Retail Species – The networked internet pro – David Smith

The Person: David Smith

The Company: GLD Group

The Job Title: Head of e-commerce

The Story: Cast your minds back. To a distant and forgotten time in space when an organisation as big as the Football Association did not need to have a website and JJB Sports, the official retailer of England kit, did not want to be bothered with this new fangled business of being the official online retailer aswell … there came a visionary called David Smith. And in the beginning was the word and the word was e-commerce. And lo, was launched.

Ah, a moment of biblical proportions. Indeed. But only one of many in the journey of David Smith Esq. It’s a text book climb though magazines to sports brands retailing then via e-commerce leading us to his current role at GLD Group which owns the distribution rights to clothing/retail brands like Kappa and Superga. What he does today is a neat culmination of all his previous experience. As he says ”it used to be that you had your goods delivered within 28 days if you were lucky, now people expect them within 24 hours” which just about sums up his retail journey.

Well now, every journey begins with a small step so let’s start there. Publishing. It’s in his blood – his nan used to sell papers at the Angel in Islington and he loves that business. He began his working life at IPC magazines selling ad space for NME (now pay attention because we are going to come back to rock & roll later). Soon he was offered Shoot magazine to look after too and after a year was made Publisher. Golf Monthly and Cycling Weekly soon followed and suddenly there he was Group Publisher of a multi-million pound concern.

Impressive but where does the FA come in? Now, Smith did some promo work for them and heard they were looking for a commercial manager. He got the job in 1997 and before you can say Jamie Oliver he had signed up Sainsbury’s to be the first official England merchandise retailer for the World Cup in 1998.

Do you mean that there was a time when that sort of thing didn’t happen!!?? That’s right, it was a totally new idea. In fact this is a thread throughout his career – coming up with licensing and merchandising ideas that now seem to be set in retail stone. But licensing was not enough for him. No sir, he wanted to control the retail environment of those three lions himself. Hence the birth of

Popular? Certainly but more importantly plenty of other sporting organisations soon cottoned on that this strange world wide web thing was a new way of selling. Before long he had joined Sports e-tail Ltd (who developed and ran the FA site) and they had clients queuing up – Manchester United, UEFA, Blackburn Rovers, the England Cricket Board and the West Indies Cricket Board to name a few.

It’s a big step away from publishing though. But Smith maintains he used the same skills – making sites easily navigable in the same way mags have to be for instance. Anyway, e-commerce had now emerged from the wilderness and was important enough to have its own online retail membership organisation (IMRG) and Smith joined.

So having been one of its first innovative sellers…he became a spokesman for the whole industry. He did the press and PR for what was now a retailing phenomena. Back in 1999 the percentage of total retail given over to e-commerce was tiny, but by 2007 when he joined IRMG it was becoming central to any retailing strategy. As Smith says the big change was the ability to get super close to the customer.

Ooh. Is that wise? They can bite. Swings and roundabouts he admits. Social media is a great criticising force but the stronger engagement with the customer is worth it. So, having seen the evolution of e-commerce he is now ready to turn his attention to the Rolling Stones iconic tongue.

I’ll need you to just repeat that. I said I would return to rock & roll did I not? GLD Group owns a brand called Amplified – their stuff is available to the discerning e-shopper on ASOS and –  and any rock god t-shirt you care to mention they probably own rights to and  distribute. As Smith points out there are kids wearing Ramones t-shirts who have probably never listened to them but it’s a fashion statement and if they want to buy it, then he wants to sell it to them. He says ‘it’s about taking the heritage of the band and reimagining it.’ In addition they own David and Goliath – quirky t-shirts for the 14-22 year olds amongst us.

I see. Anything for the 30-40 year old market? Yes Grandad. Through the Addict brand – aimed at 16-35 years olds from the skater/dance music generation – GLD Group has the rights to do t-shirts for Star Wars and Marvel comics.

Two very rich seams no doubt. You’re not kidding but what Smith has to do is to move this company from being primarily a B2B concern, distributing merchandise to retail outlets, to selling the brand directly to the customer online. Whilst at the same time retaining the relationships with the independent retailers like ASOS that they definitely need.

I think even Spiderman would struggle. Ha, I expect David Smith laughs in the face of such challenges. He has a helicopter view of the business he says, the brands are there, now they need to open the sales channel between brand and consumer by launching branded stores and websites. His last 20 years of experience have all led him to this opportunity and his ambition is to build a real player within the retail market.

No hankering for magazines? No chance. He’s in the online world now. And the force is with him.