Innovative Retailer: Lick

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The Name: Lick

The Place: Currently an online business that is riding the wave of Covid DIY-ers butmight yet dip its toe into buying bricks and mortar.

The Story: Cast your mind back to the carefree days before Covid.

Can’t remember them: Try – there was a time before masks.

If you say so: Back in July of 2019 to be exact two colleagues (both formerly of Airtasker and with hedge fund backgrounds) by the names of Lucas London and Sam Bradley decided that the DIY market was cumbersome, complicated and user-unfriendly.

I can second that. Have you seen the ridiculous length and choice of the paint aisles in your average DIY store: Well, exactly. So they began planning for a disruptor to the market and through the rest of that year refined their ideas and developed their paint to the backdrop of just a few reports about a strange virus doing the rounds in China. But that’s far away so it doesn’t matter.

Cue hollow laughs. And when was L-day? Lick’s launch day unbelievably was the very first day of the initial UK national lockdown in March 2020.

Lick co-founder, Lucas London

Crikey, how’s that for timing? Both amazing and disastrous if that is possible. From the supply chain perspective, a new online DIY business requiring a lot of delivery drivers (who were suddenly the nation’s most important workers) and a global supply chain that pretty much ground to a halt – disastrous. From the customer perspective, a new online DIY business for a nation seriously nesting, with plenty of time, saved money to burn, an obsession with living their best life on Zoom – amazing.

Just how big is this DIY market in the UK? London reckons about £1.5 billion, and coupled with the fact that only 4% of paint is bought online, means there is a massive opportunity to up-end the traditional ways of paint buying.

Which are? Obviously traipsing around the nearest draughty, vast trade shed trying to work out from the small print on the back of the paint tin which sort, out of an endless iteration of paints, you actually need. And occasionally trying to track down a teenage member of staff who is skulking on their phone around the back of the fence panelling.

You’re starting to sound bitter: Essentially they identified a massive lack of consumer knowledge that Lick could tap into and indeed harness via a large online community of DIYers from the Insta generation who like nothing more than showing off their handiwork on socials or sharing life hacks.

Ah, using the customer to sell to other customers: There is what London calls very rich content coming from the big social community (250k+ followers) that Lick has and who post their transformation pictures. This is coupled with a team of consultants who put a lot of leg work in pre-purchase to make sure the decorator is absolutely informed. Generally very high levels of engagement leads to happy consumers.

So what else are they doing differently down at Lick HQ? The team has simplified just about everything that it is possible to simplify – including designing stick on/stick off samples that remove the need for those really annoying tester marks all over your walls. And added the green credentials, social purpose and community input that today’s customer loves.

But hopefully not losing the hilarious paint names. Starting with the paint names.

What, no Elephant Breath? Nope, that would be White No. 4.

What, no Stiffkey Blue? Nope that would be Blue No. 7.

What, no Peignoir? That’s enough now. Lick colours have numbers and that’s all there is to it. But the main aim according to London was to unify the transaction journey. There is a massive amount of pre-purchase research on paint and colours, which consumers are doing wholly online looking at lovely pre-done rooms. And then they have to come offline and go to the warehouse designed largely for professionals with shelves and shelves of tins of paint but with no context at all and they get overwhelmed by the huge variations and types of paint and it’s all very confusing. The join-up between those two experiences is Lick’s USP with the customer guided through the whole process by consultants who can hold their hand.

But DIY is complicated. For goodness sake, next you will be telling me that you can use the same paint for wood and walls. Umm. You can.

Get ye gone. That runs contrary to all the laws of nature. Well, that’s what Lucas London’s mother thought too but she changed her mind and so will you.  Basically they have developed two kinds of eco-friendly paint and you can use the interior one on anything and the exterior one on anything too.

But that means… Yes, all the other ranges of paint which break paint types further and further down until they are virtually trying to sell you paint for left handed people and paint for right handed people – none of it is really necessary.

I may need to sit down: Having said that London tells us that there has been significant interest from retailers in selling Lick’s brand – offers that will be looked into as the business has to be multi-channel and B2B is in that mix. Likewise, opening its own shops is absolutely in the plan at some point. Lick has certainly given itself a very distinctive look. No-one else’s paint tins look like this at all.

Plain and simple: Lick’s brand has simplified DIY

They’re square: Yes. They are also low-VOC, water-based, made-to-order to reduce wastage and not tested on animals. Lick also partners with 4Ocean to remove plastic from the oceans and One Tree Planted to restore forests (because Lick also sells wallpaper). And to date purchases have funded 300,000 plastic bottles out of the sea and 90 football pitches worth of trees planted.

So you can decorate and feel good: Absolutely. At the beginning it was difficult, admits London, to get the environmentally-friendly products designed that they wanted because as a very small start-up they didn’t have much clout with manufacturers. But all the customer needs to know now is that the paint brushes made of ethically farmed bamboo with recycled metal ferrules and sustainable filaments are in situ.

Hurrah. But who is buying exactly? Young professionals, families, early adopters. And interestingly predominantly female whereas the kind of industrial warehousing shed where most of us traditionally buy our paint is not particularly a female-focused space at all. Far from it.

And it’s popular? Very. London cites 36% month-on-month growth in November 2021, with 286,000 orders to date and a £5 million revenue run rate within eight months of launching.

Well, I guess this is curtains for your old fashioned painter and decorator then? No such thing. In fact Lick has just launched its Lick Pro scheme. In a week it has gained 5,000 members. The purchasing of paint ratio is around 50/50 between the contractor and the customer so the professional sector is not one Lick can leave out of its thinking despite the tsunami of DIY householders in Covid. Members get trade prices, instant ordering, and account support.

I imagine this bright young pairing has attracted some money to Lick: Indeed. Raising money has not been a problem. High net worth individuals such as Alex Chesterman of Cazoo and Magnus Rausing have joined several funding rounds while Omers Ventures and Felix Capital are also in the mix with $28 million raised to date.

Will Lick be sticking to walls for now? London can see other categories absolutely fitting in to Lick’s remit but for now it is paint and wallpaper and managing the fast expansion across Europe.

TBH I still can’t believe it about the paint names. Not even room for Dead Salmon? You just made that up. (Ed: No, actually there really is a Farrow and Ball shade called Dead Salmon).

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