On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Charlotte Broadbent, the Country Lead for Faire, a wholesale platform empowering retail and eCommerce brands to creativity and a goal of global growth or expansion.
“Being open to unexpected turns in the road is an important part of success.” – Condoleezza Rice. Charlotte Broadbent’s success as the Country Lead of Faire was an unexpected turn of events. She was previously a COO of an international fine jewelry brand and retailer, but was able to leverage her experience and knowledge to successfully transition into her role at Faire. Through her hard work and dedication, she was able to quickly rise in the ranks and become the Country Lead.
Faire is an online wholesale platform that helps retailers find unique products from emerging brands and independent makers. Faire provides retailers with access to thousands of products and offers flexible terms, low minimums, and free returns. It also offers tools to help retailers streamline their ordering process and manage their inventory.
It’s an insightful episode as you’d hear Kunle and Charlotte talk more about onboarding with Faire, wholesaling and its inefficiencies, Faire’s programs, the trends in Q4 2023 going to 2024, and the challenges and strengths of the retail and entrepreneur space.
Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:
On today’s interview, Kunle and Charlotte discuss:
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Welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast. This episode is exciting, I have to say. Personally, we’ve been going through challenges in this aspect of our business, one of our businesses, and I wanted to get into this topic. We have Charlotte Broadbent, the Country Lead for the UK, Netherlands, and the Nordics for Faire.
For those of you who don’t know Fair, they’re a huge marketplace for wholesale. The way it works is you put your “brand” on their platform and potential retailers will come in, discover you, make a sample order, and get you out to more eyeballs to their customers locally. That’s it in a nutshell. They started in America in San Francisco. A strong leadership in terms of the founders. They’re like X square. They’ve raised $1.29 billion if I’m not mistaken and then they’re valued at about $12.9 billion. It’s a huge company making a foray here in the UK, Europe, and globally. I am glad to have Charlotte on the show.
Hi, Kunle. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m looking forward to the discussion.
The audience is looking forward to finding out more about you, Charlotte, your background, and how you emerged to become the Country Lead for Faire UK.
It’s fair to say that I didn’t follow a traditional path into the world of tech. I joined the company as the Country Lead but before that, I had quite a patchwork of experience that brought me here. I did a degree in geography and I left university wanting to understand how businesses worked. That led me to start my career in private equity investing, which, I thought, was the best education I could get in how businesses work, the nuts and bolts, and making decisions from a shareholder’s seat.
I was always drawn to retail and consumer in particular because of the many challenges and the operational elements of it that are so much about hearts as well as minds. Retail in particular, trying to build fans, and move customers to buy is a never-ending challenge. I got the opportunity to join the board of the UK’s biggest garden center business, Wyevale, quite early on in my career. I also led investments in early-stage consumer businesses. I wanted to understand tech, those companies that private equity was investing in with businesses going through digital transformation.
It’s probably not a phrase that any business digitally native would think of. I wanted to dive in and roll my sleeves up running a business that was native to that world and understand eCommerce. I became COO of one of my portfolio companies and began running a retail business through the pandemic, which was a total baptism of fire.
We had a nascent eCommerce channel. Because it was a fine jewelry brand, that’s not a channel and a product category where eCommerce had been a starting point for them. We built that business from the ground up, which was amazing. We also had a significant brick-and-mortar wholesale business, which is how I started to get to intimately understand some of the problems that a business like Faire is looking to solve for our ecosystem. I joined Faire at the beginning of 2022 and have been helping grow our UK business in particular since then.
That was interesting, Charlotte. They talk about polymaths. You have such wide experience and you’re applying both your strategic and finance experience from private equity and you’re foraying to retail into Faire. It’s exciting times. I did my fair bit in terms of introducing Faire to the audience as best as I could but you do a better job at giving us the value proposition of Faire as a marketplace so please go for it.
Thank you so much. Faire is all about helping small business owners be more entrepreneurial and focus on what they do best, which is to delight their customers. We take the risk out of the system of wholesale in a way that empowers the brand and the retailer side of our marketplace to be more creative and try something new.
We’re all about leveling the playing field for small businesses and giving them the tools that probably until recently were only available to the big players, the multiples, or the multinationals. Faire was one of the first, but we’re now the biggest, wholesale online marketplace in the world. We started in 2017 and we launched out of Europe from the UK in 2021. Today, we’ve got 700,000 retailers shopping with us from around 100,000 brands. We’ve scaled globally, which has a number of advantages.
That makes makes a lot of sense. Faire is looking to improve upon the existing wholesale and distribution infrastructure that has not served high-street retailers well. Could you shed some light on those inefficiencies? What have retailers had to bear over these past years, probably half a century, that Faire is changing and optimizing? Commerce moves faster because of all of the headwinds we have, inflation, and interest rates going so high. How is Faire solving these distribution hiccups for retailers?
