All roads lead to Avenue 32
Founder Roberta Benteler reveals the concept behind her luxury online boutique
Images from l-r: Roberta Benteler, Avenue 32 screenshots.
Luxury e-tailer Avenue 32 offers an aspirational selection of up-and-coming and established designers, in an online boutique environment. WWB quizzes founder Roberta Benteler on what gives the store its individual edge.
Isabella Griffiths: Your background is in finance, so what prompted you to launch the fashion venture, Avenue 32?
Roberta Benteler: I always wanted to work in fashion, not so much on a creative level, but more from a strategic business development angle. A friend of mine is a young designer, and I worked for her for six months to get an insight into the industry. I realised that most designers, young or established, had no other option than to go down the wholesale route, and I saw how she struggled to control the image of the brand, how she had no say in how the shops represented her collection and how small the margins are. Most designers have a clear vision of their collections but, most of the time, they are not able to control how they are showcased. I wanted to change that and bring their visions to the online world and create a multi-brand environment where each designer can shape their product mix and offer.
IG: So what defines Avenue 32?
RB: It’s an e-commerce business where we provide designers with a platform to operate in a multi-brand environment, but where they are able to curate their very own shop-in-shops within our e-store. Designers are in control of their content, from how their collection is presented to adding different elements such as videos, images, catwalk material and so on. Customer-facing, we are providing the same kind of portal as, for instance, Net-a-Porter, but the difference is each of our designers can customise their individual area within the Avenue 32 template – which we have kept deliberately clean and minimalist – and yet benefit from an aspirational and engaging multi-store context which, if they only operated as mono-brands, wouldn’t be viable. At the beginning of the season, we will sit down with the designers and suggest to them the styles and ranges we love and think would work. The designers then select the styles they want to go with and produce them for us. We take care of the rest, such as photography, warehousing, packaging, shipping and marketing. We take commission on retail sales – I don’t want to say how much at this stage, but roughly they canmake around 50 per cent more than through the traditional wholesale model. And, at the end of each season, we will have different initiatives to clear unsold stock. We are launching with the pre-spring collections for s/s 12 rather than going into sales on a/w stock.
IG: How many designers have you got on board, and what was their feedback to this concept?
RB: We currently have around 35 designers for pre-spring and, for spring, there will be another 35. Some of the designers we are dealing with include Calvin Klein, Edun, Emanuel Ungaro, Mark Fast and Temperley. The feedback so far has been great, and most designers – niche or established – are behind the concept. To say that even before the official launch we had 70 designers signed up is encouraging. Because we are not tied to a buying budget, we can create a good mix of up-and-coming and established labels. When I say up-and-coming, I don’t mean they are emerging. They may have been operating for 10 or so years in Australia or Asia, but are just unknown in the UK. We are selective about who we work with, and they all have successful businesses. In fact, many have got their own e-commerce platforms, but they all realised they can generate a lot more sales through a multi-brand environment because, at the end of the day, that’s how consumers shop – they want the choice and they want to shop for whole outfits.
IG: Who is your target audience in terms of consumers?
RB: I would say women from the age of 30 – they are international, travelling, working. I think that is key, not only in terms of having that disposable income, but also in terms of efficiency, as so many working women no longer have time to go shopping and need ecommerce. We’ve made sure our service is impeccable, and this will be crucial going forward. We are a service provider, and customers at the luxury level are demanding, so our service has to be second to none. We will be offering same-day deliveries in London and, as we are adding more warehousing facilities across different locations, we will also expand that further. There will be a stylist service, a VIP service, loyalty card and lots more. Obviously, the service aspect will be developed and fine-tuned on an ongoing basis, as we grow.
IG: You have brought on-board some high profile industry experts to your senior management team. What does each of thembring to the table?
RB: I feel lucky to have been able to recruit such a strong team. Erin Mullaney, who was previously buying director at Browns, is our fashion and brand director, and will be instrumental in working with our designers and shaping the fashion content. She has long-standing relationships with most designers and, for them, it’s almost like they’re getting a free consultant. She will be working closely with Rebecca Guinness, who was formerly at Nowness.com and who is editor-in-chief of our online magazine, and Maya Singer, who has joined us from Style.com and who is our creative director. Finally, there is Nick Mainwaring, our senior brand manager, who used to be the senior global brand executive at Temperley London, and has amazing mono-brand experience. Between them, they have incredible knowledge of the industry, which will be vital to developing the business as we go forward.
IG: What is your growth strategy for Avenue 32, both short and long term?
RB: We would love to reach the 100-mark of designers on offer by a/w 12 which, judging by the positive reaction, I think is feasible. We areabout to open more warehouses in strategic locations, and are also launching into 30 different countries next year, with Asia and the Middle East being crucial destinations.
Eventually, we may look at launching into other categories such as menswear, although I want to nail womenswear first. And also, if we did that, I would want to launch with a completely different platform and proposition on menswear than on womenswear, as I don’t think the two mix necessarily. But, for now, we are focusing on getting our launch right and building our presence in the market.
– Avenue 32 is a luxury e-commerce website, offering designers a platform to curate their own stores in a wider multi-brand environment
– It was founded by German-born Roberta Benteler and is fully financed by the Benteler Group, a family firm specialising in the automotive industry
– The senior management team comprises Erin Mullaney, formerly buying director at luxury boutique Browns, who has taken on the role of fashion and brand director; Rebecca Guinness, formerly of Nowness.com and now editor-in-chief of the online magazine; Maya Singer, who joined as creative director from Style.com; and Nick Mainwaring, who has taken up the role of senior brand manager, having come from Temperley London
– Avenue 32 offers womenswear, fine jewellery and accessories from the likes of Calvin Klein, Edun, Mark Fast, Hannah Martin, Felder Felder, Lara Bohinc, Temperley London and Zara S
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