Retales: E-Commerce Growth Stories

How to Hyper-Scale E-commerce Brands with James Ewens: A Tech-First Approach

October 23, 2023 Brightpearl Podcasts Season 4 Episode 9
Retales: E-Commerce Growth Stories
How to Hyper-Scale E-commerce Brands with James Ewens: A Tech-First Approach
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today, we are excited to welcome back James Ewens, a leader who has taken the e-commerce world by storm.

James is now a Director at Open 24 Seven, overseeing an impressive portfolio of e-commerce brands, including Green Feathers, Alexander Francis, and SpyCameraCCTV. Want to uncover the secret behind three successful e-commerce brands? James is here to spill the beans.

After leading Furniturebox to sales growth of 95% over the last three years, soaring to £17 million, James is back with Open 24 Seven after a seven-year hiatus and is once again disrupting the market.

In this episode, James shares his invaluable insights on a tech-first approach to e-commerce and how it is the essential backbone for scaling companies looking to gain territory and thrive in a competitive marketplace. We pick James' brain about wise investments in technology, and how to handle cash flow.

We also delve into James’ favourite game-changing technologies for multi-channel, multi-territory businesses, including how a real-time inventory planning tool helped the company save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, through a more optimal and efficient stock holding.

We also dive into his "Three Pillars" - culture, trial and investment, and 'fail fast' - and how they interlock to propel a business forward.

Whether you're an e-commerce novice or a seasoned veteran, James’ strategies are a must-listen for those looking to develop a gold standard for e-commerce operations.

Subscribe to Re: tales and get an instant notification when a new episode is released. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Caroline Baldwin:

Hello everyone, welcome to Retails. I'm Caroline Baldwin and this week I sat down with James Ewing, the director of Open 24-7. He has been on this show before. I spoke to him a few times and we covered everything from technology all the way through to well-being and culture. It was such a lovely, heartwarming chat. As I said, we talked about the hierarchy of technology investments, from small to mid-sized brands, the utter importance of using technology to plan your inventory and how data is. Everyone knows data is important, right, but we talked about using data to analyse your business, but also how you can use data to spy on birds. That's through to everything from failing fast and his lessons learned from a career in e-commerce. It was just a wonderful chat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. From Bright Pearl. This is Retails.

VO:

Welcome to Retails e-commerce growth stories, where we unveil captivating tales of triumph, hard-earned lessons and the secrets to success in retail and e-commerce. Join us as we sit down with e-commerce titans, disruptive challenger brands and industry experts to explore winning strategies, market and leadership insights, and future-shaping trends and innovations. From AI to venture capital, global expansion to automation these powerful conversations will fuel your growth trajectory. We believe every story contains valuable lessons. Retails is your ultimate destination to uncover them. Now to our host, caroline Baldwin.

Caroline Baldwin:

My guest today is James Uens, the director at Open 24-7, and a returning guest on this show. He has an incredible history in the world of e-commerce. He was previously the head of e-commerce at Furniture Box, where he led the brand to a £40 million valuation and a 267% year-on-year revenue increase. He has now returned to Open 24-7 after a seven-year hiatus and he is the director overseeing three distinct e-commerce brands, including Green Feathers, alexander Francis and Spy Camera CCTV. James has been back for the past five months and he's already making waves In his tech-first mindset. He has not only revolutionised individual brands, but he's setting new standards for e-commerce as a whole. James, you're welcome back to Retails. How are you doing today?

James Ewnes:

Thanks for having me back. Yeah, really good, thank you, busy, but good.

Caroline Baldwin:

So lovely to chat to you again. Thank you so much for joining us. Since we last spoke last year, when you were head of e-commerce for Furniture Box and saw this incredible growth, you are now at Open 24-7, helping grow three online brands. What are some of the principles that you've taken since your time at Furniture Box that you're now applying to these three new brands? Tell us a little bit about them and introduce yourselves to our audience.