You’re right, it’s challenging out there. In fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult times in retail that we’ve seen with the combination of COVID, the cost of living crisis, inflation, and business rates in the UK. Until recently, wholesale buying was almost entirely an offline channel, which is hard to believe now given how quickly it’s changed.
Independent retailers, which is the market that we serve on the demand side of our marketplace, used to shop seasonally twice a year. They would travel from their stores and go to trade shows and find brands, whatever brands were there. There might be 200, 300, or 400 brands in a trade show that they were shopping from or they would have relationships with uh agents or distributors forcing them to make big cashflow commitments twice a year, once in spring and once about now.
Those cashflow and stock commitments meant that retailers couldn’t afford to take big risks in terms of trying out new product lines or doing something different than they’d done before. They’re doing that twice a year whereas bringing wholesale online means that they can shop 24/7 online with much more flexibility. I can explain a bit about the way that Faire helps with that. We have a huge selection. Out of our 100,000 brands, retailers can buy from them.
We make data-driven product recommendations that get smarter the more a retailer shops with us. What that means is that the retailer has a differentiated product selection and truly is independent of what else is seen on the high street, which is important for them to stay competitive. We also give them financial and cashflow support.
We offer 60-day payment terms to all of the retailers that shop on our platform even if they’re building a new relationship or even if they’re, in fact, a new retailer, new to the industry. For small business owners on the brand side, it’s not practical or realistic for them to offer those financing terms to new relationships. We’re offering something different there. We try to take the risk out of the system by our brand’s list with low minimum order values.
If you speak to retailers, which I do every week, one of the big pains for retailers when trying something new is they don’t want to buy deep into a new brand or across a product range when they just want to try something and see if it works in their store. On Faire, because we have low minimum order values, it lets retailers try something new for the first time without making that big commitment whereas our brands get the benefit of having many small retailers buying from them that they can make that commitment to lower values.
We help on the practical side as well. We have a membership program that covers the cost of shipping and duties, which we do with the support of third-party logistics partnerships. We’ll also cover the cost of returning a product if it doesn’t work out. All of that comes together as a package that’s taking the risk out of the system and empowering those brands and retailers to be a bit more creative.
What you said speeds up the entire process from prospecting through to getting the actual items to store in low quantities that are low risk. I didn’t even know the fact that you sorted out returns, which could be an issue and a cost to retailers. I’d like to get a glimpse of what the landscape is in the UK at the moment. The reason I’m asking is a lot of the readers of this podcast would sit on the brand, on the supply side of the equation of your marketplace.
Most readers of this podcast run their own brands, they own their brands, and most of them are selling direct-to-consumer. They would do this on their website and they might also sell on marketplaces and have a few other commercial relationships with other retailers. From the supply side, which is who I’m speaking on behalf of now, what should they expect in terms of the retailers they synergize with or the retailers that engage with them when they list their products on your website? What information do they have about that retailer and what does it look like? What should we expect on the demand side?
Our marketplace is focused on independent shops or independent retailers, they can be brick-and-mortar or online. They are small business owners and they’re buying high-quality finished third-party goods to sell to their consumers. The demand side is all B2B. We don’t have a consumer side of our business, although it could be something exciting long in the future. It’s that independent market that’s notoriously hard and expensive to reach as a brand.
When I joined Faire, I was struck by one of the stats that we discussed. The independent retail market, when you add it all up, is larger than the big boys and the larger channels like Amazon and the supermarkets combined. There’s going to be a large number of independent retailers who want to buy finished goods. In the UK, that’s about 45,000 already buying on Faire. Given we’ve only been in the market for two years shows the traction that we’ve built.
The eCommerce brands like your readers have a huge amount on their plate trying to transact with individual merchants. They use Faire as a channel to grow their sales in this market that’s hard to access but also simplifies their business. Leveraging our financial logistics and CRM tools that are all under one roof. Also, our integrations with partners that they might already be using on the D2C side like Shopify or WooCommerce means that they’re bringing lots of their functions of running a wholesale business under one roof. Simplifying their business saves them time and allows them to focus on what they do best, which is creating products that delight their customers.
Speaking on behalf of brand owners or digital native consumer brands reading this podcast, could you speak to any success stories of brands that have transformed their P&L off the back of latching on the wholesale marketplace like Faire? Do you have any examples?
Firstly, I welcome all of your readers to take a look at our website because you can see the quality of brands that we have on there and it speaks for itself in a big way. If we didn’t have the quality of brands and merchandising, we wouldn’t have retailers coming to shop with us at all. A story that always sticks out for me is about a business called Bare Kind, a startup that began working with Faire. They’re a bamboo sock brand that was operating entirely D2C and hadn’t considered what wholesale business could mean for them.
