Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with Cat Anderson

Always knowing she'd become a business owner one day, Cat Anderson founded treen, a vegan fashion retailer, based on her beliefs. We chat with her about how she did it and where she sees the future of retail heading.

Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with Cat Anderson

image from @el__inspired

8 weeks into her newest venture, treen, we catch up with Cat Anderson on the highs and lows so far in her entrepreneurial journey as well as where she envisages the future of the retail industry heading.

Over the next few months we will be talking to numerous innovators working in retail. Whether this is a company founder or a product designer, they are all experts in their own right.

It’s a huge step starting your own business - what prompted you and what was your eureka moment?

Starting my own business has been the best move for me and has been beyond rewarding since the moment I decided to take the leap!

For almost 5 years I worked for large global retail brands and was lucky enough to be sent to Shanghai and Hong Kong to open and manage stores. During this time I didn’t bat an eyelid, and the thought of having my own business didn’t cross my mind. I was ‘all in’ when it came to living and breathing the mentality of each brand I worked with. In Asia you lead a pretty fast paced lifestyle - work hard, play hard, and them some! Then after being away for 5 years, something started to shift mentally. I would often find myself at dinner saying, ‘When I have my own business’. I kept visualising being a business owner, still without really knowing what this would be.

I packed up in HK and moved back to Edinburgh, UK. Moving back was a lot - no job, a significant culture shock and a very different pace of life. I believe that in retail, and many other areas of life, resilience and adaptability are key. It was not easy, but telling myself this, and hearing it from my partner Harris daily helped me get to my eureka moment! Aside from changing my work life and location, I had also become vegan and refused to settle for products I had no idea where they came from. Shopping and styling (which is one of my favourite things to do!) became difficult and frustrating. The brands I now followed were too hard to access. I wanted a killer wardrobe without killing the planet, or anything that lives in it. Enter treen, a vegan fashion retailer offering positive impact fashion to the conscious women.

What has been the toughest part of your entrepreneurial/business journey?

Working alone and working from home. For most of the set up, and up until a few weeks ago actually, it has been just me. After year of only working within large teams, this was a major adjustment. I am very pleased to now be in the position to have employed two people after 8 weeks of business. After the first few day of working together we have tripled ideas for the business. I really believe two - or more - minds are better than one.

What is your favourite part about doing what you do?

As I mentioned above, I am a 'live and breathe it' type of person. It never bothered me to do this for another company and my family will tell you I became obsessed I just couldn’t see it another way. Thinking on it now, I did always aspire to be the name on the door. My favourite part of doing what I do is the overwhelming feeling of it being for good. I still can’t believe I get to work with fashion that has a purpose. I am constantly having ideas of what moves we can take next as a business. The fact that I get to have these and see them through Its pretty awesome!

Biggest lesson you have learnt?

Honesty is the best policy. Respect yourself, and be kind.

Most valuable piece of advice you received early in your career?

The platinum rule - treat people how they wish to be treated. Whether it's a client, a member of staff, or someone your senior. Too often we got lost in the golden rule - treat people how you wish to be treated. While developing teams and ideas, the platinum rule always resulted in success. Other key advice was, never let standards slip, be prepared, be resilient, and be willing to change.

What makes your product offering unique and how do you maintain this?

Not many retailers offer what we do, as well as being a vegan retailer. This was key at treen. We want to respect the workers making our clothes as much as we are animals. Treen focuses on offering beautiful wardrobe staples. Pieces you can wear now and in years to come, that can be styled multiple ways depending on trends or seasons. I think staying true to what you believe in is what helps maintain this. It is non-negotiable that I would consider widening a certain product offering to quickly make a profit. It's not what we are about, and to me would be brand damaging to our hadn’t picked offering, changing what we are about.

How well do you know your customer? How do you ensure you have an in-depth knowledge of who your customer is?