James Ewnes:

Yeah, cool. So yeah, the return to Open 24-7 was a bit of a weird jump for me to come back here and have the opportunity to kind of run it. We at Open 24-7, kind of we started out as being an incubator for brands, so the idea was that if you had an invention or you had a product that you didn't know how to market it, we would help you market it. That was the initial goal of the company. What actually happened is that some of our brands that we created ourselves did very well, so we then didn't need to get new brands. So yeah, as you said, spy Camera CCTV was the first, alexander Francis was the second and then the latest brand is Green Feathers, and really Green Feathers is the most exciting one because it's a cool story. You're not just selling a product, you're selling an ability to get nature back into your garden, and that's you know. While selling items online might be fine, having a purpose for the items or having a story or a reason for why you're doing it is much more interesting, and obviously that then becomes a much easier thing to sell because, of course, you have the story to go along with it. So, in terms of the principles that we've taken from furniture box. Obviously, I had an amazing time at furniture box. I can't thank the guys enough for giving me the opportunities there.

James Ewnes:

But I think the key pillars, or the three sort of foundational ideas that I've learned from that journey, has been number one culture. You've got to have the right people and you've got to have the right people willing to work in the right way to achieve what it is you're trying to achieve. And I think the key part of that is the ability to adapt quickly. So not having people that are resistant to change, not having people that have bad leadership that lead to a resistance to change. Being able to think fast, adapt fast and be okay with that. You know you might have a member of staff that's been working on Amazon for the last three months but if an opportunity appears on being key, for example, you've got to be willing to move from Amazon to being key really quickly to capitalize on the opportunity.

James Ewnes:

The second foundation is and I think this is the kind of mentality that furniture box had that I've definitely copied was the concept of trialing something. Prove that there's a revenue stream there. Then, once the revenue stream is there, invest it further. So don't go and invest everything in an opportunity before you've seen as the opportunity is viable. So it's kind of like dipping your toes in the water. See what the opportunity is. If the opportunity is there, great, go for it. It's the opportunity, isn't?

James Ewnes:

That leads on to the third pillar, which is fell fast and I said that a lot of furniture box. But it's really true. Try something. If it doesn't work, move on. Learn from your mistakes, learn from where you failed and move on quickly. Don't keep flogging a dead horse. Drop it, move on. And that fell fast. Pillar was really key at furniture box and it's become really key here. We've tried a lot of things in the last five months. Obviously, there's a lot of change that can occur when a new director comes in. But some things don't work and that's okay. But move on. Don't dwell on them. Move on.

Caroline Baldwin:

It's so true. When you're talking about culture, I was thinking, yeah, you want to surround yourself really with yes people, people that like, yes, let's give this a go. Yes, do that. But equally, those people need to be conscious enough to say, no, this hasn't worked, and then move on to the next. Yes, I guess it's quite a lot about positivity, but acknowledging when things aren't really working.

James Ewnes:

Absolutely Positivity, but also not only just acknowledging when things aren't working, but feeling empowered so that you can come back and say you know, actually, james, I think this is a really bad idea. We shouldn't do this. That empowerment to really take ownership of what it is you're working on, that's the culture piece. It's not just about the positivity, it's about feeling empowered to be able to actually enact change. It's so true.

Caroline Baldwin:

And you need to have really strong and kind leadership to be able to do that as well. You need to be able to empower your workforce it's so important and not to terrify them into being like, oh my God, I've done this mistake, I can't admit to it, or it's not. Even the mistakes are wrong word. You know I've done this project that maybe I suggested we do, but it's just not working. And being okay to admit that and move on, it's quite a humbling. So, yeah, the fact that you've brought that back from Furniture Box is just.

Caroline Baldwin:

Those three pillars are so important. I'm sure we hear them time and time again in business, but quite rarely are they always acted out, I suppose. But let's move on to talking about technology. You know you're head of e-commerce there, so I'm sure a lot of this culture trialling and investing fail fast was quite often around tech. You've described Furniture Box as being more of a tech company that sells furniture in the past when we've talked before. So, rather than this traditional furniture company, do you want to talk to me a little bit about that and where those pillars kind of came into it?

