Charlie Pool, CEO of Stowga.
1.What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
The big goal is to change the entire way people think about their supply chain. Right now the warehouse is the weak link in the supply chain: everything else in a supply chain (i.e. transportation) is short term variable costs for assets that can easily be moved around; warehouses on the other hand , are long term and cannot be moved. Therefore you have to design your network around these fixed assets. We are trying to make warehousing more fluid by speeding up the process of searching and booking space with suppliers who will provide flexible contracts. By doing so, we bring huge financial and operational advantages to our customers. Not only are our customers free from the fixed nature of traditional warehousing, but they have also found that if they optimise their warehouse, they not only reduce storage costs, but reduce transportation and insurance costs as well.
2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?
The biggest challenge is the nature of the business we are in. Logistics is extremely risk-averse because the cost of things going wrong is so high. The younger, more forward thinking retailers with a more risk-taking culture flock to us, but the old established retailers companies struggle with change. People would rather stick to what they know has worked for them in the past rather than try and do something new, regardless of the efficiencies simply out of fear of something going wrong. Everybody we speak to says it is a great idea, but very few are prepared to take a risk.
3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?
The main thing would have been to rein in the ambition. Where are so many things that we want to do at Stowga and sometimes you just have to put the brakes on, say no to a lot of things and double down on doing one thing well.
4.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?
Our audience is incredibly niche and the industry is very relationship-driven anyway, so the idea of people deliberately spreading incorrect or malicious information is not something we’ve ever had to worry about. We do get a lot of time wasters, but as a technology provider it is not our time they are wasting, but are suppliers. We do have a rating system which punishes companies that waste other company’s time, but even then it happens rarely.
5.What will the high street look like in a decade?
I am hoping the high street will look completely different. We may be getting out of the terrible rut we are in now where every high street looks the same, dominated by big chains. The sooner these old retailers go the better. They have taken over the high street, destroyed the independent shops and the communities around the high street, and now their time has come to disappear themselves. I am very positive about the future of the high street. I hope we will see creative use of spaces and the return of independent shops that will be repositioned for the next generation.
6.Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?
I don’t think so, although we need to be careful about what we are defining as the primary sales channel. Mobile may be the way we finally buy something, but I expect that decision to purchase will be the final step in a whole load of retail touch points. Personally I think in-store will still be where the purchasing decisions are really made. Brands will use the high street as experience-orientated showrooms that complement their online channels.
7.What retail businesses do you admire?
I think Cubitts is fantastic. They sell glasses, and used to be online-only but have recently opened brick and mortar stores. Their website was great from the start – super slick compared with say Specsavers or Vision Express; then when they opened up stores they made the whole experience of going to the optician a treat, rather than something that you dread. They sell direct to consumer so retain all the effort they put in to their brand as well as their margins.
8.If you hadn’t been a retailer/service-provider-to-retail what would you have liked to do?
I’d like to be a gardener. There’s nothing more relaxing and satisfying that growing plants.
9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
Right now I’m really proud of Stowga – the team and platform we’ve built is beyond my wildest dreams. There’s still a long way to go but right now I’d give myself about a 15 out of 10!
10.Who would you place in the Top 35 Movers & Shakers in Retail?
Whoever it is who runs Cubitts!
This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report.