.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

Its model differs significantly from your standard wedding boutique. Appointments are not necessary which means anyone can walk in off the street at any time – a move that makes the whole process less intimidating and removes some of the pressure to buy.

Dresses are sold off-the-peg which means when you find the one you want you get to take it home. There’s none of the many months lead time that a traditional boutique requires to source dresses. New styles of dress arrive every week so what’s on offer feels fresh and in keeping with current trends. At the same time, these aren’t inferior no-name products. The company houses a mix of its own designers and other brands.

Why wouldn’t they could easily be the question. The cost of the average wedding has shot up massively. Increasingly couples are paying for, or funding most of, their own weddings. People don’t necessarily have a large income, or much of a disposable one. It’s a perfect storm of opportunity.

A lot of current brides are also finding it difficult to stomach spending several thousands of pounds on a dress that they will only wear one day. Although there is a market for second-hand wedding dresses, it is notoriously difficult to make back very much of what you paid out – even for a designer dress. It’s not an investment piece.

Wed2B makes buying a dress you love affordable. Customers rave about their service and the quality of their dresses. Let’s also not forget that wedding dress shopping is often a communal thing. Women who visit as bridesmaids or friends of the bride remember their positive experience and make sure to return when they get married themselves.

 

 

Wool Warehouse

Wool Warehouse is an online store for knitting, crochet and sewing fans. It sells a large range of 20,000 products including everything from designer fabrics to yarn, patterns and needles. The company reaches customers in over 90 countries and achieved sales of £7.5 million last year.

 

Why has it grown so quickly?

The company was initially set-up because the founders couldn’t find what they wanted anywhere else. Clearly it was a problem experienced by others as the company says it has grown organically.

Although Wool Warehouse’s offering is niche, it is comprehensive. It has everything that the hobbyist might want or need, including free patterns, which means it becomes their only port of call. Its international reach has also helped to ensure its growth.

It has also partnered with some of the most popular blogs and websites in the crafting world to sell curated bundles of everything you need to create certain projects. This helps to drive traffic to Wool Warehouse via these websites. It is seen as a trusted partner for hobby creatives, which is a real benefit given that creating and making things has become a major trend again in recent years.

 

growth in retail

 

 

What can you learn?

Although we’re talking about all these companies for their fast growth it’s worth bearing in mind that most of them have been around for nearly 10 years or more. Their success is not overnight. It has taken time for them to find their groove and to build their offering.

At the same time, their huge growth in the last three years suggests that they’re onto something. Many of these companies are online-only businesses which gives them the distinct advantage of being able to sell to the world. They also don’t have to deal with the costs and regulations associated with physical stores. Their businesses are not tied to any one place and they have been able to scale up their operations as they’ve grown.

That’s not to discount the power of the store though. Some of these brands have seen their growth boosted because of their investment in real-life physical spaces. This is particularly true for those dealing in higher-value goods, which perhaps indicates that consumers have more trust in brands with a physical presence. Other companies have used physical stores as brand-building exercises and a point of differentiation over their online competitors.

All the companies rely on some level of influence. Whether it’s TV advertising, social media, influencer tie-ups, franchisees or ambassadors, they’re getting their brand and their message out there. They are where their customers are, be that online or on the streets. They understand the importance of presenting themselves in the right way, of reaching the right people – not all the people.

Because here’s the real secret. They all serve their target audience – which vary widely in terms of tastes, age, gender, budget, interests. They understand their specific customer and what they want implicitly, and they give it to them. It is not about trying to be all things to all people. Many of these brands operate within a distinct niche, often born out of frustration as a consumer, which has proven lucrative when catered to in the right way. You probably haven’t heard of half of them before today (and the ones you did know may well be the ones with physical stores) but that’s ok.

These brands are doing brilliantly what retail should always be doing. Knowing who you are, who your customer is and giving them what you want may not sound like magic, but the results can be.

 

Want more? Find out how these 15 retailers achieved some of the UK’s highest sales per square footTo experience the very best of UK retail for yourself, book one of our Insider Trends retail safaris. Find out how they can benefit your business here.