Episode 82
September 26, 2018

New Ways of Engaging Old Models

Stefanie Botelho, CEO Fitzroy Toys, joins us LIVE at Shop.org 2018 to talk about digital disruption in wholesale and why they see themselves as a technology company first and a wholesaler of toys second. Listen now!

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Main Takeaways:

  • Fitzroy Toys manages to operate as B2B company with a B2C feel.
  • The retail apocalypse is really just the end of boring retail.
  • Big brands are having to get scrappy to keep up with start-ups.

From 4th Grade to Fitzroy:

  • CEO Stefanie Botelho's entrepreneurship journey actually began in toys: she started her first business venture in the 4th grade where she sold finger puppets to her classmates.
  • The first ever version of Fitzroy Toys was created as a project in a coding class when Stefanie was in Harvard Buisness School.
  • Fitzroy Toys (now rebranded as Fitzroy) actually began as a toy recommendation engine (a direct to consumer search engine) where consumers who were one step removed from a child could purchase toys based on recommendations.
  • Fitzroy has a clear mission: to support different by connecting independent retailers to independent brands.
  • Fitzroy is unique in that it operates as a B2B company and in a wholesale space. Unlike most wholesale companies, the UX and UI of the company experience allow consumers to feel like they are shopping on a B2C, retail-based space.
  • Fitzroy is a tech company first, wholesale company second.

How To Scale and Succeed in Business:

  • Keeping customers as a north star is critical, and in Stefanie's (and Fitzroy's) case, by going to the brands after graduation she learned that there was a demand for wholesale in the toy space.
  • Learn from others who have been in the space longer and have deference for their experience.
  • Allow for organic growth: Fitzroy Toys rebranded to Fitzroy as the company moved beyond toys into other home/family-based verticals.
  • Test before you fully implement any strategy: Before fully rebranding, Fitzroy held a soft-rebrand of the company and allowed for user feedback to guide the direction.

Turning Wholesale Purchasing Into an Experience:

  • By looking at all of the best B2C companies, and what they do right in regards to UX and UI, Fitzroy is able to create a B2C feel while remaining a B2B company.
  • Super cool feature alert: Fitzroy has a universal cart so retailers can see what they are purchasing from multiple brands.  
  • The entirety of Fitzroy's site is custom built, and all features are in line with creating a seamless uncomplicated experience for users.
  • All brands on the site are vetted, and everything on the website is behind the login wall, with some items not available anywhere else.
  • Retailers are able to sub-search for specific categories that may be important to their values/branding. They can search for things like organic, eco-friendly or even woman-owned business. This can allow those users to curate products that will be in line with what their customers values as well as their brand's.
  • Also, because Fitzroy deals with both brands and retailers, they are able to provide their users with useful data regarding what their customers may want in terms of specialty purchasing. A lot of these retailers have customers who really care about the transparency behind what they are purchasing.

The Real Retail Apocalypse: The End of Boring Retail:

  • Retail is changing, and companies will have to begin operating on a more user-focused experience.
  • One way Fitzroy is participating in this by working with brands and retailers to stock and purchase ADA-compliant products that are usable for children with learning or physical disabilities.
  • Big brands are having to keep up with start-ups who are always innovating. Macy's (a quintessential "big brand") has acquired two companies Story and Bulletin both of whom are focused on creating unique in-store experiences for customers.
  • Handy, a home services company similar to Uber in its model of on-demand service, is expanding their customer base.
  • Startups like Glossier and Allbirds are dominating the market by focusing on things that consumers really value: comfort, individuality, naturally sourced materials and style.

Stefanie Botelho's Recommendations for Merchants:

  • Double-down on strengths: If you have a physical location, utilize the opportunity for in-store experience, and lean in to whatever your business is already really good at.
  • Play your own game: "Think about that last mile problem and partner with additional tech to offer convenience to users."
  • Think about what "experience" means to you: beyond pop-up shops or trunk shows. And cultivate that experience for your customers.
  • Don't be afraid to have your own unique voice: Interpret your entire brand strategy and focus through that lens.

