When an entire sector seems to be floundering, some in that arena spy the threat and head for the back door. Others, spurred by entrepreneurialism and dogged determination, spot the opportunity for innovation. Eloquently Her talks to one woman determined to defy expectations.
Day on day, week after week, global headlines are articulating the woes of the retail world.
From long-standing household names, to seemingly robust modern stores, we’re repeatedly seeing high street stalwarts limp away from their position in the high street or desperately deviate their offering.
You can be sure then, that just as there are those recognising the climate of threat and crisis in this field, there are also those savvy, highly intelligent, entrepreneurial individuals who are sat in a room somewhere, crunching the data, spotting the opportunity – and on the cusp of delivering a radical turnaround solution.
Karen Adams is one such businesswoman.
Not only does she have the kind of analytical brain which makes the rest of us feel like mere mortals, she’s also gathered encyclopaedic knowledge of the retail arena after a professional lifetime spent absorbing the intricacies of the sector.
It was this time last year that Karen closed the initial funding round – to the tune of £150k – on her ‘retail data’ model.
It’s been no easy ride for the self-confessed ‘geek’, but she’s now the recipient of significant investment backing and is on a mission to transform the way the high street captures and uses analytics around consumer buying habits.
“My tech company is founded on years and years of working in merchandising and really getting to understand the ins and outs of how stock moves around a business,” she explains.
“I’m the girl who started with John Lewis Partnership and worked her way through the biggest retail brands of their time – the Laura Ashley, BHS, Arcadia, Sock Shop – always learning how their trading patterns correlated with the flow of stock.
“What I came to understand was that merchandising is an absolutely critical financial function in the most part.
“I became drawn to the idea of how I could help those brands extract data, use it, and gain benefit in their day to day business.”
That journey say Karen immersed in the world of the now defunct Bhs brand, helping its franchise stores in the Middle East by developing intelligent tools which would help accumulate and analyse exactly the right data.
An interlude followed in which she started a family – today she has a 12 year old son and is happy to label herself a ‘busy single mum’ – before she then ventured into the world of high street retail.
“As soon as I arrived back into the close-up realities of retail again, I was fascinated by just how tech-poor the businesses were,” she says.
“I saw how the companies were lacking in sophisticated ways to analyse data and truly understand what was happening with the stock.
“It was all the momentum and motivation I needed to spur me into creating The Prosperous Shop.”
For seven years, Karen put her rudimentary self-funded approach to work on a high street mens fashion store.
The net result was huge gains for the business, and evidence that her knowledge and discipline really could be ‘transformational’ for retail operators.
It was then that she knew her business baby had the potential for global growth.
She formed a company and began pulling a team of techies together from within her own network, determined to attract crowdfunding and get the tech solution fully to market.
“It failed, unfortunately,” she admits bluntly.
“Our crowdfunding was with a platform that was months old, and in retrospect it didn’t have the investors in sufficient numbers.
“It was a frustrating and costly process – so we found a new way.”
She continues: “I simply wasn’t prepared to give up or give in. The next route was to go looking for fully-fledged investors.
“I wanted to be able to build a relationship with them and get them to really buy in to what I and the team are trying to do to change the way retailers are working.”
Karen is frank and forthright in her description of today’s retail world.
It’s a picture she’s been wanting to paint very clearly to her would-be investors, and which she’s only too keen to share to those interested in her journey.
“Retailers are absolutely, without any doubt, in pain,” she stresses.
“They’ve been in pain for decades and they need innovation and insight to help them move forward and make the best of their opportunity.
“Corporate retailers, on the other hand, have had the systems in place for sometime, but now that we’ve got things like ‘the cloud’ we can help all levels of retailers way easier and more successfully than we would ever have been able to do before.”
Of course, if this is the case, and corporate retailers – including the likes of Bhs – had all the data extraction potential some years ago, why on earth did we see them vanish from the high street in the UK?
“That’s a really good point, but it completely clarifies what we at Prosperous Shop are and are not,” she says emphatically.
“The thing is, what we are is back-office.
“We’re helping find the data and extract it and put it to use – if that retailer is ready and willing to do so.
“With Bhs, it wasn’t a failure of the science and the systems, but more about their tone of voice, their branding, their messaging….that’s not us.
“It goes to show that you can have all the data in the world in retail, but you also need to have a focus on your front-of-house as well.
“You have to be aware of the perception of your brand and have the right level of customer engagement.”
Clearly, it’s Karen’s personable analysis of the sector space which is playing a part in how successful this new phase in her journey is proving.
She’s able to passionately share her experiences with her investors, and assure them of her team’s dedicated commitment to success.
“We’re in a good place right now,” she says.
“We’ve got people really believing in us and have increased our following at a rate I’m really happy with.
“Shopify has been working well. We’ve got a following of 230 and 46 merchants signed up.
“Now we’ve got through phase one and want to get it to as many merchants as we can, and attract more funds.”
It’s perhaps a good job that this determined entrepreneur opted some years ago to ‘give up TV’. It was, she says, a waste of time when you’re a busy person trying to achieve something.
And achievement certainly seems in sight.
“I tell myself all the time that it’s a good job I was once a young athlete whose specialism was the hurdles,” she says, laughing.
“That’s become something of a metaphor, but it’s so incredibly relevant to where I am.
“Yes, there are still hurdles in front of me, but I’m in the race.
“I’m prepared to put the time and the training in, so there’s no backing down no matter how tough it may seem.
“As with any entrepreneur, you have to take that vision you have, commit to it, and pursue it with every part of you.
“There’s no letting go until you reach the finish line and taste the victory.”
For more about Karen’s journey and The Prosperous Shop, go to www.theprosperousshop.com
We’ll be featuring Karen regularly as our guest contributor on issues around entrepreneurialism, funding, and being a black woman in tech.
You can also look forward to seeing Karen at one of our entrepreneur’s events later in 2018.