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Brent Hoberman: “Now’s the time to expand overseas”

Hoberman acknowledges that consumer confidence on the high street has taken a bashing – but online retail appears to be holding up.

“Look at what happened after 9/11,” says Hoberman, referring to his days running “My board told me to sack everyone and go home. They didn’t think the online travel industry would stand a chance. What actually happened was that customers went to the internet for better deals. In a recession, you’ve got a similar thing. Customers are after value.

“Look at Ocado, for example. The online groceries delivery firm is now starting to undercut Waitrose, even though it’s its sole supplier. Or look at companies like ASOS or Amazon – they’re doing a roaring trade online."

Hoberman says that is a sleek operation, which outsources all of its non-core functions. “We don’t want to have more than 30 employees,” he says. “Outsourcing gives us the ability to be more agile.”

Next up, he’s planning on expanding Stateside. ”If online furniture is a $15bn market here in the UK, it’s worth $100bn in the States,” he says. “Whether anyone will actually buy from us there is a risk! We’re not going to go out there with a massive ad campaign. We’re just going to let people find us based on better deals.”

A member from the audience chips in, asking whether Hoberman’s new venture will ever do as well as After all, there’s a big difference between buying a plane ticket online and buying a three-person sofa.

“Put it this way: in the States, over 50 per cent of furniture purchases are researched online," counters Hoberman. "The hybrid, online-offline model works well. And here in the UK, the biggest seller of beds is Argos, via its catalogues.”

The 2009 Real Business Entrepreneurs’ Summit was held in association with Investec Private Bank.

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