James Ewnes:

Yeah, absolutely. I did say that about FrenchBox, but I mean I also would have said that about Open 247 seven years ago. The concept that we had at Open 247 was really the start of that journey. For me, open 247 very quickly realized Using technology to grow a business was the right idea, and that was. You know, we started that journey ten years ago, not even seven years ago. And the way the pillars fit into that journey is you let's take a new territory, for example.

James Ewnes:

So if you're selling a product successfully in the UK and you want to take it to Europe, obviously the first question is how do you put it into Europe? You can look at ways that technology can allow you to do that, whether that's marketplace integrators, whether that's an RMS system that allows listing on marketplaces. It could be a dedicated listing tool. You can look at the ways that tech can do it, and a lot of brands would just go buy the tech and then worry about how to make it work afterwards, which is kind of the exact opposite philosophy to what I've had my whole life. You, you try it first. Yes, it might be manual. Yes, it might require manual inventory updates. Yes, it might require manual order management. It might require manual payment management, manual reconciliation. Do that first prove that there is a market there and Then invest in the technology to power it. Don't do it the other way round and that kind of that.

James Ewnes:

That logic fits into all of the pillars, because then you need the culture to be able to have people that are willing to adapt quickly I'm willing to to muck in and do things that they wouldn't normally do as part of their role Then you need the opportunity to To know when to dip in and when to commit. Then you need the ability to fell fast. So it's kind of all linked together. As you said, the tech journey is part of it, but it is kind of all linked together in that you, you use technology to enhance the business when it is the right time to enhance the business. And that's the real key differentiation between, I believe, what furniture box did and what we are now doing open 24 7. It's that difference between just investing in the tech and knowing when you should use the tech right.

Caroline Baldwin:

So one of the biggest issues for e-commerce brands is knowing where their inventory is at any given time. And that furniture box you used real-time in infantry management and Inventory planner you are a user of that as well. So change into an approach to inventory. Talk to me about what impact having that complete understanding of where your inventory is on your bottom line. Tell me a little bit about that.

James Ewnes:

Yeah, so, so, actually, although you touch on furniture box, my journey in an imagery planner actually started over 24 7, and the first time I'm going to say it was actually, you know, we stole that from open 24 7 to put it into furniture box. Really. So I mean, as I've said several times, inventory is everything. Like you get that wrong. Yeah, you're dead in the water. I've said that so many times, but it is.

James Ewnes:

It is a real key, foundational piece for for not only maintaining a business, but also then growing a business. You need to know where your inventory is, what you should be buying, what you shouldn't be buying, when you should be discounting, and you need that information now. You don't need it in six months time, you don't need it in three months time, you need it right now and you need it always right now. So the real-time inventory management piece and the real-time forecasting piece, I think is Probably and I could argue on two points here, but I would say it's, it's joined most important element of Data in your business. I think PIM is the second part that you could put alongside this being able to have your product data in a sensible format that you can actually use.

James Ewnes:

But then I said on all side that is the imagine manager in peace. No, we are in the trees. No, we should be investing. No, we shouldn't be investing. And especially if you, if you have a multi-channel strategy or Multi-territory strategy, which is obviously something that we've done here and did at furniture box If you don't have that view and I hate the word holistic, but, but it is kind of that holistic view of I know exactly what I've got- in Amazon Germany.

James Ewnes:

I know exactly what I've got in Amazon USA. I know that if I increase the price on that product I can slow the demand down. I know if I lower the price of that product to put an offer in or do a lightning deal or whatever, I Am in charge of what my inventory is doing, because I could see what my inventory is doing in real time and that is yeah. Like I said, it's the. It's the joint most important element of data in the business, in my opinion.

Caroline Baldwin:

And last time we spoke you said that you'd saved over was it 200,000 pounds Thanks to inventory planner. Can you share anything unique about how you made those savings and how you invested as a result of that?

James Ewnes:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean the. The key part of what we did with with image from that and still do now open 24 7 it's and I kind of touched it before but it's about investing in the right stock. So the 200,000 pound saving was because we weren't buying an abundance of overstock, we were holding less stock and Although at furniture box we weren't necessarily operating an adjusting time model, we kind of were, but we were adjusting time model with a little bit of stock holding. So that meant that you could lower the amount of stock that you had on the bottom line at any one moment.

