Innovative Retailer – Great British Exchange


Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

The Name: Great British Exchange

The Place: Mainly online but also one showroom in Harrogate.

GBE Made In Britain products Ushi blue jumper

The Story: Patriots arise! Your country needs you.

I’m ready: I have a stuffed bulldog. Mmmm, not really the style I wanted.

I’ve got Union Jack underwear. Too much information.

I’m singing Rule Britannia. Again, it’s one way to show your homeland love but not quite what I was after.

And I haven’t even mentioned my St George tattoo. OK, what I had in mind were notions of quality, tradition and artisan production.

 Oh. A timeless style, coupled with inventive design associated with the worldwide British stamp of excellence.


Well, I think we’re pretty much on the same wavelength then. Fire away. The MD of the Great British Exchange is Matthew Hopkins. And he worked for a product licensing firm – working mainly with Jamie Oliver’s cooking utensil range. And he had a dream in June 2014.

Was it about morris dancing? No, it was about sourcing only products made in the UK in his business. But it wasn’t a concept that was right for Jamie Oliver’s empire.

Really? Nope, that is more a mass market franchise – the price quality ratio would not be right and the Far East is really the only option for those volumes. However he held the image closely to his bosom.

Steady. The eureka moment came when he realised that all the products were actually here in the UK but that the whole supply infrastructure was geared to sourcing in China.

Shocking. Indeed. So he came up with the idea of providing UK producers with a route to the distribution market.

Aha. So Mr and Mrs Person in the street cannot buy from the GBE. No sir. This is a site for retailers and we’re talking the whole spectrum from the John Lewis Partnership down to your one man band working from one shop in Melton Mowbray.

How does it work, pray tell. On a single purchase order the shop owner can order any amount of hundreds of products and the Great British Exchange manages the whole accounting, payments, returns etc.

That’s a blooming good deal for the manufacturers isn’t it? Hopefully. They pay £200 for membership and then a fee on every transaction but it’s not as high as a distributor would charge, more of an agent fee in fact.

I have questions. Logistics for one. Ah yes, as you‘d expect a complex system working behind the site frontage. GBE partners with UPS and has a special software which calculates the best form of packaging for each order thereby reducing waste and hassle.

I must say it’s clever. Hopkins reckons in 4-5 clicks it’s all over. Invoice done and UPS alerted.

And how is this is the venture going? October 2015 was the official launch and the exchange is now offering 5,000 products across eight categories from 200 producers.


Waiting list to get on, I’ll be bound. Correct. 200 further suppliers are being vetted as we speak. In fact more are turned away than accepted because there is a lot more on offer for them than just the possibility of selling. Take a company like Sheepish.

Never heard of ‘em. Exactly, because they spend all their time making the tops and jackets they sell at Kendal market, there’s no time to be hiring web developers or finding apprentices or applying for government grants but all that information is on the community part of the GBE site. All part of the service.

And how do you get through vetting? They’re not letting people on who make something here but use foreign materials and then get it packed up abroad and just stick a Union Jack on the packet afterwards.

Well, huzza. So the criteria are? Designed, manufactured and packaged in the UK using British materials.

Blimey, that’s a bit stringent. There is a teeny bit of leeway – a jeweller for example wouldn’t need to use UK-sourced jewels otherwise it would be very small business indeed.

Could I have a selection of products on offer to whet the appetite. At the large end there is a company called WhatMade which sells 8,500 SKUs globally and has sales of £50 million and at the little end you can find Ms Rebecca Knott of Guildford. A female blacksmith making stainless steel salad and fruit bowls.

Aah. Bless her tinkering about in her garage. Which sell for £750 a pop.

I’ve already taken it back.  And we can go right down to Innabox producing earrings at £2.50 a pair.

I get it. Variety. Yes, what does for consumers, the Great British Exchange does for retailers.

And speaking of retailers what is the potential market out there. Hopkins reckons there are 7,000 to approach (including big guns like John Lewis and House of Fraser) and thanks to the new showroom in Harrogate they can come and poke and prod the products as much as they like.

Is there much prodding in retail? You’d be surprised. The 1,200 sq ft converted barn is essential for sales. Buyers visit by appointment and 500-600 product samples are always displayed on a rotating basis.

Sounds a bit daunting. But it’s personalised service all the way. So if you are stationery buyer for a chain of shops you will not be shown stainless steel salad bowls obviously. The warehouse will be rearranged for your visit.

Pretend I’m from Lakeland, sell me the concept. Welcome to our conveyor belt of interesting and unique goods with excellent provenance from a British background. Ta da.

Honestly, I think it’s simply marvellous. Not a Union Jack in sight and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Excellent, can I interest you in a stainless steel fruit bowl?

Yes, hang the cost. God Save The Queen. Amen. Right, I’ll take the long number first.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software, specialising in retail services, including point of sale (PoS) software, contact centre and IT support services. It is a pioneer in developing mobile retail solutions, including customer shopping apps and mobile PoS. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.