5 minutes with Fares Manai, Co-Founder, Bloobloom

Founded in 2018, Bloobloom aims to provide customers with premium products for an affordable price - they even show a full cost breakdown on every style - while also maintaining a strong community ethic and passion for making a difference. Retail Gazette chats with co-founder Fares Manai to learn more.

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Fares Manai, Co-Founder, Bloobloom profile Q&A eyewear
Fares Manai.

Tell me a bit about the Bloobloom story.

I co-founded Bloobloom with my brother Abbas in 2018. Having spent just over a decade in banking, we realised that we wanted to take on a new challenge and have an impact on things that really matter, and create a positive impact on people’s lives.

So we both quit our jobs and embarked on a journey to find where we could best help. We landed in Rwanda and met Tony Hulton, chief executive of Vision for a Nation, an amazing eye sight charity. There, we learned about the massive problem with glasses: 2.5 billion people on our planet need glasses but don’t have access to them.

We decided to get involved and do something about it. It was pretty obvious to us that the most durable option was to create the best possible eyewear company and associate customers to our cause. This is how Bloobloom was born.

The whole idea of giving back, like your Pair For A Pair initiative, is a large part of your business. Can you explain why?

Making eye care globally accessible is the reason why we started Bloobloom. Though once we took the plunge, we realised how easy it is to make a promise and fall short. So from day one, we decided to keep our cause at the centre of what we do through our Pair for Pair programme. For every pair sold, Bloobloom donates a pair to someone in need.

Fares Manai, Abbas Manai Co-Founders Bloobloom profile Q&A eyewear
Brothers Fares & Abbas Manai are the co-founders of online eyewear retailer Bloobloom.

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

When it comes to prescription glasses, customers are all too often faced with a choice between affordable but disappointing, or too expensive for a marginally better product and experience. At Bloobloom, we’re putting design and technology back at the heart of the process of buying a pair of glasses, making the journey fun and exciting without costing a small fortune.

How is Bloobloom’s business model different to other eyewear retailers?

By designing our glasses in-house, working with factories and engaging with customers directly, we’re able to provide luxury eyewear at a fair price. Bloobloom is also about doing business differently, which is why we reveal the real cost behind our prices along with our mark-ups versus other designer brands. Furthermore, we disclose the factories we work with and are constantly working on making our products and operations more sustainable, and give back to those who need it most.

2.5 billion people on our planet need glasses but don’t have access to them”

How did Bloobloom handle lockdown and how is it coping with the ongoing pandemic?

The lockdown period saw an increase in online retail demand and Bloobloom was no exception. That growth, however, came with its fair share of new challenges –  such as delivery issues and higher delivery costs, partner factories closed, increased pressure on customer service, etc – which overall made it difficult to capture.

What’s in store for Bloobloom in 2021?

2021 is going to be a very exciting year for us, especially in terms of tech. We plan to launch the best Virtual Try On on the market, are currently working on an online eye test while we continue to improve the user experience on our website. We are also finalising our first external funding round, which hopefully will allow us to scale the business and become the leading online brand in the UK for prescription eyewear.

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

I believe that the biggest challenges facing the retail industry are ethics and sustainability. These are at the core of what we do at Bloobloom through our Pair For Pair programme, but also by being truly transparent, making products that last and by constantly finding new ways to reduce our environmental footprint. Our challenge is to keep innovating in these areas and pave the way for the socially conscious businesses of tomorrow.

“We disclose the factories we work with & are constantly working on making our products & operations more sustainable”

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

Digital transformation and now Brexit and Covid-19 are the hot topics of the day (or year) – but I think the real question is how to survive the future of retail, because retail as a whole definitely has a bright future. I think that the future has and will always belong to those who adapt.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Bloobloom.

I am a co-founder and in charge of tech at Bloobloom. My role is to create and implement the technology we need to improve our interactions with customers and our operational efficiency. As we’re a small team, I often find myself wearing multiple hats – though no matter the task – it all boils down to keeping the customer at the heart of our operation.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Bloobloom.

I studied maths and computer science engineering at university and then started a career on the trading floor at leading banks in Paris, New York and Latin America. As an exotic derivative products trader, I was involved in the pricing, trading and hedging of complex financial products for professional investors.

What got you into retail in the first place?

I enjoy retail because it is so varied that no two days are ever the same. Working in retail introduces you to more than just customer service scenarios, but also marketing, design, merchandising, inventory management, logistics, tech and much, much more.

Developing a brand that people connect with on an emotional level is also incredibly stimulating.

Our Pair for Pair programme is the cherry on the cake.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

My previous experience in a fast-paced environment taught me how to analyse large sets of data in order to be able to take quick and accurate decisions. Moreover, it allowed me to develop the self-control that’s much needed in high-pressure working situations to communicate my ideas more efficiently and evolve seamlessly as part of a team.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Staying focused on what really matters: customers and growth.

And the most rewarding?

Without a doubt, it would have to be receiving great feedback from our customers.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in retail?

Listen to your customers, listen to your customers, and listen to your customers.

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