Health and beauty (H&B) has been one of the slowest retail sectors to establish itself online, but the internet beauty space is “hot” at the moment, according to the boss of Feelunique.com Aaron Chatterley.
Talking to Retail Gazette, the co-founder and CEO of the H&B e-retailer said that brands have generally been slow to switch to the web and the main target audience, women, have taken longer to fully trust and get used to online retail.
“It is now very much happening though - the fact we can grow so well in the last five years shows people are changing their buying habits,” he explains.
Feelunique, which was the brainchild of Chatterley and Managing Director Richard Schiessl, who both invested £35,000 in 2005 to get the business off the ground, has positioned itself well to take advantage of the increasing interest in the sector.
Chatterley came up with the idea for the company when, as a hungover consumer walking through Dublin Airport he was convinced to part with £20 for some Clarins moisturiser, which he admits actually made him feel better.
It was from this point that he began to dream up a plan to sell similar goods in a convenient manner via the internet.
Since its inception Feelunique has experienced year-on-year sales growth of around 150 per cent every 12 months except last year when the recession stunted sales growth slightly.
Turnover for 2009 was around £11 million and this is expected to increase by 80 to 90 per cent this year, reaching around £20 million.
This has all been achieved by securing contracts with around 400 brands such as top names like Clarins, Elizabeth Arden and GHD – a list the firm is keen to add to as more and more H&B product providers head online in the months ahead.
Chatterley said: “This year we are looking at profits between £800,000 and £1.1 million, while last year we hit £575,000.
“Growth hasn’t been what we originally forecast it to be but the numbers are still very comforting.
“We’ve been very aggressive in our growth plan so our profits reflect the amount of money we are spending on growth, including PR, marketing and putting the infrastructure in place.”
Some of you will have seen the TV ads showcasing Feelunique’s services, and this is all part of Chatterley’s plan for the company to “get famous” sooner rather than later.
Due to the slow nature of H&B’s rise to prominence online there is a lack of go-to name for the sector in the way that people looking for fashion products instantly think of Asos.com and those seeking entertainment goods typically head straight to Play.com.
“We sell 12,000 products, have 400 brands on board and we deliver worldwide for free - we are very good at what we do and have a fantastic conversion rate on the website of between nine and 11 per cent.
“Our job now is to get famous over the next 18 months and we need to own the space before someone else does.”
Chatterley may be overseeing the development of a retail rising star, but his career history is not retail oriented.
Prior to setting up Feelunique he had his own web development company, which he sold in 2000, but before that he was at Cable & Wireless at a time when the internet was in its early stages of development.
He got a real taste for e-commerce when he was seconded to the West Indies to set up an ISP, and he was soon working back in Europe as “an internet evangelist” explaining the web to corporate customers who were naïve about its potential.
“I was never the entrepreneurial type like the kids at school who sell their lunch in the playground to make money – I was always very comfortable in the corporate world and I could never see myself starting my own business.
“My background isn’t in retail but luckily we had a good idea and have people around me who do all the other things much better than I ever will.”
Recent Verdict Research predicts that online retail could reach some kind of saturation point in the next four years, with companies involved in the sector needing to drive loyalty and increase spend per head across all age groups if they are to do well.
Feelunique obviously has a lot riding on the future growth and prosperity of e-commerce, but Chatterley is not overly concerned about the analyst’s warnings.
“We have a long way to go before saturation occurs in online retail,” he states.
“I think the next five years will see the same kind of stratospheric growth we’ve experienced over the last few years.
“Evolution is part of human history; we’ve seen evolution on the high street, and we’re now seeing other areas of retail change. It is up to us to evolve with it.”
By Ben Sillitoe