Movers & Shakers Q&A – Stan Laurent, group CEO, PhotoBox

Movers and Shakers 2015-Cover

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Stan Laurent, group CEO, PhotoBox

1.What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

The personalisation market is massive and is continuing to grow, with Europe alone believed to be worth £6-7 billion. We are only a £275 million business today, meaning that there is a huge amount to play for. As well as working hard to expand into new product categories, we see the growth of mobile as a significant opportunity for the business, particularly following a bumper twelve months for Moonpig which is already predominantly mobile and for PhotoBox that is fast following in its footsteps.

Stan Laurent, CEO, Photobox Group

2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Every single product that we make is different, making it a special purchase, treasured keep sake or a memorable gift for our customers. Not only do we need to do our utmost to ensure our customers are getting what they want, when they expect it, and with the quality they rightly expect, but as a personalisation business, we must create a service which is as personal as possible, whether it is the range of products available, right through to the level and quality of customer service received. Our customers come to us to celebrate special moments; in return, we must provide them with a service that is as personal as the product they’re making. This to me is our biggest challenge.

3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

In 2008 we completely revamped our PhotoBox website and launched the new platform overnight. Our major mistake was not involving our best customers. Conversion rates plummeted, customer service enquiries skyrocketed, and our growth nearly stalled. It took a long six months of hard work to get PhotoBox back to “pre-revamp” growth levels. We worked hard to engage with our customers to find out what they wanted and to provide them with the website they required. Since then, we’ve been focused on data led incremental changes and working with our customers to improve our offering every step of the way.

4.What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

Maybe there still is space, in certain product categories, for a brilliant store experience – even in a world of unlimited online choice, emerging virtual reality solutions, exhaustive digital price comparison and near real-time home delivery. But I’m not sure that physical retail is where I would put my money today… And in our world of personalised products where consumers are actually creating something unique and thoughtful, there’s no doubt that a mobile or web service is superior: we’ve completely disrupted the photo market and are on our way to doing the same for cards and gifts!

5.What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

Our major priority remains to provide a spotless experience on mobile: we’ve only scratched the surface and feel that emerging technologies will allow us to really deliver a fun and delightful service on those devices.

6.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?

Having made four acquisitions in the last four years alone we took the view that scale was critical in our business. This was mainly driven by our belief that scale would help provide customers with a better service, which itself drives loyalty, virality and ultimately ongoing growth. But it is also a reflection of the need to invest in strengthening our teams of online and technology experts to be at the top of the digital game.

7.What other retail business do you admire?

Zappos is an incredible example of a service-led e-commerce company. When many businesses think that online success is purely a matter of technology, Zappos pushed all boundaries to empower its people to provide a differentiated and engaging service. We forget that when they launched, nobody would have put a dime on the fact that consumers would actually buy shoes on the Internet.

8.If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I’ve had “several lives” as a submarine officer in the French navy, privatising East German businesses after the fall of the Berlin Wall, launching Internet access and then broadband across Europe. I’m up for anything that serves the right purpose, breaks new ground and exposes me to great teams. I do have a regret, however, in not having participated in the genetic revolution in the health sector.

9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

Modesty is the mother of virtues when it comes to building a sustainable business in the digital space.  But I’m proud about where the Group stands today and the invaluable efforts of all our teams across our brands. It’s been an incredible collective effort, in a highly competitive environment, to grow profitably our revenues twentyfold from £13 million to £275 million – and there’s more to come!

10.Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

People from Zappos, Amazon, John Lewis, Apple, Asos,, JustEat, Expedia, HomeAway, Etsy, and FarFetch.