INTERVIEW: Amber Atherton on My Flash Trash growth

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How this social media-savvy business is striding forward globally.

With an injection of investment, a refreshed website and a legion of social media followers, My Flash Trash is gearing-up to cement a domestic audience while building its overseas fan base. Sarah Louise Jordan speaks to the brand’s chief executive and founder Amber Atherton to find out more about her plans for the future.

Arriving at a humble industrial park in North London on a dreary morning, it’s hard to imagine that one of the UK’s most forward-thinking, socially-driven e-tailers is housed within. Greeting me at the door is 23-year-old entrepreneur Amber Atherton, founder and chief executive officer of My Flash Trash — an e-commerce website that fuses trend-led jewellery with the too-cool-for-school attitude of the 16 to 24-year-old consumer market.

In 2011, My Flash Trash received a cash injection from two New York-based fund managers, followed by a second round of angel investment in 2013 from more American fans of Atherton’s jewellery enterprise.

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In the past 12 months, a fresh new website has propelled the brand forward, with Atherton focused on e-tail solutions, software and customer acquisition. Having pulled the Flash Trash brand out of many independent boutiques in a bid to channel her attention online, Atherton is now working on turning her brand into a vertically-integrated company that promotes its own in-house collections and those of young, up-and-coming designers.

Perhaps what makes Atherton’s My Flash Trash proposition so innovative is the way she treats it like a shop front; except HTML code and Instagram posts replace shop window and cabinet displays. She explains: “We have to consistently refresh our image to make sure it’s in-line with current trends and that we’re presenting a better user experience for our customers. We’re updating the website constantly; it’s just like having a bricks-and-mortar shop that always needs restocking. You need to continue to optimise the experience.”

For Atherton, this optimisation is about more than adding new lines to the website and hoping for sales. “We track the user journey through analytics and decide how we can better optimise the site just by moving things around. Recently, we moved the search bar to the left rather than the right, as we discovered more people were hovering there. These small adaptations will hopefully reduce conversion time.”

She adds: “When we come in to the office in the morning we change the merchandising structure so we have different product from morning to lunch time. Then at the end of the day at 5pm we change it again, as we have different customers shopping from 6pm to midnight than we do from 6am to lunchtime.”

Alongside this meticulous attention to e-visual merchandising is the second part of Atherton’s master plan; changing My Flash Trash’s marketplace model. In essence, this means supporting emerging jewellery design talents by offering them their own retail platform. Atherton explains: “We’ve tried different business models, including having stock in-house and in a warehouse, but now it has become obvious that in order for us to scale up we need to operate more like Etsy — allowing the designers to have their own store.”

She continues: “We would interact like a department store, with brands having their own little shop-in-shops. This would ensure they can interact with customers through us, while dealing with their own logistics.”

But instead of just mimicking Etsy, Atherton hopes My Flash Trash will lead the market with a comprehensive package of support for anyone who chooses to sell their wares on her website. “We have an educational element in the back-end of the site, which can be accessed by anyone who’s paid the joining fee,” she states. “We have tutorials on how jewellery designers can improve their PR, or how to get the most out of social media markets.”

This aspect of Flash Trash’s offer includes video and blog content from Atherton and other industry experts; from fashion jewellery buyers to advertising moguls. It’s an intelligent move, allowing Atherton to help her cadre of designers realise their potential, while freeing-up her schedule from the demands of nurturing each of them one-on-one.

Atherton admits she’s been “overwhelmed with applications to join the website” since introducing this support structure, and now plans to turn it into a fully-automated system whereby prospective Flash Trash designers can apply and await approval.

Simultaneous to this brand extension and development behind the scenes, Atherton is working to create some of the best consumer-facing social media accounts in the industry. Having spent some time formulating her brand image and “really understanding our visual identity”, Atherton is now communicating almost exclusively in picture form to her legion of Flash Trash followers.

“Instagram is a major driver for us, not just in terms of sales but also for brand awareness,” she says. “Connecting with our demographic by investing time into that platform and having the right graphics and videos is definitely worth it.”

In a bid to take Instagram’s capabilities as a social network further, Atherton has created her own internal referral program, recruiting girls in her target demographic to carry the Flash Trash name through their networks and beyond. She divulges: “We speak to girls on Instagram who don’t necessarily have a huge following, but are very active on the network. We’ll ask them to put a link in their bio [the short description describing the user] to My Flash Trash, while sending them a gift card or offering them discounts.”