James Ewnes:

And and again goes back to that real-time view of it. I know I've got 60 pounds worth of stocks out in the warehouse right now. If I lower that to 400,000 pounds because I'm buying the stock more frequently and I'm doing it smarter, then I can lower that inventory holding to 400k and then maybe I can lower it to 300k, and so the pressure on the business of the stock holding then becomes a lot easier. And and, and you know, then you can remove things like trade loans, you can take advantage of faster shipping dates or cheaper shipping dates because you've pushed out the the time that you're going to get that stock in for. So the the saving on the business Can come from multiple ways. It can come from just having less stock in the business, or it can come from being smarter with shipping, and a good example of that with with open 24-7.

James Ewnes:

The green feathers products are relatively small so we have the ability to air freight those products it's not, you know, dining tables, whatever which is impossible. They're relatively small products. If we air freight them we pay probably four or five times the shipping cost on that item. Then we would if we ship it by boat or train. So if we're smart in understanding where our stock position is or will be in six months time, then I can put more stuff on a boat so I pay less for the stock when I buy it in.

James Ewnes:

If I do that every month for a year or two years, the savings become absolutely astronomical amount of money and Then you can make more margin because you can sell the product at the same price, whether you've shipped it in vice year, whether you shipped it in my air. So your margin increases. So not only have you saved money but you've also made more money. So that whole inventory management piece it, like I keep saying is If you're not doing that as a business, if you're sat waiting to run out of stock, yeah, I just. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Caroline Baldwin:

Is this an example of being able to use real-time data via a tool such as inventory planner versus Traditional spreadsheets, for instance? What you've been talking about is it possible to do via traditional spreadsheets, or is it just really quite difficult?

James Ewnes:

I don't think it's possible and again, I've said that a few times but I really don't think you can do this with a spreadsheet. You just If you built the most complicated spreadsheet in the world yes, you might be able to do it, but you'll be able to do it once in that. One example what happens if a product picks up in demand in the five minutes since you've downloaded the data for the spreadsheet, like and that's, yes, the whole point of real-time right? I Don't think it's possible. I think you need the tool to be able to tell you that information and and and more importantly, be able to Spot the trends. A spreadsheet is not going to help you spot the trend right. The spreadsheet might give you the data, but it's not going to say, when I'm going to do that products doing much better than it did last year, what you can do about it. That that real-time information I yeah, it's, it's so key.

Caroline Baldwin:

And spotting those trends is so important. You know you just given us examples in terms of moving inventory about, but was about new products, in terms of new business Opportunities or spotting gaps in the market. Isn't that how green feathers came about? Tell us a little bit about it. So it's basically you're spying on birds in their homes. I need to hear more. It sounds very wholesome. I absolutely love the sound of it. Tell our audience a little bit about how this new business venture came about.

James Ewnes:

Yeah, it is quite a cool story. So we open 24. Seven originally started with a brand called spy camera CCTV and the idea of that brand was to sell CCTV equipment for people to self-install. So if you go back 10, 12 years, ccd systems were very expensive. They require the specialist to install. It was all very complex.

Caroline Baldwin:

Yeah, this is prior to the days of like ring doorbells and stuff like that.

James Ewnes:

Yeah, way before ring, way before reliable Wi-Fi. It was a lot harder back then. So we developed systems that tried to bring Sensibly priced CCD systems that could be self-installed by a normal person, and that was that kind of the growth of the business. Alongside that, because we've been spending a lot of time looking at, you know, ccd imaging technologies, wireless technologies, how to plug stuff into TVs or recorders, and you know this is back before HDMI. This is, you know, this is before blue ray was a thing, before HD was a thing. Like you know, it's going back a few years.

