5 Minutes With Jezz Skelton, Founder, Abbott Lyon

Abbott Lyon was founded by young entrepreneur Jezz Skelton in 2014 and has seen massive growth over the last four years. Interestingly, the online accessories retailer isn’t his first business venture and probably won’t be his last. Retail Gazette catches up with Jezz to learn more.

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Abbott Lyon

Tell me about the Abbott Lyon story.

I started a brand called Mango Bikes back in 2012 while at university. Using the online direct-to-consumer model as our only platform, we were able to offer quality bikes at half the normal price.  The concept proved hugely successful and the business grew rapidly.

As a consumer, I noticed a gap in the market for premium items at accessible pricing, particularly in the fashion and watch category. Experiencing the growing ecommerce industry I soon fell in love with the thriving popularity of fashion watches and after a successful few years of Mango Bike, I exited in 2014 and founded Abbott Lyon.

Watches are much smaller and easier to ship than bikes and there wasn’t anyone doing it with a big female focus with the luxury appeal of big designer inspiration. Abbott Lyon is all about aspirational design and a feeling of luxury but at the same time keeping it fun. We started with the classic watch which over the years we’ve re-imagined to become something special to us. Our own in-house designer also creates new, unique pieces.

We’ve now expanded the collections to include jewellery and handbags to complete that full look. To us it’s about curating your style with quality accessories that look and feel luxury and special but without the hefty price tag.

There’s an increasing number of watches and accessories retailers online – do you think there’s a reason for this?

Watches and accessories as their characteristics make them the perfect product to scale and distribute globally. In such a competitive market, we see new brands come and go everyday. It’s definitely much harder for new starters to get traction now compared to three years ago when Instagram was still new. You have to stand out and be your own thing to make it work.

“You have to stand out and be your own thing to make it work.”

What gap in the UK retail market does Abbott Lyon strive to address?

Abbott Lyon is for the girl who aspires to own designer accessories but she can’t just go out and buy it without saving first. We fill that gap, by offering a designer experience and high quality, affordable products. We sit between the high street and the designer brands.

How is Abbott Lyon’s business model different to its main competitors?

We are dedicated to being the best digital fashion accessories brand. By purely focusing online, we don’t have any middlemen. Everything from designing the product, taking the photography, packaging it and shipping it is done by us. This allows us to offer better value, maintain quality and remain flexible and easily able to adapt to the market trends. Our business model is focused on operating one channel well.

What’s in store for Abbott Lyon for 2019?

Lately we have seen huge success with our handbags, so the focus will be to continue developing this category and looking for future complimentary categories.

Also global expansion has started very well for us. We launched in Germany 12 months ago and this market already accounts for over 40 per cent of our sales. We will continue our international roll-out.

How is Abbott Lyon addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

We’re staying online. We briefly dabbled in wholesale, but felt it became a distraction from our core brand. In our arena, ecommerce is on the up and offers huge opportunities on a global scale.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Brexit is definitely a concern. We are having to think about this with such a large portion of sales coming from Germany. At the moment we’re sitting tight but ready to make some quick changes if necessary.

“We briefly dabbled in wholesale, but felt it became a distraction from our core brand.”

I also think discounting has got a bit out of control this year, the UK consumer expects a discount (especially online) and we have to be careful to control this.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Abbott Lyon.

I’m still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. I’ve always been a brand and marketing man, so this side of the business gets most of my attention. I now have a really strong team around me and find myself spending most of my time in meetings helping guide the ship rather than getting too engrossed in the nitty gritty.

I oversee the whole operation and am very much focused on how we can scale and grow whilst remaining profitable. Since launch we have doubled every year and hit impressive bottom line figures. I intend to keep it this way.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I studied business management and marketing at Swansea University and in my third year founded Mango Bikes. This business was focused on sourcing own brand bikes, direct from the factory to the consumer. We were able to offer quality bikes at half the normal market price, by focusing online only.

By coincidence, the BBC were running a TV series called Be Your Own Boss. We ended up being featured on the show, setting up the business and eventually being offered investment from Innocent Smoothies founder, Richard Reed.

We didn’t take the investment but the PR was what rocketed us into the market. The business grew really well and I eventually exited in 2014, allowing new management to take it in the direction they wanted to go.

I setup Abbott Lyon a few weeks after leaving Mango Bikes.

“Brexit is definitely a concern.”

What got you into retail in the first place?

I love creating a brand from scratch and watching it grow. I’m able to visualise ideas in my head and develop them from a concept into a successful business. I also really like getting involved in the product design – I get such a great feeling when I spot someone in a restaurant wearing one of our watches or at a party with one of our bags.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I’m constantly learning and I definitely don’t class myself as experienced at 27 years old. I’m a big believer in you have to make mistakes to develop and if you don’t have a go, you’ll never know. Although my first business sold a very different product, it shared the same business model. One of the strongest lessons I learnt early on, was to always protect your margin.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I’ve never worked for anyone and I don’t have any co-founders or shareholders. Although I have a great team around me, the big decisions have to be made by me and I don’t always get it right. Although this is a challenge, I love having the freedom to go for it and have fun with it.

And the most rewarding?

Watching the visions come to life. I love experiencing the whole process from an idea in a
meeting, to a new product or campaign launch with successful results. The buzz is unreal.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Go for it. But make sure you do your research first. Pick the right product and take your time to build the foundations.

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