Movers & Shakers Q&A with Tom Broughton, founder and CEO, Cubitts

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 BTG

Tom Broughton, founder and CEO, Cubitts

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

The world is now almost eight billion humans, of whom most will need spectacles at some point. We can help.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

It’s an obvious answer, but navigating Covid-19 – it’s been pretty brutal for a retail business like ours, with a strong focus on physical stores. We’ll have to navigate some choppy waters, not least with landlords – a microcosm for some difficult times across the country. Outside that, the usual growing pains for a company like ours – finding great people and continuing to improve, while staying true to our values, staying solvent, and keeping away from the opium of Black Friday and Facebook ads.

(Cubitts – Photographed by Tom Bunning)

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

Oh, a lot – here’s a starter for 10. Hiring people (or consultants) and expecting they were going to solve my problems was a mistake I’ve made lots of time. As was rushing interview processes in an attempt to get people in quickly. I should have focused on digital much earlier – and moved to Shopify Plus two years ago. Raising money differently would have saved a lot of stress. And in hindsight, opening a high concentration of stores in central London ahead of a global pandemic wasn’t too smart. 

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

I think they’re two very different things. I’m bullish on the role of the physical store. We are social creatures who like to go places. But they have to be places that offer services, products, and experiences that can’t be replaced by a few clicks from a lazy thumb while recumbent. The high street is trickier – the idea that you need to cluster retailers together for geographic convenience has been under pressure for a long time (see 1990s out-of-town shopping parks). My hope is that the high street can reinvent itself as a vibrant hub of eating, drinking, working, consuming and merriment – the centre of a 21st century community. My fear is that without a centralised approach to planning, it’ll end up a hotchpotch of converted residential, popups and charity shops.

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

We’re already using our custom technology (known as HERU) for our bespoke orders – it uses a combination of facial scanning, machine learning and optical algorithms to help our customers create unique spectacles. We’d like to continue rolling that out for all our orders, so that anyone, anywhere can get perfectly fitting spectacles they adore. We’re also using the scanning data to understand face shapes, which directly feeds into our design process – so we’re making frames for all types of head, not just the ‘average’.

6. What other retailers/brands do you admire?

I’m enjoying the ongoing emergence of brands that do one thing well such as Paynter Jackets, Roscomar trainers, and Chup socks. Also Spiritland are great. I ogle at the beauty of their headphone store off Regent Street.

7. Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

Michael O’Keeffe, whose team continue to set the standard for store design and experience-driven retail. And Connie Nam of Astrid & Miyu who has built an incredibly strong brand, which does well online and through stores, taking full advantage of the strengths of physical retail. 

This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual Movers & Shakers report. Here’s the link to the 2020 edition. (sponsored by K3 BTG).