Lucy got connected with one of our account managers and they started investigating what alternative sales channels could be for her business. They’ve driven a huge amount of sales through channels that they would never have expected before. Her top sales channel is now direct through podiatrists, for instance, which is not a sales channel that she ever thought she would access before.
A completely secondary benefit that’s happened with her business is that Bare Kind, Lucy, and her business partner are now teaching other brands about how to have success on wholesale platforms through their YouTube channel and even a business course. I love that story because it’s such a development from a startup to a major online player and then also paying it forward and sharing their tools and techniques with others.
You mentioned that there’s a CRM element on Faire. Do you want to speak to it? Is it the brand side? It must be the brand side because we have a CRM system for our one-to-one outreach, is that the case?
I would love to speak a bit more about that. Perhaps I’ll talk about what the onboarding process looks like and then what growing a brand on Faire is all about. We have a simple onboarding process that helps a brand upload all of the information a customer would want to know about their brand. We want to give brands that work with us their own shop front on Faire.
You might notice if you look at our website that our branding is all low-key and muted because we want to be a blank canvas for a brand to speak from. They can customize their shop and we’ll build it for them with information about products. They can include a video link to their own socials. We have integrations with the likes of Shopify and WooCommerce that integrate from inventory platforms as well. In a matter of days from deciding to sign up, a brand can have their shop live on Faire and will have access to all of Faire’s benefits that we’ve been talking about in this conversation.
The brands are in charge, they hold and own their own stock. They choose whether to accept an order so they have complete control over their distribution and which retailers they want to supply. We have a program called Faire Direct, which allows brands to extend Faire’s benefits to retailers and prospect leads that they’ve generated off of the platform but bring them onto Faire and transact commission-free.
We don’t charge brands any fees for joining the platform. We only charge when a brand gets an order. If we have not created that relationship, if the lead comes from off of the platform, then we don’t charge a commission on that. It’s using our CRM platform that brands can prospect with those leads from off of the platform and also to the eyeballs that we’re bringing to them as well.
That’s free. That’s an alternative to using a standard CRM system, I suppose.
That’s right. We talked about simplifying the business. When I speak to small business owners, managing multiple platforms and a whole tech stack is one of the biggest headaches out there. We have a deep team of engineering and product people at Faire who are always thinking about how we can make the lives of small business owners simpler and bringing some of these services under one roof helps with that.
With the marketplace experience, you have over 100,000 independent retailers on your platform. We have brands on the other hand. Do brands have to wait for the inbound or can they outbound within the platform?
Brands can outbound using our CRM with our retailers and then the other thing they can do is bring their own leads to the platform through the Faire direct program. It’s a whole business wholesale operating system for them, which is special.
It makes a lot of sense.
If you think about this, Kunle, going back to what we were saying about the traditional markets of shoe leather, buying spaces and a booth at a trade show, you didn’t know which eyeballs you were going to get or who might be coming to shop there. Through our platform, brands can specifically target the independent retailers that they want to grow with and build more sustainable relationships that way.
I’m sold. I’m thinking about what to do after this call for one of our brands because we’ve dabbled into wholesale but we found it’s an incredibly manual process. We did have a member of staff man that. It’s been an uphill battle. We’ll certainly give Faire a go and that’s why I’m grateful for this conversation.
It’s great to hear it.
Cheers. You guys are solving supply chain and sourcing issues for independent retailers and you’re bringing consumer brands onto the platform. It’s a matching exercise on there. Are you seeing any other retail macro trends that readers should be very much aware of in 2023 moving into 2024?
There’s no denying that it’s incredibly tough out there, and it’s probably one of the toughest times we’ve seen in retail in recent history. We’ve had COVID, the cost of living crisis, crippling business rates, and deserted retail spaces. I read that there have been 6,000 storefronts lost in the UK in the last five years, which has left us with what people are calling a gap-toothed high street, which doesn’t sound good for anyone.
It’s undeniable that there’s a trend that the high street is under threat in retail and it’s going to require some real action and disruption to change the tide. Here in London, where we are, Kunle, I don’t know if you’ve read that Westminster Council has launched a brilliant new plan to transform Oxford Street, which is close to where our office is. It’s looking particularly shabby for a long time. They’re collaborating with landlords and offering entrepreneurs who already offer something unique online.
A D2C business, as you’ve just described many of your readers are, this could be interesting for them. If they already have an online offering, they get a six-month rent-free period on Oxford Street. It’s still one of the business high streets in the country to build a brick-and-mortar business. There’s a trend to try and counteract this on the high street and that’s a program that we’re watching keenly and closely, not least because it’s so close to our office.