Well, our website and pop up shop both only opened on June 1st this year! For in store, I feel we already know our client very well. I was keen that our store opening hours were 7 days a week in order to be as close to the website hours as possible - ie. 24/7. In store you might say it is a little easier to gather data from clients. I love in person communication and engaging in conversations with our clients. It’s endlessly valuable to watch a person’s reaction to product. Why did they react differently from the last person? What words did they use to describe it? What did they say they would pair it with in their wardrobe?

For online, I feel that although we know our clients well, there are opportunities to gain more information on this broader client. I feel lucky that our clients feel they can reach out to us via Instagram, Tidio (website live chat) and via email. This immediately provides the type of interaction we have in store. We have made a conscious effort to email all online orders, as well as pop a hand written note inside their reusable mailer box. Moving around visuals on the website and realising weekly blogs has also been a great way to gain insight into our online client. We can then question why one blog is read more than another, and seeing a spike in sales based on refreshing the homepage. This month we are going to test ads across Facebook, Google and Instagram!

Has your customer changed over time and if so how?

Within the 8 weeks we have been open we have already gathered so much information on who our client is. I have been so pleased to see a wide range of clients walk through the door, of all fashion styles and ages. Within the first two weeks our client was very focused - vegan, eco fashion blogger, conscious fashion consumer. Now in week 8 we have a long list of regulars. Interestingly, online we saw the same. Instagram was our chosen platform and 90% of our traffic to the site is driven through this.

The benefits of using data in decision making in retail are becoming clear, could you give me an example of how you use data and how it’s benefited you?

With just 8 weeks under our belt the benefits of using data in decision making in retail are becoming clear. Every aspect of the business. From layout to store VM to future orders.

The retail industry has changed dramatically in recent years - what do you now think are the key skills needed to succeed?

Agreed! I believe key skills needed to succeed include being adaptable, reactive and resilient. As well as always being willing to change and constantly look for areas of opportunity.

What do you think the biggest changes have been in the retail industry in the past three years?

The change in technology and with this growth in e commerce. How businesses have reacted to a number of the high street shops closing.  A new approach to SALE, mark downs and Black Friday and department stores no longer being a trend.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenges in the coming years, for both your own business and the wider retail industry?

I feel SALE and markdowns have gotten a little out of hand. I am interested to see what move retailers are going to take next, or how they come back from 80% plus markdowns.

Technology is only going to get bigger, I am very excited about this. Particularly for online sales. The closer we can get to our client the better. Especially if they can somehow enjoy this and get more involved.

Front line retail. I feel there needs to be a huge focus put back on customer service and creating an experience for clients in our stores. I am obsessed with shop life and take inspiration from how shopping used to be, 1-2-1 service, clients knowing staff names, clients having high expectations, stores offering to tailor goods and knowing client birthdays and so on.

Over time, companies will either finesse what appeals to what customers and what doesn’t, or we’ll simply grow accustomed to a new norm – in the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the creative technological fruits borne of companies with an increased need to compete.

So true about sale and mark-downs! We've written about it a lot and the in-shop experience really is changing so much.

Can you tell me any brands/retailers that you admire and if so what is it about them that you think they do well?

Reformation - Everything about their approach to the fashion industry, marketing their message and how they present their visuals both on and offline. They are honest and aren’t afraid of telling it like it is. I feel they have created an open environment that client crave to be a part of. Super impressive work.

Frankie Shop - I enjoy their approach to online selling. Their standard of product selection and imagery is extremely high. I feel there is a well planned and clear strategy in place that is easy for clients to connect with.

Toast - Toast have a great approach to online sales. I really admire their email campaigns and attention to detail. Each email or campaign is fresh, light, unfussy and to the point. I have always got the feeling they know their client well. I aspire to this a lot.

Everlane - I like their honest approach about sharing how product is made with clients. Being on their website makes me feel like I am sat in a cool restaurant with one of those open kitchens where you can see what you're paying for being made. I wish for my clients to have this expectation met with treen.

Others are Tesla, Apple, Lululemon, Vitsoe and Sephora. Vitsoe’s, ’Sorry, No Sale’ strategy is very cool!

Thanks for your insights Cat!

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