Q&A: Chris Griffin, CEO of Secret Sales
Joining us as an expert panellist at our DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION STRATEGY event on May 20, Chris is a commercial visionary and pioneer of ecommerce technology. His career, focused on launching high profile brands into global markets, spans two decades. Chris’ most recent venture is Secret Sales, the fastest-growing off-price premium ecommerce marketplace for fashion, beauty and homewares in Europe.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I have always been interested in solving problems in ways that haven’t been done before, with the aim of creating a better outcome. Before moving to retail I worked in the music industry and have focused on launching high profile brands into global markets for the past two decades.
My technology company, Anatwine, revolutionised the fashion retail market. Our software was adopted as the ‘best-in-class’ choice by two thirds of the top 100 fashion brands and retailers worldwide, and we eventually sold the business to Europe’s largest ecommerce fashion retailer Zalando in 2017.
I previously worked with FTSE250 clothing brand, Supergroup, where I transformed its ecommerce function into a globally renowned platform.
Can you describe your current role, and where it sits within the organisation?
I am CEO and co-founder of Secret Sales. I acquired the company, along with my business partner Matt Purt, in March 2020 and pivoted it from an antiquated members-only flash sales website to a dedicated marketplace.
Can you tell us what your company does?
Secret Sales is the first off-price premium ecommerce marketplace for fashion, beauty and homewares. Our aim is to disrupt the discount sector by providing an innovative approach to off-price retail. We offer a direct-to-consumer digital channel allowing brands and retailers to sell non full price (NFP) stock in a way that drives growth and profitability, maintains brand equity and, in an industry-first, identifies new customers for full-price targeting in a fully GDPR compliant way.
We have been trading for just over a year and already have 700 luxury, mid-market and high street brands featured on the site – including D&G, Versace, Ted Baker and Jigsaw – and offer over 70,000 product lines displayed in a clean and stylish environment with complementary product and brand adjacencies.
What’s special about your company? Is there a particular gap in the market you are trying to address?
We have solved an age-old boardroom problem, namely “How do I sell excess stock without damaging my brand?”. The Secret Sales model is a far cry from the cluttered shelves and listings associated with discount stores and traditional marketplaces, and long delivery times commonly experienced on flash sales websites.
Brands and retailers view Secret Sales as an extension of their own ecommerce sites. Not only do we give them a platform and tools to sell non full price stock in a brand-enhancing way, but we also help them identify new customers who are happy to hear from them via full-price channels.
What challenges are retailers facing in 2021 and where do you see UK retail into the next year or so?
Covid-19 has put retailers under enormous pressure. The viability of the physical store has been called into question given the switch to shopping online during lockdown. There is an increased urgency to clear excess stock but not erode brand equity – this challenge has always been there, but the need to find a long-term solution has been magnified many times over by the pandemic.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
Secret Sales grew 4,000% during the pandemic, but this is only the starting point for us. Certainly, supporting brands and retailers by helping them deal with their current overstock crisis is important, but dealing with non full price inventory is an ongoing problem and we offer a sustainable way to manage this.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
Secret Sales is already the fastest-growing off-price marketplace in Europe. We are scaling at a tremendous pace and each month we see tens of thousands of new SKUs launch on-site from prominent brands.
The aim for the next few months is to further improve the platform and customer experience. We are also looking to roll out six international websites during 2021. Our vision is to create a digital outlet village, with the proposition focused on providing a long-term strategy for the off-price space. We want to help accelerate a move towards a more circular fashion economy, and to increase the longevity of brands globally.
On a personal note, what are the key challenges – and most rewarding aspects – of your role?
I knew this was such a strong proposition and a solution that the retail industry desperately needs, so it was an idea I wanted to follow, even though when our business launched it happened to coincide with the first lockdown. As it turned out, the main challenge for us has been managing Secret Sales’ exponential growth over the past year. We currently have a team of 55, and new appointments have been made across merchandising, product selection, marketing and technology. We plan to recruit a further 25 staff in the UK this year and 10 in Europe.
How has your previous retail experience helped you in your current role?
I have been in retail for over 20 years and it is an industry I feel passionate about. Having been involved in ecommerce from its early days, I am always looking to see how we can improve it, for both consumers and brands. If I spot a major problem area, such as non full price, then I get excited about finding a solution for brands and will do my best to fix it.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in retail?
Despite the headlines we see about the demise of the high street, I would argue that this is THE MOST exciting time to work in retail. The industry is resilient and has reinvented itself repeatedly. We’re now seeing change at such a rate that it’s incredibly dynamic and fast paced. Retail offers a rewarding opportunity for enterprising people willing to embrace new skills and help keep the industry fresh.
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