James Ewnes:

But what we developed was some technology that would allow wireless transmission of video signals from a camera in relatively high quality for the time, and we developed that out as a small, like pinhole camera. So it started off as a as a camera that you could use for and I put in a hotel room and being able to secure the hotel room during the day. That was the idea behind it. We then had a customer and this goes back to the day point. We had a customer that used that pinhole camera in a bird box and they had asked how about we put some night vision on this and then we'll get better low light footage in the bird box and that was kind of the Eureka moment, like bulb, that was it. You know, we could do this. We could actually develop a product. So we did, and we developed one product initially and that product started to outstrip the CCTV cells. So you, you know, we went from overnight of not having this product to then selling hundreds of them and as we developed the range we we sort of realized that we couldn't keep selling these bird box cameras and these nature cameras as CCTV because they weren't CCTV cameras. They weren't, they weren't for security, they were for the pleasure of watching an animal in the garden or a bird in the bird box, whatever it would, whatever you were using it for. So that sort of spawned the idea of spinning off the brand green feathers and we kind of waited until a to kind of like an inflection point where the sales of green feathers on the spike on a CCTV website, were far out stripping the CCTV cells. And that was the point where we pulled the trigger and launched it.

James Ewnes:

And now we have developed again, using customer data, using customer feedback, was developed an entire range of cameras and Even if you look at the site now you'll see there's quite a large focus on hedgehogs because at this time of year hedgehogs are starting to nest. You're, you're in that window for hedgehog watching. So Again, customer bought on the bird box cameras put in a hedgehog box. So these are really great for monitoring hedgehogs. So we went cool, let's do a hedgehog pack. And and so really all of the products and all you see on the green felds website, none of those products are really developed directly by us. They are customers coming and telling us I've done this with your products. This is a really good idea.

James Ewnes:

His some footage and and again to go back to the story piece, because it's not, you know, it's not a CCTV camera looking at somebody breaking into a car. It's not, you know, it's not a negative experience. It's a positive thing to go. Look, here's some footage of a hedgehog in the box. This is really cool. And so people are much more willing to share that with you. And and they'll tell you the story, how they did it, how did they mount it, all of that stuff that you just wouldn't guess it was a negative story. You're getting it because it's a positive story and then you can you can use that knowledge to To build packs out and, yeah, hedgehogs are one example.

James Ewnes:

We've done it with owls, we've done it with lizards. I mean, the lizard camera kit is. It's insane, like we not planned that we were gonna do this. Our camera happens to work very nicely in high humidity, high heat environments because it's you know, it's it can go in a bird box in Arizona, so it has to support that high humidity, high heat. But that also means that it works very well in lizard enclosure high humidity, high heat and lizard enclosure. So a customer bought one. Put it in lizard enclosure. There you go, lizard camera. So it's about using the data that the customers are giving you and and I do think that there is Sometimes with brands there is a gap in what you think your customer wants and what your customer actually wants. And really, greenfeathers is 100% driven by what the customer wants. We don't develop something unless the customer says I've done this or I want this, and that's how we develop.

Caroline Baldwin:

That really is such an incredible story about listening to your customers and being really reactive to what they want. And, james, I need to know were you a nature buff before this all kicked off, or is it something that you're into now? Or maybe you're not. Maybe you just let your customers get on with it.

James Ewnes:

No, it's always been something pretty key to my life. I spend a lot of time with my wife outside. We're not outdoorsy, campy people, but we are people that enjoy being outside and without going too far down the rabbit hole part of my own mental health struggles I find nature is a place where I can go and the stress of the day or the stress of the week or whatever, I can just go look at some trees and that's like it sounds so simplistic, but again, mindfulness exercises, go look at the sky. That's what I do. So it's always really been there. And again, I'm very fortunate I've got a very, very nice back garden. I always have nature in the back garden. I have foxes, I have badges, I have hedgehogs, I have birds, I have everything. We have a small pond in our next door neighbor's garden, so we've got fish, we've got tadpoles, so I've always been around it. But I don't think there was ever a conscious decision where I went, my interest of nature is going to lead me to help develop a brand. I don't think that was ever part of the story, it just sort of happened. So, yeah, I kind of fluked into it. But I'm happy that I fluked into it and just being able to tell the story of the brand.

