Andrew Banks has a TON of eCommerce experience. In 2014 he launched Earth Bathrooms and within 3 months made it the 8th largest bathroom retailer in the UK. 18 months in, Earth Bathrooms was acquired by Matalan, which led to Andrew becoming their Head of eCommerce during which time he increased turnover by £24m in just 12 months. Today he runs Venture Forge, an eCommerce incubator that advises, builds and invests in high growth eCommerce businesses.
Getting Started in eCommerce
Andrew has always had a passion for computing and digital technology, but he didn’t really realize it until he graduated and went through a period of self exploration. Andrew’s first eCommerce business built from the ground up was Earth Bathrooms, but he has 20 years of experience in eCommerce to lead him to that point. He started off building sites for digital agencies, then moved on to digital marketing and helping clients build their businesses through eCommerce.
When he did decide to break away from working for clients to become his own boss, Andrew chose bathroom products because at the time, the bathroom market had just been disrupted by a few big online players in the UK by breaking away from traditional department stores to an online base. A friend of his had just exited one of his businesses looking to build a retail business right when Andrew had finished a consultancy piece for one of his retail clients on the bathroom industry disruption, so the two paired their desires to build a business from the ground up and started Earth Bathrooms together.
Despite the bulkiness of the product and the inevitable pain they knew it would come with in regards to shipping, Andrew and his partner felt this was the right product for them because of the scalability, the opportunity to do something different, and the chance to do customer service better than anyone else in the industry.
Having an Exit Plan
When Andrew and his partner first built Earth Bathrooms, they planned to build a number of retail ventures together, some of them to keep and some to sell. What they didn’t expect was for their very first eCommerce venture to become acquired within 18 months.
A good business is built as if it is going to stay owned by the founder but with the possibility of an eventual exit. Andrew’s strategy has always been to work based off of his vision rather than his plan because if you get too caught up in the steps that it takes to get to your vision, then you restrict your agility and flexibility when obstacles get in your way and things don’t go according to plan.
There will be times that you think you have an awesome idea that doesn’t turn out the way you expected once you implement it, and success is ultimately dependent on how you respond to unexpected outcomes like that to get your business headed back in the right direction.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Experiencing failure is an inevitable part of starting your own business.
Sometimes seemingly flawless ideas you have may turn out to be total flops once put into action. Andrew’s advice is that if you have that entrepreneurial drive in you, do not give up on building your business. Keep on keeping on even if the one big idea you had didn’t pan out; look for what you can learn from your failures to take you on to the next big idea.
Stay inspired, stay motivated, and rinse and repeat until one day you have accumulated so much knowledge from your efforts that success becomes inevitable.
Adapting to and Evolving an Established Team
Despite only having worked for Matalan for a year, Andrew was able to adapt to the incredibly different work environment, fully understand the mechanics of the business, and improve the way it operated based off of the experience he acquired on his own. His experience was earned through a quickly growing digital startup while Matalan was a total upgrade in terms of operation and size, planned extensively and raking in over $1.2 billion in turnover.
According to Andrew, Matalan was headed in the right direction when he joined on, but he was able to analyze its strengths, weaknesses, and growth strategies with an outsider’s perspective to effectively line them up with the company’s expectations for growth. It took him about a year to understand the nitty gritty of Matalan’s inner workings, but he was able to get a good grip on how it operated within three months, enabling him to get an early start on figuring out what to improve.
The Biggest Impact on Growth
When it comes to growing a business, nothing is more valuable than the people running it. More than the marketing, the platform, and the backend, the people are what drive a business to success. Having a team that can adapt, learn, and grow together to work efficiently and effectively is essential no matter what the product or service may be. It can be very difficult to build a well-oiled machine, but once you get one firing, then you are set up to accomplish great things. Looking back on his time at Matalan, Andrew attributes the success he had to the above average cohesiveness and persistence of his team.
Andrew’s biggest takeaway from working for Matalan was the importance of communication. When he first joined the Matalan team, he put all his focus into understanding the eCommerce department because that’s where he needed his attention to be in order to quickly grow that part of the business. However, if he could go back and do it again, Andrew would have taken a wider perspective of the business to fully comprehend the way Matalan operated as a whole. Though it is extremely beneficial to know a specific area of a business like the back of your hand, you cannot continue to grow the business as a whole unless everyone involved is aligned in their goals, operating procedures, and work ethic.
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eCommerce Book Top Tip
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- Email is an underrated traffic source that brings customers closer in contact with your business than just about anything else. It allows you to learn new ways to improve your business, communicate freely with customers, and make them feel valued.
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