Paul Hill talks to the UK general manager of Faire, an online company with a mission to revolutionise wholesale
Talk us through the history of the business. What products do you wholesale, and how does it work compared with traditional wholesalers?
Faire was set up in 2017 as an online wholesale marketplace connecting independent retailers and brands around the world. Our mission was, and still is, to revolutionise wholesale and help smaller businesses compete with retail giants.
We empower local retailers by providing them with easy online access to more than 100,000 unique, quality brands in home decor, gifts, beauty and wellness, jewellery, pets, food and drink, and more, breaking the barriers that once restricted them to local supply chains.
Traditionally, the only options for retailers would be to attend trade shows and liaise with sales agents to source and buy stock. This could prove time consuming and inflexible, as well as lead to major commitments that need to be made with ordering large quantities of stock.
Since then, retailers have been hit with a number of new and unprecedented challenges, and there is an increasing need to be agile. By bringing wholesale online and offering financial tools to help small businesses succeed, Faire is helping independent retailers break free from traditional constraints and react to changing market conditions in almost real time. Faire presents a significant alternative to traditional trade shows by offering a digital platform upon which retailers and makers can connect 24/7, which creates a distinct advantage in challenging times.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are brands and retailers, and are located across the world. We’ve facilitated seven million business relationships between independent retailers and brands on the marketplace, acting as a connector for the small business retail community at a pivotal time.
We now serve hundreds of thousands of retailers from 50,000 cities across North America, Europe and Australia, as well as 100,000 brands from more than 150 countries. Focusing on Europe, our customer base here has grown almost 300% year on year (2021-2022), and now, more than 30 million products have been sold from EU brands.
In the UK, more than 45,000 independent retailers have used Faire. To put that into perspective, that is four times the number of stores than the four largest supermarket chains combined.
What gives your business its USP?
What sets Faire apart is that we built the company knowing what the challenges were, and created it to overcome them.
Faire helps independents compete with retail giants. Using Faire’s tools, the industry can level the playing field so that independent retailers are no longer at a disadvantage against the bigger chains. There are three key areas in which we achieve this.
The first is through access. Independent retailers can access unique products from more than 100,000 brands from around the world, from the comfort of their own homes and without taking time away from their businesses.
Faire also uses its scale to help retailers be more successful. With hundreds of thousands of retailers, Faire is powering the largest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the world and it is able to use its size and data to provide recommendations and insight to customers – big retailers have always used this type of data to test merchandise.
Finally, Faire provides the financial tools needed for independent retailers to grow their business. Small businesses are often underbanked and have risky options to fund their businesses.
By using Faire, retailers have the option of payment flexibility through credit terms, and security through free returns – a benefit that was previously only available to major retail chains. This eliminates the burden of inventory risk by enabling retailers to buy with confidence in an unpredictable environment.
Why do you think there has been a move for consumers shifting from impulse-driven buying towards more values-based choices? How big a role does sustainability play in this, and do you have figures to back this up?
Consumers are definitely more in tune with how they spend their time, what they’re consuming and what they’re buying. Aside from other factors, sustainability plays a large role in this, and it’s a value that we share at Faire.
In a recent Faire survey, consumers in the UK told us social good is a key reason to shop independently, with 52% saying it enables them to reduce their carbon footprint or buy more sustainably. This interest is reflected on the Faire platform, with retailers in the UK spending more than nine figures in volume on products that are eco-friendly, women-owned or handmade over the past year.
We’ve found the volume of products purchased since 2023 that are eco-friendly, handmade or not available on Amazon has increased almost 400%, and it’s a move we encourage at Faire.
We’re proud to work with brands that make it their mission to leave the planet better than they found it and we’re delighted to learn that demand for sustainable products shows no signs of slowing despite the current strain on consumers’ wallets.
Between December 2022 and March 2023, searches for ‘eco-friendly’ increased by 55% on Faire, and searches for ‘reusable’ increased by more than 75% between December 2022 and March 2023. The number of orders placed from brands using the eco-friendly value tag increased by 45% between 2021 and 2022.
How are smaller businesses using their size to react faster to economic and consumer trends, particularly by using technology that helps them compete?
Despite the cost-of-living crisis and other economic headwinds, many consumers still feel committed to supporting independent retail both on and offline. This, combined with the benefits of shopping independent and what we call independent retailers’ ‘superpowers’ – agility, artistry and community – means the opportunity for smaller businesses to thrive is not only there, but it is also extensive.
Smaller retailers are naturally more agile and resilient due to their size, but also using technology like Faire enables them to do this even better than before.
Looking deeper into the agility aspect, we saw this on Faire during the pandemic when puzzles, masks, pyjamas and DIY kits immediately became top sellers, and more recently blankets, heaters and candles when blackouts threatened Europe.
When most retailers experienced supply chain issues, Faire retailers were able to prepare for the festive season earlier than ever last year – buying, on average, three weeks earlier.
In the context of economic conditions in Europe, we saw local-to-local market share double in the UK and triple in France, saving money in costs and currency fluctuations.
With regard to artistry, we’ve noticed that independent retailers excel at meeting today’s consumer demands, such as personal discovery, values-driven shopping and emotional connection. With 27% of consumers feeling nostalgic and a declining trust in generic online recommendations, this ability is a significant strength for independent retailers.
Finally, we’ve seen that community is key. Independent retailers are the original influencers and trendsetters of their communities. They have personal relationships with their customers, and curate shopping experiences specifically with their interests in mind. Nearly 25% of retailers on Faire now use their storefront as a retail shop and community hub. Examples of this include candle-making workshops in artisan decor boutiques and support groups in gift stores.
Independent retail creates a sense of place, identity and economic relevance. You can visit any major chain in the world, and have no idea where you are. When you visit an independent retailer in Edinburgh, Scotland, or Lyon, France, you immediately get a good sense of place and what matters to that community.
Independent retail remains a firm choice, and technology plays a huge part in ensuring this not only continues, but also increases its longevity.
Digitalisation is crucial in keeping bricks-and-mortar stores agile and resilient during difficult economic times. In fact, we’ve found that 60% of retailers have reported that their business is thriving since embracing digital operations. Faire uses technology not only to enable independents to be cost-effective for the first time, but also, though using its scales, to help retailers become more successful, and to provide the financial tools needed to grow their businesses
How are independent retailers across Europe continuing their post-lockdown recovery while many major retailers struggle to get back on track due to supply chain, inflation and economic challenges?
There is no denying it’s tough out there, but independent retailers across Europe are continuing their post-lockdown recovery, while many major retailers are struggling to get back on track.
If we look specifically at the possible threat of supply-chain, inflation and current economic issues, we know big box retailers cancelled billions of dollars in orders in 2022, whereas Faire retailers were able to take advantage of low minimum-order values and fill inventory gaps. They placed at least one order each week in Europe and the US.
Major retailers also continue to close across the US and Europe, and are at risk of losing as many as 9,000 sites in 2023. However, the number of independent retailers that have used Faire to grow their business in the UK has grown to 45,000.
Of course, all retailers faced the threat of Covid-19, but we saw that, prior to the pandemic, fewer than 20% of Faire retailers had online stores. Now, nearly all Faire retailers have their own online sales channels.
By using Faire, retailers are increasing their ability to monitor data and trends, eliminate costs from the traditional ways of doing business and are more free to focus on more valuable work.
Through this, we can level the playing field for high-street retailers here in Europe and around the world.