David Williams (Ugg & Charles Tyrwhitt) on international expansion & DTC ecommerce operations (episode 237)

David Williams has been in eCommerce for over 20 years, mainly focused on fashion and during that time helped build, and digitally transform, several businesses both in the UK and across the globe. Most recently he’s been the Senior Director DTC at Deckers, looking after a range of footwear brands including UGG. Other brands he’s worked for in the past include Bowers & Wilkins, Charles Tyrwhitt and Book Club Associates. David is also on the advisory board of the IMRG here in the UK – that’s the UK’s online retail association. 

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About the Business

  • Working in eCommerce for 20 years
  • Started in Publishing
  • Specializes in taking big businesses from wholesale to DTC
  • Specializes in helping businesses expand internationally

About David

David started in eCommerce 20 years ago and jokes that it was so long ago that it wasn’t even called eCommerce, but rather referred to loosely as ‘new media’.

David started his career in publishing as a project editor and when he started itching for a change, began paying attention to what people were doing in a similar field, but in the online space. He began following Amazon, who at the time was primarily selling books still.

Their success and the growing digital space convinced him to make the leap and become a web site manager selling books online. The technology has gotten better, but David points out that many of the goals have remained the same. 

Going Direct to Consumer

Getting brands to transition from wholesale only into a  Direct to Consumer space brings a host of new challenges. During his time at Bower and Wilkins—a head-phone company, David started growing his expertise in transitioning businesses into DTC.

The first thing he says businesses need to do is really buy into wanting to  be an eCommerce business in the first place. Especially for businesses that are primarily or all wholesale—making and committing to that leap is crucial. While this seems simple, buy in is important because of the company wide changes that will need to be implemented to facilitate a new DTC channel.

Another crucial first step is communicating and dealing with potential channel conflict.  It’s important to make everyone aware that having some DTC is going to help grow your brand and will be incremental. Reassuring multi-brand retail partners that this move will support, not inhibit them is key to maintaining vital partnerships. 

The Challenges of DTC

Introducing new processes and technologies takes time, investment and the ability to be open to learning. Having an already well established brand is a really positive bonus for expanding into the DTC space.

David says that everyone needs to be educated, from internal sales teams to financial teams to your multi-brand retailers. Going from wholesale to direct to consumer touches every part of the business. Working through that process can be daunting. In a way, opening a new channel means that you have to really understanding multiple P&L scenarios. Much of existing overhead for wholesalers won’t necessarily transfer seamlessly.

For example, the customer service team in place for wholesale might not meet the needs for retail and that comes up in every part of the business. 

DTC Sanity Check

Even for an existing business looking to open a new channel, it’s best to go straight back to the beginning and start with the simple question: What is your value proposition for selling online? Once you’ve answered that, it’s possible to begin unfolding and reconfiguring every aspect of the new channel to best compliment your existing business.

The process, David says, is not a traditional wholesale model and takes more nuance for balancing inventory. Much of these decisions can be best informed from the value proposition of the new channel, which is just one more reason to get it right.

Who is DTC Best For?

Going online is not a magic bullet, so for brands who are suffering, DTC won’t necessarily help. Having brand equity to leverage makes the DTC move more seamless and ultimately more valuable.

Unlike using eCommerce to build a brand, growing a DTC presence from an existing wholesale business does better with a strong identity already in place. David says that the question about which channel is best is really more about the right balance for the business.

Wholesale, DTC and marketplaces are all important channels for bigger brands. Getting the right balance is key, especially as businesses consider expanding into multiple markets.

Going International

Understanding market is key and balancing with partner offerings is part of the challenge when growing brands into DTC and internationally. Growing internationally is a complicated business. David points out that even perception changes dramatically from market to market.

To begin with, there will be an entirely different mix of existing retailers in every market you enter. Then there are different sensibilities regarding fashion, culture, seasonality and so on. How you go to market in each space will depend on all these factors. On top of that, there are different languages, laws, payment types and customs for each new country.

These variances need to be carefully considered for a business to successfully launch and grow in each new country they enter.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Invest in good SEO. Invest in content channels. Invest in PLA’s (Product Listing Ads) which are taking off more and more.

Tool Top Tip

Growth Top Tip

  • Really understand your unique proposition. What are the existing customers buying and focus your efforts on getting new customers to buy that. Don’t try to do everything—you’ll fall over one that.
  • If you have brand equity, look at how quickly you can scale internationally.

Interview Links

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  • How Xero Shoes have consistently grown at 80%+ for nearly 10 years with Steven Sashen

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