Essential Retail (ER): Give us the lowdown on the Soak.com story; where did you come from and where are you trying to go?
Jevern Partridge (JP): Soak.com was born in April 2016, but it was previously branded as Bath Empire. The business started when our founder Chris Li started selling bathrooms on Amazon. When he realised there was a market for bathrooms online, he expanded to eBay stores. The natural next step was an eCommerce site of our own and Bath Empire was born. The rebranding to soak.com is part of our drive to become a retailer and help customers on their journey when updating a bathroom.
We will be concentrating our investment in technology to drive the customer journey to make sure that we provide a first class customer experience. Selling bathrooms online is an important decision for our customers and we want to use technology to give them confidence that they are buying the right product.
ER: Tell us about your technology stack – what are you using and where are you looking to invest?
JP: Our technology has served us amazingly well, but much of it was put in when the business was much smaller. As the business has grown we are now at the stage where we need to refresh all of the technology. We are starting with our front end by replacing the eCommerce platform. The new platform will give us some standard eCommerce capability that we don't have. However, it is also unlocks our ability to expand to different channels through APIs, enabling mobile apps and many other opportunities.
We'll be supporting this with a brand new product information management tool and order management system to give us greater flexibility around fulfilment and the supply chain. The focus will then move to replacing our back-end systems so that we really are fit for the future. It's also really important that we understand all of the data that we hold to help us understand our customer and how best to support them and we shall be concentrating our efforts in this area too. There's going to plenty going on for the foreseeable future.
ER: How's business and how do you plan to grow over the next 12 months?
JP: Business is really strong and we are continuing to grow. There are plenty of categories we can still move into and while there is still organic growth left in the UK, we also have international markets to consider in the future. We're really positive about where the sector is going and are not seeing any slowdown in the market.
ER: Talk to us about your IT and digital team...
JP: We have a really great team. The whole business are all based in one building which makes liaising with each other very easy. The team is focused around the project delivery (project managers and business analysts) with our development completed near shore. The work provides a huge variety in every day. We are a small team and everyone has the opportunity to be involved at all levels. As someone new into the business I have been developing and sharing the future IT strategy. This involves everyone in the team so that they feel involved in the process and part of the future direction of the company. As you would expect, we are also involved in supporting the teams around the business and our current focus is on being ready for Black Friday trading in November.
ER: And what about the leadership team; what's their background and what's their attitude towards new tech investment?
JP: We are lucky to have a great leadership team. Chris Bale as our CEO was previously COO of Boohoo.com and he has a real vision of where we are going as a business. Chris has previously been a CIO so he really helps to push the technology agenda. Chris Li founded the business and as CCO is a real driving force around our product range. Bathrooms are in his DNA. They are completely digital in their thinking and they are fully behind the investment in technology. They know technology is essential to deliver the growth in the business.
ER: Why should people buy bathrooms from you and how do you win the battle against discounters?
JP: Our business is all about giving luxury for less. We want to provide a great price to customers, but also a great product. The feedback we get from customers is that our products are incredible value for money. We understand where we sit within the marketplace and believe we offer a great product to our customers. We constantly consider what others are doing, but not at the expense of making sure we are providing the right product to customers.