Phil Mickler, COO at ME+EM, on the value of omnichannel retail, knowing your customer, and data-led decision-making
Founded in 2009, ME+EM is a direct-to-consumer womenswear brand offering luxury fashion without the luxury price tag. The brand’s core philosophy centres on their ‘Three Fs’— flattering, functional and forever— creating flattering yet practical pieces with timeless appeal.
Phil Mickler has been COO of ME+EM for five and a half years. With a background in finance, Phil has spent much of his career to date in a mix of fashion and digital; among other roles, he has served as a finance director at Diesel in the UK, CFO and then COO at Whistles and COO at Jack Wills. Ahead of joining the panel at our upcoming Retail & Leisure Trends Summit, we spoke to Phil about ME+EM’s latest openings in Battersea and Edinburgh, current retail trends and the role of physical stores in omnichannel strategy.
COULD YOU GIVE US A FLAVOUR OF ME+EM, AND WHERE IT’S EVOLVED FROM?
We started digitally native, as a UK-based website, but we did start to open stores relatively soon after that and we’ve now got seven stores. So we opened in, Battersea was our most recent store, and then we’re in Selfridges in London, Selfridges in Manchester and Harrods, and [these] are as staffed concessions, and we will be opening in Edinburgh in September. And so, broadly, we’re still a predominantly a digital business so 80% of our revenue is digital but about 20% of the mix is stores and we quite like that mix, that balance basically.
Our focus is very much finding the gap between what luxury is well-known for— in terms of quality, quality of product, quality of service, customer experience— but without the luxury price point, and then taking the best of the high street, in terms of rapid turnaround and being a reactive business, but without cutting corners in terms of quality. We can do it because we’re a direct-to-consumer business.
YOU'VE JUST OPENED YOUR BATTERSEA POWER STATION LOCATION, BUT MOST OF YOUR STORES ARE BASED ON THE HIGH STREET. WHAT APPEALED TO ME+EM ABOUT TAKING UP SPACE WITHIN THE POWER STATION?
We locate our stores broadly where our customers live. Basically, neighbourhoods, enclaves, in and around London, where the heart of our customers is.
We are a British modern luxury brand, that’s how we describe ourselves. And Battersea is an iconic British location. I think that Britishness, the beautiful classic architecture, was what originally attracted us to going there. It’s a way of opening up to a new customer. We didn’t have any stores south of the river, so there was that attraction. And, of course, it’s a big tourist hub, and so it’s another means of a national and international customer getting to understand our brand better. We’re pretty happy with the performance there.
WHAT KEY TRENDS DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE ACROSS THE UK RETAIL AND HOSPITALITY SPACE GOING FORWARD?
If I think about the broader UK economy, I clearly can’t ignore the cost of living crisis, which isn’t going away, inflation, which might be getting slightly better, but it’s still running way above, and high interest rates, which are going to impact across many sectors and many businesses. Sadly, it probably disproportionately impacts those towards the lower socioeconomic parts of the world. But I think it will impact much more broadly than that, definitely.
I still think, if I think about that domestic consumer, the British consumer seems pretty resilient. You know, we went into this year with quite a cautious plan for the UK— we were still pretty confident that international would grow very strongly, but quite cautious about stores and online, but so far we’ve had a very, very good first half of the year. I wouldn’t underestimate the British consumer. As long as your brand or business has got a point of difference, then customers will still come to you.
WHAT WILL BE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS FOR ME+EM TO FOCUS ON IN THE MONTHS AHEAD?
What we always focus on, which is making sure that we don’t lose sight of who our customer is. So, when we are designing a product and merchandising that product and marketing that product, of course we want to acquire new customers, but we shouldn’t forget who our core customer is. I think that’s key.
Our experience over the last 24 months is that our customer is getting younger, or certainly a wider age range. And so I think we’ll see that continue if we look at our stores— we have a lot of mother-daughter shopping. There’s a bit of pester power from younger to older, but we see 60 year-olds coming in with 30 year-old daughters and we see 50 year-olds coming in with 22 year-olds. We see that a lot in stores and no doubt that’s also happening online, so, as our product stays relevant across generations, then we certainly see that increase.
WHAT CHALLENGES IS THE FASHION SECTOR FACING, AND HOW DID ME+EM RESPOND TO THOSE CHALLENGES?
Omnichannel is a very important part of our business. Our omnichannel customers are three times as valuable as our customers who shop single-channel either in store or online. That is a crucial part of our business, and the logic of opening up in Edinburgh is to test that model outside of London.
With omnichannel comes some challenges because people want to order at home and pick up in store, go and try on in store and have it delivered to home. So there’s definitely logistical and systems challenges that I think we’re all constantly trying to stay ahead of the game on. For us, knowing that we have a valuable omnichannel customer means that we have to be consistent in terms of customer experience, whether it’s online or offline, whether it’s advertising experience where someone comes across us via Instagram or whether it’s in our catalogue. All the different touchpoints and locations, we want it to feel like it’s one single brand. That’s something that we definitely focus on.
HOW DO DATA AND INSIGHTS INFORM ME+EM'S STRATEGIC ACTIVITY
Our business wouldn’t exist without data insights. We talk about it all the time, you know, it’s the marrying of intuition with hard-nosed facts. Our founder, Clare [Hornby], she’s got great fashion sense and she’s got the intuition and she’s very much tapped into the customer and she very much taps into data.
All our decisions are a combination of those two mapped together. Whether it’s a decision about what product to make, colour, style, when to bring it in, how much to make and how to allocate it across stores and online, all of those decisions are data-led. And then, of course, where we are locating future stores, or any other sort of physical environment, is very much led by stats. We’ve got lots of data about our existing customers online, where they shop and where they live and what else they do.
IS THERE ANY APPEAL TO OPENING IN MORE SHOPPING CENTRE LOCATIONS AFTER THE SUCCESS OF BATTERSEA POWER STATION?
For us, ideal brand position is somewhere where there’s an interface between luxury and contemporary. And that’s tricky at shopping centres, to be perfectly honest. I think Battersea is more of an exception. Edinburgh will be more of a high street location, and then future locations are more likely to be based around the sort of neighbourhood strategy that we’ve continued so far.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE COMPANY?
In terms of physical space, we are actively looking at the US. Actually, our next store after Edinburgh will likely be in New York, so that’s sort of the direction we’re heading. We already have a good mix of international customers shopping online, globally really, but by far the biggest mix of that is the US, so we definitely see an appetite for our product there. We’re going to give it a go with some shops, see what happens.
Sam Mercado, LDC Marketing ExecutiveThe Local Data Company901901