James Ewnes:

I've been to several events already as green feathers, trade shows and stuff. There's loads of massive brands there. There's John Lewis, there's their might fit, there's all the big brands that you're supposed to be there. Nobody cares about those brands. All they want to do is come talk about green feathers. Let's look at the website, let's look at the products, and so it's really cool. It's not selling, as I said right at the start. It's not selling a product online for the purpose of selling a product. It's selling the story, selling the dream, it's the idea, and that's, I think, is perhaps a cooler place to be.

Caroline Baldwin:

That's a really wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing that, james, and I'd love to hear, now you're talking about these smaller brands that you're hoping to take into mid-sized businesses or larger and beyond what would you suggest, having been throughout all of that, from small to mid-sized to large businesses, what would you suggest e-commerce brands listening out there in the future Invest in from a technology point of view, if they're starting up at the moment and hoping to go from the small to mid-size? Is there a hierarchy of an importance when it comes to technology and investment?

James Ewnes:

I think there is. Yeah, I think, and I've retouched on it on the previous point of inventory. But I think the first two most important elements are product data, image management. Those are the top of the tree. You've got to have those right. I suppose they could be at the bottom of the tree to help grow the tree, but whichever way you want to look at it, they are the two most important things. I think some of the things that can follow along later are things like auto management, warehouse management. These are things that you can sort further in the journey.

James Ewnes:

I don't think smaller businesses looking to grow should go and invest in a huge, complicated CRP system right from the offset. You need to test the waters first and prove that there is a need for that stuff before jumping in and doing it. Open 24.7,. We've started off with a very, very basic paper-based picking system, same as furniture box did. That works for a reasonable-sized business. You can grow that to a decent level before you need to change. The point at which you change, then it's really important to invest in the right system. But don't invest in the system before you've proven that there's a reason to invest in the system.

James Ewnes:

The exception to that, like I said, inventory management and PIM I think those are really important. I'm not saying you need to go invest in a 100,000-pound PIM system. Develop your own PIM if you want. There are loads of people I myself one of them now we use Airtable as our PIM. You don't have Airtables, basically Trello. It's $30 a month, it's nothing. You can build a fairly decent product management interface on Airtable To start with Airtable. When that reaches a point that Airtable can't do it anymore, or even on Trello, do it. When that doesn't work anymore. Then you invest in the software. I really do think that your path to growth should always be try it, prove it works, then invest, not the other way around. I've said it a few times on this, but that is so important. Don't just go and yolo the tech before you've proven that there's a need to yolo the tech right. Too many brands do it the other way around.

Caroline Baldwin:

I love that. Don't just go yolo the tech.

James Ewnes:

That's been a motto, just to touch on that again. The other point I would say lots of brands yolo a tech, invest 100,000 pounds in their tech stack. Airt grows that tech stack in six months time because the business has changed and that's so common, right, like everybody does that like what you think you might need now isn't what you're going to need in six months. So you need to live that journey, then invest in it. Don't just invest in it at the start, because things will change and your priorities will change. And, going back to all the points before, with the fell fast strategy, you will try things that won't work. Great, they don't want to move on to something else, but that's something else might mean that you need a different solution in your tech stack and you've got to be willing to adapt to that.

Caroline Baldwin:

So true, some really great tips there and talking about going from kind of investment to kind of cash flow. One of your principles for success has always been to have a smart cash flow position to make sure you've got enough in the bank so you can take advantage of data and customer insight and various technologies. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that principle and where that came from?

James Ewnes:

Yeah, so that was that was a. That was an open 24 seven principle from the start. Really, chris, my co-director, is very hot on the cash flow side of the business. So what we tend to try and do and and I again, I don't know how this works in other businesses, but but what we tend to try and do is you try and keep enough money in the slush fund and we call it a slush fund, but you try and keep enough money in the slush fund that if one of your channels fell over tomorrow, you'd still have enough money to keep the rest of the business going. And the second part of that and I kind of briefly touched on it earlier as well, but the second part of that is, when you're investing in a new channel, get the channel to make some money before you throw more money at it.