This relatively simple proposition is resulting in big browser-to-buyer conversions, and is encouraging Atherton and her in-house team to cultivate more relationships with online personalities and bloggers. As someone who’s grown up in the social media age, it’s not surprising that Atherton also has her finger on the pulse of a little-used social marketing tool that’s just starting to come into its own: Snapchat.

“It’s just the most fantastic communication tool between us and our customers,” Atherton enthuses. On a day-to-day basis, Snapchat is used to interact with a select group of loyal customers, giving them an insight into the brand, sending exclusive discount codes and connecting with them in real time — an experience Instagram just cannot replicate.

However, the proclivity of discount codes, vouchers and offers as a network-building tool does concern Atherton. She admits: “I do think they are probably more of an influence than I would like to acknowledge. The 16 to 24-year-old market does thrive on discounts, and often girls will talk in forums about what discounts they can get.”

My Flash Trash networking isn’t just confined to the desk, and Atherton is continually discovering new partners to collaborate with. After a successful Moshi Monsters tie-in in 2011, she’s teamed with Pixie Geldof to retail her Funky Offish jewellery collection. From September, Atherton will collaborate with a highly-successful nail art business and an emerging London Fashion Week designer, furthering My Flash Trash’s image as a quirky-cool e-tailer. Of course, all of this sits alongside Flash Trash’s own-brand collections, which have been sold into Asos, River Island and Topshop.

Most recently, My Flash Trash Girl — a collection aimed at 14 to 22-year-olds — landed in Topshop’s Oxford Circus flagship store. This limited-time only, pop-up distribution channel provided Atherton with the perfect platform for her own-label collection in a market with limited options. She explains: “To be honest, we’re quite limited in the UK with distribution channels. There aren’t many that I feel sit with our brand image, and if they do they are our competitors. Topshop is one of the very few that we are excited to work with as our target customer goes through its doors every day. It’s amazing to be able to give customers the opportunity to see the product in real life.”

With one foot firmly planted in domestic business, Atherton is gaining ground in Ireland, America and Asia. With international sales rising 22% in the last quarter alone, Flash Trash has achieved a natural affinity with the American market, and not in the high-footfall cities you might think. Orders have been shipped to Texas and Louisiana, with younger shoppers not afraid to jump head first into e-commerce, be it based in a neighbouring street or half way around the world. For Atherton and customers – who are influenced by US celebrity culture – US growth is the sort of catalyst guaranteed to boost domestic growth as well. She admits: “Our market looks to the US for trends. Having a small impact there will only enhance our brands status.”

In reaction, in-house web developers are working on region-specific landing pages, with a tailored welcome message to make customers feel as comfortable with the site as possible. When it comes to acquiring overseas customers, Atherton believes some sort of physical marketing presence is essential for a full “360 degree impact”. She explains: “To develop our Korean customer base we will combine an in-store presence at a concept or department store, including a launch party, with the attention of social media influencers to ensure we have the greatest impact.”

Atherton continues: “To make it in China a lot of retailers don’t realise you have to make it in Korea first. Chinese teen culture follows Korean culture, especially in music, fashion and beauty.”

Growing up in Hong Kong and armed with a basic understanding of Mandarin, Atherton isn’t afraid of tackling the Asian market head-on; she plans to increase revenue in the region by 20% in the next two quarters.

It’s clear Atherton has learnt some important business lessons in a few short years, giving her a unique perspective that she now offers to others in lectures, seminars and personal appearances.

After years of saying ‘yes’ to every business opportunity that came her way, she’s now stopping to analyse each decision and isn’t afraid to say ‘no’, as focus is turned to developing Flash Trash-branded products and its cult social following. As our conversation continues, Atherton muses: “I would love to have a store in the future to support the online brand [but] I think we need to scale the e-commerce side more for us to be able to sustain a shop in the long-term.”

She concludes: “My Flash Trash is inspirational, aspirational, playful and fun, and my ideal situation would be for us to be a global jewellery and accessories brand and an e-commerce powerhouse.” With her legion of social media fans, this dream may well become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

This interview was taken from the September issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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