Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Aaron Chatterley, founder of Feelunique on the importance of high street stores in building an ecommerce brand

In the latest in ECA’s interview series with founder and CEOs of innovative ecommerce brands, we speak to Aaron Chatterley, founder of Feelunique.

Tell us a little about Feelunique?

It’s difficult to keep brief on this subject, I could literally go on for hours but I’ll try. We like to think of Feelunique as the ‘Destination for Beauty’, a hub for connecting consumers with the biggest and most exciting range of brands, helping them look and feel the best version of themselves, whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever their needs.

What prompted you to set up the company?

It was in 2005 and I’d recently sold my first company, which was a web development business. I wanted something new to get my teeth into but realised there were much bigger prizes to be had in ecommerce rather than the agency side. Along with an old friend, and now my co-founder Richard Schiessl, we looked at a whole range of potential verticals to go after and ultimately settled on beauty. The key drivers were that there were a few players but none really doing it well, we knew the market was huge, and the nature of the product meant there was fantastic traction and stickiness opportunity.

Most of what we sell will run out and if we do a great job then consumers will come back again and again. Most importantly though we recognized that we had an opportunity to create an amazing global business in a particularly exciting and innovative sector… beauty. We just had to focus hard on getting the best range and ensuring we provided the best consumer experience.

Health & Beauty brands are protective so how tough has it been to get them online? 

Really very, very hard!!

The number one challenge we faced in the early days was getting the brands our consumers wanted to join us. Not only did we have to contend with a natural reticence of many of the premium and luxury hair and beauty brands to move online at all and the fact that we were a new entrant to the beauty retail market in an era where it was all about tradition and heritage, but also the only way we could ultimately move forwards was ironically to own our own bricks and mortar outlets.

We therefore embarked on a three-year journey of acquiring hair salons, beauty emporiums and spas. Ultimately though this had multiple benefits, in addition to getting us access to the widest range of brands of any ecommerce beauty retailer we also have high street visibility, access to a multi-skilled workforce of front-facing staff with amazing product and beauty knowledge, and of course a genuine omni-channel presence.

What have been the big challenges?

Aside from building the brand portfolio, the rest is easy by comparison. I would say though that making the right calls on technology and marketing-tech in an era where we are constantly bombarded by the latest and greatest offerings is a balance and while it can lead to amazing increases in profitability and productivity when you get it right, it can also be disastrous and costly when done wrong.

And hiring well. We’ve made some mistakes along the way like most, but we now have a phenomenal executive team in place headed up by CEO, Sarah Miles. Management needs to lead and inspire, and I believe we now have that.

Why have you embraced the marketplace model?

As the ‘Destination for Beauty’, Feelunique has always been about providing the widest possible range for our consumers, ensuring we have the brands they want and something for everyone. Running a pure inventory model makes indefinitely scaling your range untenable as the cost of housing the stock and the capital outlay becomes inhibitive.

The Marketplace provides the perfect solution for us as it means we can scale our range and reach almost indefinitely without stock risk and for the brands it means they can capitalise on our platform, footfall, loyalty, marketing and technology. It’s a real win-win.

What role do your physical outlets play?

As mentioned, in the mid-2000s there was this reluctance by many of the prestige hair and beauty brands to go online and in addition to that, to meet the selective distribution requirements, we had to have a physical presence – including beauty boutiques, salons and spas. Initially It was a means to an end but they have since grown to be a key part of the business and have given us access to many sought after prestige brands that the ‘pure-play’ ecommerce players don’t have.

What has been your biggest achievement with Feelunique?

There have been so many wins over the years, from getting so many cool and prestigious brands, winning a bunch of awards, first-hand feedback from our consumers, launching some incredible cutting-edge and pioneering initiatives around content, sampling and loyalty, but I honestly believe the single biggest achievement was simply getting it off the ground and running on its own two feet.

The hardest step is the first and we had to contend with an industry that wasn’t ready for us and the usual doubters who voiced their concerns that we were crazy and it would fail. So many people along the way have been involved in some capacity but very few really appreciate the sheer balls it takes to have the idea and to make it happen!

What is the big opportunity for the company – what are the plans for Feelunique?

Great question. I still passionately believe the world needs a real global ‘Destination for Beauty’, and that prize still exists and it still motivates me, and I hope our team, to go on to innovate, grow, create and build. Watch this space.