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Open for Vintage is a global boutique network and one of the largest platforms for pre-owned luxury accessories worldwide. We spoke to Founder Colin Saunders to get the low-down.
What were you doing prior to founding this business and what inspired you to take the entrepreneurship route?
I have spent most of my career working internationally. I was based in China for 7 years and even when I moved to the UK in 2013, I was focused on global markets, initially at Tesco’s and later at House of Fraser where I was responsible for developing their international e-commerce offering.
While there, I became increasingly aware that sustainability was becoming a more important topic and that consumers were looking to shop in a more environmentally friendly way.
I also was developing the entrepreneurial itch and was increasingly fascinated with marketplace businesses such as AirBnB and Uber. I came across Farfetch, a business I admire greatly. I loved how they were connecting customers with independent boutiques on their platform.
Looking at pre-owned luxury, I saw there were many peer to peer players but no one doing what Farfetch had achieved by bringing customers together with the best merchandise from independent boutiques. Once I was convinced this was achievable using technology, I took the plunge in 2016!
What is Open for Vintage and what problem is it trying to solve?
Open for Vintage is on a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable fashion future. To achieve this, we focus on the fast growing pre-owned luxury industry which is growing 4x faster than the market for new luxury fashion goods.
To engage and excite customers to shop with us, we have consolidated the highest quality selection of pre-owned luxury merchandise from expert independent vintage boutiques located around the world. From Capri to Tokyo, there are thousands of incredible vintage boutiques full of exceptional luxury products waiting to be discovered.
To make this possible, we have developed a custom built automated solution that brings all these products together onto our platform. Additionally, we have developed a solution to tackle the customs problem meaning “the price you see is the price you pay.” This is great for our customers and removes a key challenge to scaling Open for Vintage globally.
Today, we have consolidated more than £50m of authenticated, luxury vintage handbags, jewellery, watches and accessories from designers including Hermes, LV, Fendi and Dior, and are proud to offer one of the largest online collections of vintage Chanel in the world.
What are your favourite features of Open for Vintage?
My favourite feature is how capital light and scalable the business is thanks to our technology first approach.
To give you an example, as a result of developing an automation solution to synchronise stock with our boutique partners, we don’t need to centrally store or hold merchandise. Unlike our competitors, this means that as Open for Vintage scales, we can focus investor capital on growing sales and not investing in warehouse infrastructure.
Again, I highlight our mission is to accelerate the move towards a sustainable fashion future. Earlier this year we launched a handbag Repair & Restore portal, allowing customers to extend the lifetime of their items by breathing new life into their pre-owned bags. This feature is just one of the ways we are working to strengthen and expand our circular offering, and we will have more extensions of this restoration service in the coming year.
What does your competitive landscape look like and how do you differentiate?
The growth in the pre-owned luxury market has seen a number of online players emerge including The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective.
These competitors operate a peer to peer model reselling customers’ previous purchases to new customers. This has high operating costs and requires significant overheads to scale merchandise levels.
In contrast, Open for Vintage adds large volumes of merchandise from its pre-screened boutique network using our automated platform. Excitingly, one boutique can yield several thousand high quality authenticated pieces. Our boutique partners authenticate and quality check their own stock. Open for Vintage carefully screens each boutique’s in-house authentication process and reputation prior to selling their merchandise. This removes a significant operating cost and enables us to focus investor capital on marketing and growth.
What has growth looked like to date for the business?
The Open for Vintage mission stands on three pillars: Supply, Technology and Community.
Our energy has historically focused on the first two pillars as our view has been that until they are in a good place, it would prove challenging to grow our global community.
We have now consolidated more than £50m of merchandise from boutiques across 14 countries. For context, that puts us in the same league as the largest pre-owned luxury platforms.
Our platform is now largely developed and built for scale. The roll out of the customs pricing engine earlier this year was the last major development. We are excited to see so many customer reviews highlighting the positive experience this has created.
Finally, we look at community which is where our future growth will come. We are now seeing impressive growth on this channel across key metrics including customer country locations, revenue, customer repeat rates, social media following and traffic.
Raising on Seedrs was a great opportunity for us to light the flare that we’re now growing our community to bring as wide an audience with us as possible for this exciting part of our growth journey.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
With supply and technology in place, we will be looking at the roll out of our first ever mobile app, as well as implementing some exciting authentication developments using blockchain solutions. Additionally as we see international growth as a key part of our mission, we will also look to create local language websites.
What does your path to profitability look like?
Positively, our path to profitability is clear. Thanks to our up front investment in technology, we operate a low operating cost scalable business model. Additionally, we have no balance sheet or warehouse costs over all the merchandise we sell.
Our average order value is very high at over £700 which makes our unit economics very attractive. Combined with our business model, this means we can scale customer acquisition activity to grow revenue and achieve profitability.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
Mostly running around after my daughter Lucy! I recently moved back to Dublin, where I’m from originally and have been enjoying getting to know the city again after 14 years away.
What’s one of your favourite books or movies that inspires you?
The Boys in the Boat is a wonderful book and is highly recommended to anyone who is on the entrepreneurial journey. It emphasises the point that you will never succeed alone without a high performing team pulling with you.
What would your advice be to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would advise going on the journey with a growth mindset. The learn it all will do better than the know it all so keep the ears and mind open!
Open for Vintage was recently featured in our Fashion Investing Insights article, which dives deeper into the future of the fashion industry. Read more here.