5 minutes with Maz Darvish, CEO, Sweatband.com

Sweatband.com is a leading UK online retailer for sports and fitness equipment and, like many other ecommerce businesses, emerged as one of the key winners of the unprecedented shift towards remote working due to the pandemic. Retail Gazette caught up with chief executive Maz Darvish to learn more.

Maz Darvish, CEO, Sweatband.com profile Q&A
Maz Darvish.

Tell me a bit about the Sweatband.com story.

The history of Sweatband.com goes back over two decades, with its first website specialising in tennis equipment launched in 1999. Off the back of our success in tennis, we expanded into other racket sports and then fitness was identified as a core area due to its relevance to everyone that enjoys participation sports. Over the past five years, Sweatband.com has evolved to being as much a product manufacturer with its own-brand ranges in addition to being a retail business.

Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind the business?

Originally, the business was founded to provide access to equipment that makes people sweat (hence the name), rather than what was readily available in the high street which was primarily clothing and footwear worn by fans of sports, rather than those that play sports.

What gap in the UK retail market does Sweatband.com strive to address?

Providing those that care about fitness and engage in participation sports with equipment that surpasses expectations in both function and value. There are many sporting goods retailers in the market, but few even address the equipment needs of UK consumers.

“Covid-19 will permanently reshape ecommerce as we know it”

How is Sweatband.com’s business model different to other sports retailers?

As one of the oldest ecommerce operations in the sporting goods market, Sweatband.com has collated an enormous amount of feedback on what equipment buyers want. Working with our supplier brands, as well as our own product development team, the ranges that we offer are curated to meet the needs of those that want to get fit and participate in sports. This is coupled by the best in class service levels, as evidenced by our consumer review ratings.

How is Sweatband.com coping with the ongoing pandemic?

Our priority has been the safety and wellbeing of our teams. A few weeks in advance of the March lockdown kicking in, we switched to a “work from home where possible” model across all our teams and leveraged our own supply chain to ensure best in class PPE for warehouse teams.

A few months before the lockdown, we had started working with a second warehouse to help us cope with organic growth we have been experiencing and once the surge kicked in following the March lockdown, we scaled with them quickly. Within a month of lockdown commencing, we brought onboard a third distribution centre to handle the demand.

Our achievements and business growth during Covid-19 are a testament to our team for whom the past six-seven months have been the most intensely busy period in our company history. In addition to proving the strengths of our business model, the rapidly increased scale removes several barriers to our growth.

What’s in store for Sweatband.com in 2021?

We have been rapidly expanding the team and there are exciting plans in place to enter new categories, expand geographically as well as acquire established brands in the market to give them a new lease of life for the future.

How is Sweatband.com addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

Covid-19 will permanently reshape ecommerce as we know it, separating winners from the rest. The home working phenomenon created by Covid-19 has accelerated the decline of the switch to online retailers by five years. We have been fortunate to be able to benefit from this switch today and in years to come.

“Retail is going through a phenomenal transition”

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

While many retail businesses are successfully pivoting online due to the Covid situation, the economics of online transactions are quite different to a store model. By virtue of the fact that customers walk into a store, make a purchase and take items away, traditional retailers don’t need to be factoring in fulfilment and delivery costs. These costs being factored in are likely to have a material impact on margins, especially at the lower price points. Such a margin squeeze taking place at the same time as reduced footfall to physical stores poses a grave risk to the viability of some retailers.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Sweatband.com.

As the chief executive, my responsibilities span across almost every aspect of the business. I spend most of my time in planning and driving the changes necessary to enable the business to grow at breakneck speed.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Sweatband.com.

I’m a computer system engineer by education and have been involved in ecommerce in various roles for nearly 25 years. Having been a co-founder of Sweatband.com in 1999, it was a subsidiary of an advertising technology company that I was running until 2008 when the main parent company was sold. At this point, our current management team acquired Sweatband.com business and grew it into one of the leading market players.

What got you into retail in the first place?

My journey into retail was purely accidental. I enjoy driving the transition from a pure ecommerce retailer of third party brands to building up our own product brands.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

There are only 24 hours in the day. Effective time management is the biggest challenge.

And the most rewarding?

There is a great sense of satisfaction seeing the feedback from customers that we have come up with products that really meet their needs.

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

Retail is going through a phenomenal transition with product brands becoming retailers and some retailers moving quickly into becoming product manufacturers. On top of this, huge amounts of innovation is radically changing the consumer experience online and offline. As such, it’s a very exciting time to be involved in the retail sector. Just make sure that you embark on a retail career with the disruptors in the industry.

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