We’re desperate for the area to improve and it gives opportunities to small businesses even better. I’m proud to say that we’re tackling this problem head-on at Faire. We’ve got a program called Open with Faire and we’ve already helped thousands of new retailers open globally. It’s an exciting program that I’m particularly passionate about. We extend much larger financing packages. I talked about the financial support in terms of credit terms that we offer to all retailers.
We will extend larger financing packages to entrepreneurs who are about to open a shop or have recently opened a shop, all to specifically help them get on their feet and stock up for their early customers. You’ll be well aware that the banks aren’t there for them and the credit card companies aren’t there for them or they’re very expensive now. That’s a program that I’m proud of and a trend that we’re trying to counteract that I’m excited to see grow.
Another big trend that we’re seeing at Faire and comes through in our data is that while consumers are demanding value at every turn, particularly in this cost of living crisis, people do care and want to be more mindful of what they buy and why they’re buying and where it’s from. Value-based shopping is going to be a continued and growing trend, even in these economic circumstances.
We have filtering on our website and that’s where we can see the data that’s. Not on Amazon is our most popular filter with retailers trying to find something that’s different and can’t be found elsewhere. Those are two trends, I suppose. Lastly, along with the theme that we’ve been talking about, it is embracing technology, it’s going to be vital to retail, and Faire is a part of that story. I hope that we’re a meaningful puzzle piece. I’m passionate that we’re part of a wave of startups that have been created to help small businesses grow in this challenging environment.
Thank you for sharing, particularly with the initiative you have funding retail enterprise, which typically comes out-of-pocket for most entrepreneurs having the support of a platform like Faire that has access to data. I don’t think this is just monetary. You’re also perhaps providing data insights. You are data-driven. It is interesting.
What about pop-ups? An idea came to mind. You set up a pop-up, you go to Faire, you source all the products, and you create. It’s up to you to create a unique experience there. Are pop-ups still a thing? I believe there’s a pair here who are leading that fight. They’re trying to change the high street from a pop-up perspective. Are you seeing pop-up stores? Are pop-up stores using Faire to source brands to create a unique customer experience or a unique retail experience?
It’s interesting, pop-ups are still a trend and they do shop at Faire. I see them as part of that overall independent retail community that’s going to continue to be important. A lot of the creativity is driven by these groups like pop-ups because they have the agility to try something new. Conventional wisdom, you would have thought that the major players with big balance sheets would be best set up to navigate in choppy waters.
The story of Wilko is out there, we don’t know what’s going to happen to their 400 stores and 12,000 employees. It’s pretty clear that they lost sight of their customer. Starting a business from a pop-up and maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset as an independent give businesses the agility to try something new, pivot, and maintain that close bond with their customers, which is key in retail. Experiential might be one of the most overused words in retail.
When I talk to our retail customers who are thinking about how to grow their businesses, community engagement, providing a physical experience, and doing something creative that is different from others on the high street or online, it has been crucial to their survival and will be to reinvigorate the future of retail in the UK. I’m excited to see what this lead-up to Christmas looks like, Kunle. We call it the Golden Quarter in retail but I imagine that it will be the pop-ups and the independents where we’re going to see the most exciting innovation from merchandising, product selection, and customer experience perspective.
I do agree with you. We’re looking forward to what Q4 holds at stake. The thing is if you’re a UK retailer, even if you’re reading this in the US, make sure that you’re wholesale ready and sign up with Faire, we’re doing it. I’m not getting paid for this. It’s exciting to know that there is an additional channel.
One of the principles in my book is channel agnosticism, ensuring that you’re not just a D2C consumer brand, but you’re tapping into other channels that will serve you. Faire is worth definitely a go. Try and optimize that, Faire. Get a member of staff to work this system and see if you could get some more leads and add a few zeros to your P&L, to your sales. Thank you so much, Charlotte, for coming on the podcast. Before I let you go, is there any other thing you’d like to say? Any final words, particularly as we make our foray into Q4, which is supposedly the busiest time for retail?
Thank you for the discussion, Kunle. Hopefully, I’ve conveyed our excitement about the potential for Faire to help your readers with their eCommerce businesses grow through a different channel than they might have contemplated before. I encourage them to visit our website, Faire.com, if they haven’t already. We’ve got a fantastic blog that they can subscribe to and we keep that up to date with trends, news, and tips about growing business on Faire but also off of it.
We recognize that many brands are retailers too and the omni-channel experience is the most important thing for survival today. If I could leave maybe with a call to action is for everyone to get out there and shop your local independence. There’ll be some fantastic and inspiring experiences out there to have, a lot to learn, and a lot to be gained from shopping with them. Go and check out your local high streets. Thank you.
We will and we’ll try. Try the local high street this quarter. This Q4 supports the local high streets. It just comes back because it’s going to support other brands that get their products into these independent retailers. Charlotte, this has been an absolute pleasure having you. For those who want to find out more about Faire, it’s Faire.com. Many thanks.