James Ewnes:

So a really good example of that is our journey in Amazon USA. We could have just sent 14 containers of stock over to Amazon USA and hoped that it was going to work. That would be an enormous risk, could potentially do the business right. So what we did is we sent smaller shipments in timeismcom knew that we wouldn't have the huge level of growth that we wanted. But we got the platform to where it was a stable 10 15 care months, then 30 care months, then 40 care months, then 50 care months, and when you're getting it to that level of earning a sensible amount of money, where you've got some profit, then you pull the trigger on it.

James Ewnes:

So it's about being careful with your cash prediction and knowing when you should pull the trigger and knowing when you shouldn't pull the trigger, and that, I think, has been really key to what we've done here with the territory growth. Specifically, you know we've invested in Germany, we invest in France, we invest in Holland, we've invested in America, we've invested in Australia and New Zealand. Like that, that growth can only occur if you have a bit of stability at the start and then you invest. If you just invest and then worry about stability afterwards, you're going to be in trouble. So you keep your slush fund, you invest sensibly and then, when you're ready to invest, you've got that slush fund to chuck into that opportunity that you then created.

Caroline Baldwin:

So we've talked about failing fast. Let's talk a bit about some of the setbacks that you've experienced over your career and what are some of the key takeaways you've learned from those.

James Ewnes:

Yeah, there's been many, and I think that it's quite easy to to sort of sit back and say that you've not made any mistakes and say that everything you've done has worked. But everybody knows, realistically, you're going to have some setbacks, you're going to have some failures. There are a few things that we've done wrong. One of the things that we did open 24-7 is we invested quite heavily in a, in a large B2B team. We we had always been a DTC brand for forever. That's what we would go out. We would go to e-commerce. We knew what we were doing in the e-commerce. We then invested in this giant sales team and completely dropped the ball on it.

James Ewnes:

It was an unbelievable failure. Our brand was not ready for B2B. We had not had the process in place. We've not had the stock ordering in place. We didn't understand how to sell to business customers. We didn't understand how to talk to them, and that was a complete, utter failure, unbelievable failure.

James Ewnes:

And and I think that actually that failure that really kind of built the idea of fell fast forming, because we didn't fell fast on that. We kept trying to flog this dying horse and we stuck around with a, with a sales team, for for 18 months, two years, when really we we knew after three months that it wasn't going to work, but we kept trying because we and I think this is really important as a founder as well is you've got to know when something has failed and when to cut your losses. And it's real, and it's really easy to say that in hindsight now we didn't do that, and the reason we didn't do that is because we still deep down believed that we could do it when actually everybody told us that it was, it was wrong and we couldn't do it. And we never listened and and that's that's probably one of the most difficult things to learn and and you actually touched on earlier we did when we were talking about culture like having the humility of being able to say you know what I got that wrong, that was my bad, move on. And you know we've. You could look at times when you've made staff decisions, you've hired some people that maybe haven't set the culture you've, you've made some mistakes there, knowing when to stand up and say cool, you know what I did get that wrong, I'm sorry, let's learn from it, let's move on.

James Ewnes:

And so that entire failure that we had with the sales team, that really grew that idea of if something doesn't work, stop it and and I really think that's set. It's such a hard lesson to learn because you have to go through a few things going wrong and you have to learn from that, and I think that's what we've done very well and that's kind of powered. You know, I'm in a very, very fortunate position. I totally accept that. But that's really what's driven my career is knowing that was a really bad time for us. That was 18 months, two years of absolute nightmare time. Where had I have had that mentality that I have now? Back then we would have slapped it off after three months and we all would have gained more sleep from it. But you are the time. You don't know that, do you? So it's great.

Caroline Baldwin:

And these are the lessons you take forward and hopefully share with listeners as well. So we're looking back in the past and, to start to round up this conversation, let's look into the future. What is the next piece of technology that you're looking at integrating into the operations of the three brands that you're focused on right now?

