5 minutes with Leighton Richards, CEO, WelleCo

Since her heyday as an international supermodel, Australian catwalk icon Elle Macpherson has become a successful businesswoman. Among her various ventures is WelleCo, an online beauty and wellness retailer that has also has various retail partnerships, such as Selfridges and Net-a-Porter. We had a chat with CEO Leighton Richards to find out more.

5 minutes with Leighton Richards, CEO, WelleCo Elle Macpherson
Leighton Richards.

Tell me a bit about the WelleCo story.

WelleCo is an Australia-born company and was founded by Elle Macpherson in 2014 as a result of her own personal wellness journey. Elle found that the things which worked for her in her 30s and 40s were no longer working for her in her 50s. By the time she was 50, she began to recognize the important roles of nurturing clean, supportive nourishment and self-sustaining practices. She began to really understand how to achieve wellness and the benefits of feeling well, and wanted to share that with the world.

During this journey, Elle met nutritionist Dr Simone Laubscher and together, they created what became WelleCo’s foundation product, The Super Elixir – a supercharged green powder which genuinely changed Elle’s life. She wanted to share this solution with other people – bringing everyone benefits in an easy, simple daily routine. WelleCo was born.

Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind the business?

WelleCo’s collection of beauty and wellness solutions is underpinned by Elle’s philosophy that, with wellness, you can live the life you’d only dreamed of living, feeling strong and alive, capable and confident. How a person chooses to live their life is their own responsibility but at WelleCo, we consider it our responsibility to provide them with the best possible support, awareness and wellness solutions that enable them to grow into the best version of themselves. We believe that being well, feeling great and living life, contributes to the greater good of our entire world.

Elle Macpherson Leighton Richards, CEO, WelleCo
Australian catwalk icon Elle Macpherson is the founder of WelleCo.

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

Before WelleCo arrived, there were topical beauty products and functional foods, and we bridged the gap between the two, helping to educate consumers that beauty is not just skin-deep, it’s soul-deep – if you feel well, this influences how well you look.

How does WelleCo’s business model differ to other beauty retailers?

We are one of the pioneers of the premium greens and ingestible beauty movement and have changed the way that our customers view beauty. What sets our elixirs apart is that they are formulated by nutritional experts who have found the right blend of plant-based nutrients that work together to address acidity in the body, and to nourish it on a cellular level.

Today, we continue to adapt and innovate, to meet the growing demand for wellness and beauty solutions. We’ve worked hard to provide the ultimate greens and wellness products – science-backed and sustainably-sourced.

How did WelleCo handle the lockdown period & how is it coping with the ongoing pandemic?

WelleCo has continued to perform strongly during the global pandemic. This has been predominantly driven by consumers wanting to take more responsibility for their personal health and wellbeing, and WelleCo is well positioned to support them as we offer our range products direct-to-consumer, online at welleco.co.uk, as well as via our retail partners.

“There is a growing desire for health-promoting and self-care products”

Unquestionably, our community is the heartbeat of our brand. The future of WelleCo is shaped by their needs, so their feedback during this challenging time has been invaluable.

What’s in store for WelleCo in 2021?

We feel fortunate to have two incredible partners in The Foundry, an Australian private equity firm, and Hoperidge Capital – both of whom have been with us since the start. These partnerships have helped us expand in global markets including the US and UK, and we will continue to invest in this expansion in 2021 and beyond. We also have some exciting new product developments in the pipeline.

The UK health & beauty market is set to grow by 8.8% by 2024, according to Global Data, when it would be worth an extra £2bn.

It doesn’t surprise me. There is a growing desire for health-promoting and self-care products, which has been further intensified by events of 2020. Consumers are more health and wellness conscious than ever before, and they are more aware of skin and health concerns that may have been less relevant in the past – many of which can be addressed through the selection of targeted products that are available today.

How is WelleCo addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

As a predominantly ecommerce business, listening to and talking to our consumers, and understanding how their needs and behaviours are shifting, particularly in light of the global pandemic, is vital. We have to be able to quickly react to these behavioural shifts, while keeping our vision and values at the heart of our proposition.

We have made things more convenient for our customers through the launch of a subscription service, providing regular wellness delivered right to their door. We continue to increase our presence within renowned beauty and retail outlets, while fuelling excitement and meeting our customers’ changing needs with continuous new product development.

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

The obvious risk is the huge amount of debt in the global system as a result of the pandemic, which means a likely decline in overall consumer spending. This is a huge risk for all retailers, even those which may have been performing strongly in recent months. The pandemic has also resulted in a major change to the working environment and it’s still not clear what the resulting landscape will eventually look like – hybrid environments will appear and we should expect this to be for the long-term.

“We are hugely fortunate to have a founder who is truly invested in the brand that she created”

There will be a continued shift towards ecommerce, which will place increasing pressure on bricks-and-mortar retailers, or those which rely on live customer experience. This requires a major change in strategy for some, particularly those who have not yet adapted their business for today’s digital world. In addition, there have been a lot of disruptive entrants into the marketplace and while it will always eventually find its equilibrium, it does increase the cost of customer acquisition and retention in the meantime.

However, with every challenge comes a new opportunity, and retailers can also capitalise on new platforms, business models and social channels that become available, both now and in the future. It can be a really exciting time to work in retail.

Describe your role and responsibilities.

Fundamentally my role is to set the future direction for the business, through clear vision, values and purpose, and to provide the right team environment for decision-making. Given the current crisis (Covid-19), I have focused on building an organisation that is resilient and future-proofed, and that has meant needing to rethink working arrangements to support this.

Do you or have you met the one and only Elle Macpherson herself?

We are hugely fortunate to have a founder who is truly invested in the brand that she created. Elle is an integral part of the WelleCo team, and she is involved across all areas of the business, from new product development and marketing, to retail partnerships and financial decisions. And of course, she’s a pretty powerful brand ambassador for WelleCo.

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

I have been lucky enough to work with a number of leading luxury consumer goods companies across multiple geographies for more than 25 years. Prior to joining WelleCo, I had worked in senior leadership roles such as senior VP of the South East Asia, India and the South Pacific region for Callaway Golf, brand director for Tissot (The Swatch Group) and brand director for LVMH. I have also originated two private equity investments and support a number of wider businesses in a NED capacity.

What got you into retail in the first place?

Retail was where my career first started. I have always loved products and love being involved in developing products that really change people’s lives, for leisure or purpose.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I was in another leadership role throughout the global financial crisis of 2007-08, and the skills that we had to learn in order to survive as a business are completely appropriate for now. Creativity, adaptability, vision, drive and most of all empathy have played important roles in 2020.

Beyond this year, my global industry experience is vital for understanding consumer behaviour around the world – something which is key for WelleCo as we continue to expand worldwide.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I find that I am constantly thinking about it and it can be hard to mentally switch off. Being able to be present for my family outside of work hours is definitely my biggest challenge.

And the most rewarding?

I work with some incredible people who inspire and energise me on a daily basis, and I enjoy seeing my team grow and develop through both empowerment and available mentorship. I am a firm believer that succeeding and failing collectively is how we grow, both individually and in terms of a business.

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

You have to be customer-obsessed and committed to their user experience, from their journey of first seeing your brand and deciding to purchase, to their buying experience and their enjoyment of the end product.

Choose the right industry and one that has opportunity to grow, but also choose a company that has a higher purpose than profit – a company that underpins their purpose with meaningful actions will motivate you far more in the long term.

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