Q&A: Rebecca Saunders, Founder + CEO, Seekology
Rebecca is the Founder and CEO of Seekology, a destination to shop independent beauty + wellbeing brands.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Not many people know that I’m actually a reformed investment banker! I quickly discovered my passion for retail (my obsession with shopping should have been a clue). After an MBA at Columbia Business School, I worked for retailers such as Tiffany, Argos, notonthehighstreet, where I fell in love with working with smaller brands, and John Lewis, where I was the beauty buyer. I’ve also worked in finance, ecommerce and strategy and as a freelance consultant so I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades – perfect for being an early stage entrepreneur.
Can you describe your current role, and where it sits within the organisation?
I am the Founder and CEO of Seekology, a destination to shop independent beauty + wellbeing brands. I have a small, flexible team, and as an entrepreneur I really do end up doing a bit of everything. One minute I’ll be negotiating a new partnership, and the next I’ll be supporting one of our brands, and following that will be engaging with customers on social media.
Can you tell us what your company does?
Seekology is a place to find independent beauty + wellbeing brands, many of which have never been sold in physical retail before; everything from soy wax candles to eco glitter to organic skincare. We launched in November 2019 and have supported over 80 brands in our first year. We have also run two shops; one on a standalone basis and another in collaboration with luxury wellbeing escape bhuti in Richmond – closed at the time of writing, although we hope to reopen soon!
Our physical retail is very much focused on experience and storytelling, so 2020 has necessitated a rather different approach. We sell online at www.seekology.co and have been developing lots of engaging content as well as online consultations to keep our customers excited about the fantastic of curation of brands we offer.
What’s special about your company? Is there a particular gap in the market you are trying to address?
Seekology’s offer is twofold; we give brands the opportunity to trial physical retail in a cost effective way as part of a prestigious, carefully curated assortment. For customers we offer a high-quality selection of independent brands, which rotates in store to provide newness and ensure we stay seasonally relevant. Products such as the rose quartz skincare tool and these naked bust candles are the perfect unusual products to buy as gifts. Customers also love the impartial advice provided by our skincare specialists – something often missing in traditional beauty retail.
What challenges are retailers facing in 2020 and where do you see UK retail in 2021?
I think the challenges are well documented; in many cases Covid has amplified existing trends around the high costs of running physical stores, reduced city centre footfall, and an unknown economic outlook. I see an unprecedented level of change in the market through 2021, and as always with change comes opportunity. I expect to find a lot of startups like Seekology opening stores for the first time, and those larger retailers that are more agile will also take advantage of some of these structural changes to try and test new things.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
Seekology’s original home is in Richmond and I think we will benefit from the impact of people increasingly working at home. Richmond is a densely populated area and acts as a commuter town for London; I’m confident that in the long run Richmond-based footfall will increase as people become used to staying local. I also hope that for a relevant subset of customers, shopping with small brands becomes a focus. It’s a real inflexion moment for many town centres and a “use it or lose it” moment for customers. In certain areas, customers will respond well to this opportunity to reset their own spending habits by shopping with smaller businesses such as Seekology.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
I am still a strong believer that high street retail will remain important – and that customers will be craving real life experiences once they become possible and safe again. For 2021, we’ll be creating new events at Seekology to bring our brands’ stories to life, and looking for new spaces in areas that we consider to have the right demographic so that we can reach more customers. We’ll be continuing to add functionality to our website, and partnering with organisations with a similar philosophy and customer base to our own.
Are there other companies you partner with that help you achieve your goals? (That you’d like to share).
As well as partnering with bhuti for our physical store, at Seekology we are also partnering this Christmas with Live Well to create an online Winter Wellbeing Market, offering exclusive discounts from a number of brands to customers across a weekend in early December. We’re already looking for new partners for 2021 – across physical, digital and multichannel – so if you’d like to explore collaborating with Seekology, please do get in touch!
On a personal note, what are the key challenges – and most rewarding aspects – of your role?
The most rewarding aspect of my role is supporting the 80+ brands that we have worked with over the last year. Over 90% of them have a female founder and for well over half we are their first route into physical retail. I’ve had the most amazing feedback from the brands we work with and it’s really exciting to see them grow, develop new products and reach more customers. The most challenging part – Covid aside – is trying to do everything as a Founder. It’s really hard to switch off, and I hope to be able to practise what I preach by working more on my own wellbeing more next year. I probably need to buy some more products from Seekology to help with that…
How has your previous retail experience helped you in your current role?
Setting up Seekology is the culmination of many, many years of experience across a wide range of retail business models, functions and categories. I’ve been hugely lucky to work with some fantastic people along the way, many of whom have become great mentors and sounding boards. And whilst working for larger companies I had so many of the “what if we could do this differently….” moments that ultimately led to the idea for Seekology.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in retail?
Start! Try things for yourself, for example create something and set up an etsy shop, or start a blog, or a youtube channel… there are so many ways to teach yourself valuable transferable skills. Also, the shopfloor remains a great place to learn about everything across operations, buying and marketing as well as customer service. My first ever retail job was in the Christmas decorations department at House of Fraser, and I learnt so much from the experience, although there are certain Christmas songs I can’t bear the sound of any more!
To visit Seekology online click here.
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