James Ewnes:

Our next bit of growth actually not that December to the Furniture Fox journey, to be fair. The basis of the tech stack is there. What we need to do now is develop the wireless management piece as we grow with those brands. Yet again, very fortunate position we are seeing incredible growth on the e-commerce side from Green Feathers and from Spy Camera. As that growth continues, you need to have the back-end warehouse systems to support that, and you know, for anybody that's listened to any of my podcasts before, the Furniture Fox journey was very similar to that.

James Ewnes:

We reached a point where the warehouse simply couldn't keep up with the demand that we were putting on them and we're basically at that point now here at Open 247. So now it's investing in the wireless management system. Fortunately, we'd have to invest in the whole new building here, because we've got a good warehouse premises, thankfully. But you need the system to support that, and then that gives you much greater inventory management. It gives you much greater speed and agility with the way you pick or how quickly you can pick, obviously. So the wireless management system is the next big step on our journey, and then really it's local territories. Do we open a US office? Do we open a Germany office? Do we open an Australian New Zealand office? The territory management piece and how do we go into that is going to be the real. That's really going to be the next 18 months for us. Yeah, of course.

Caroline Baldwin:

I've said this before it's always a great problem to have those two challenges, but they are still problems and you need to get on them ASAP to make sure that you manage to focus on that growth. But no, it's really great to hear that the business is doing so well. James, thank you for sharing your story with us. We have come to the end of our time, but before I can let you go, we've just got to do our quick fire rounds. So settle in a little bit, don't think too much about the questions, and are you ready?

James Ewnes:

Go for it.

Caroline Baldwin:

Okay. So first question is are you a Netflix or a Disney Plus watcher?

James Ewnes:

Netflix.

Caroline Baldwin:

What do you do to stay mentally and physically fit?

James Ewnes:

Physically, I don't Mentally. Meditation is I can't stress it enough. I think I've said this to a lot of people as well. But, like meditation, mindfulness is. That's how I do it. I have to learn to do it as well.

Caroline Baldwin:

And what is your Sunday morning guilty pleasure?

James Ewnes:

That would be a takeaway breakfast. Very, very fortunate with where we live, we've got some excellent delivery options for breakfast, so yeah, that would be a.

Caroline Baldwin:

Are we talking like traditional full?

James Ewnes:

English or kind of avotos no.

Caroline Baldwin:

Or no, it's like traditional full.

James Ewnes:

English breakfast. The earlier point of not caring about health is fulfilling me.

Caroline Baldwin:

Hey, it's a Sunday morning, guilty pleasure. There is no judgment here whatsoever. If you had five minutes with the Prime Minister, what would you ask from them?

James Ewnes:

Be careful with how you word this. I would ask them to stop being idiots. Genuinely Social acceptance, like, just stop. Like, please, can we just stop. Let people be here. They want to be. Stop it.

Caroline Baldwin:

Social acceptance is a great one. And what is the one metric you would tell retailers to obsess over?

James Ewnes:

Can I do two? Yeah, go on then LTV, customer lifetime value. Obviously that's the sensible one, Econ, that's what we care about, right? But also days of stock. To go back, to round off what we've been speaking about with inventory days of stock, how many days of stock do you have for your products?

Caroline Baldwin:

And finally, what is the one thing you know now that you wish you'd known at the beginning of your career?

James Ewnes:

I think the one thing that I would like to go back and change would be to have realised how important culture is to a business earlier. I've learnt that quite well over the past four or five years, but I wish I would have known that at the start. I wish I would have known how important it is to look after your staff, better understand what your staff are doing and give them the space to grow. I wish we would have done that sooner. Yeah.

Caroline Baldwin:

Thanks, james. It is always a pleasure catching up with you. Thank you so much. It's so great to hear you're doing well, as the business as well, and I'm sure our listeners will learn loads from this podcast. Thank you so much for your time. Take care, have fun you.

E-Commerce Growth Strategies and Technology
Importance of Real-Time Inventory Management
Green Feathers
E-Commerce Brands' Technology Investment Advice
Lessons From Setbacks
The Importance of Culture in Business