Guest

Stefaine Botelho - Fitzroy Toys

Download MP3 (38.4 MB)


Brian: [00:01:42] Welcome to Future Commerce, the show about next generation commerce. I'm Brian Lange. I'm without my co-host, Phillip, who is off at another conference. He abandoned me for Connected Commerce out in New York, but I am here with Fitzroy Toys and Stefanie Botelho. Is that how you say your last name? I should have asked you that before.

Stefanie: [00:02:04] That's how you say it. Stefanie Botelho.

Brian: [00:02:05] All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. You are the Founder and CEO of Fitzroy Toys. And I'm really excited to hear more about who you are, what's going on with Fitzroy Toys. And so maybe give me a little bit of background on yourself.

Stefanie: [00:02:21] Yeah, absolutely. So I'll talk a little bit about what Fitzroy is first.

Brian: [00:02:26] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:02:26] And then am happy to talk a little bit more about me, too.

Brian: [00:02:28] Cool.

Stefanie: [00:02:29] So Fitzroy is an online, wholesale marketplace. Our mission as a company is to support different. So the way that we do that is by connecting brands to retailers, and they're independent on each side. So we work with folks on the brand side all the way from you just have a Kickstarter that you successfully get off the ground. You're ready to get a product into wholesale all the way up to if you not the 800 pound gorilla like a Mattel or Hasbro in your industry, we're a good fit for you.

Brian: [00:02:52] That's great.

Stefanie: [00:02:53] So everyone in that spectrum, and on the retail side our goal is to support unique as well. And so our bread and butter really is kind of the one door store, the mom and pop who's in a community, who is a boutique, who has a different point of view, and who is running retail on a ground floor level.

Brian: [00:03:09] That's so cool. What an interesting model. And how did you get into this business? Like what's your background? Why did you pick wholesale in a period where everyone's like, "Oh, we're going direct to consumer?"

Stefanie: [00:03:24] Yeah, I actually think wholesale picked me. So a little bit of background on how we kind of got there. My interest in toys goes way back. My first entrepreneurial venture, in fourth grade, was not a lemonade stand. I actually sold toys. I made and sold finger puppets.

Brian: [00:03:37] What?

Stefanie: [00:03:37] Yeah, I sold them to the other kids at school.

Brian: [00:03:38] Whoa, this is like going way back.

Stefanie: [00:03:42] Way, way back. Yeah, exactly. And I mean, it was even something that I was the kid who when I would get my books in my scholastic box, I would rewrap it with wrapping paper and turn it into a backpack. Like I always sort of had that craftiness.

Brian: [00:03:57] A creator. Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:03:57] And so when I was in business school, you know, I knew I wanted to get back into the industry. It was something that I'd always been passionate about. It was never anything that I had the chance to do professionally. Like my background wasn't finance. It was in technology. And so I started looking at toys and really fell in love with the space. It was one that was changing quickly. It was one that had a lot of new entrants, just because the cost of getting a product off the ground had gone down and there was the accessibility that hadn't been there before for inventors, for mompreneurs, for designers, for creators. And then on the retail side, you know, also saw a lot that was interesting. The very first version of Fitzroy that we created, that I created, was from a coding class when I was at Harvard Business School.

Brian: [00:04:37] Nice.

Stefanie: [00:04:38] And it was consumer facing.

Brian: [00:04:39] Ok.

Stefanie: [00:04:39] So it was totally hopping on that....

Brian: [00:04:40] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:04:41] ...let's help people go direct to consumer bandwagon. And we were a recommendation engine that basically would help aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends who were one step removed from the child buy the right product at the right time.

Brian: [00:04:53] Oh I love that. It was a gifting platform.

Stefanie: [00:04:55] It was a gifting platform. Exactly. And so we were an affiliate model. We essentially would take, you know, a request and send it to whoever was the lowest cost provider on Amazon. When I graduated, I went to the brands that we were recommending and said, like, "Hey, we're doing this, you know, let's actually formalize a partnership." And the feedback that I got was, "This would be great, but can you do that for wholesale?" So that's why I say like wholesale sort of picked me because my reaction to that was like, "Yeah, I can. Let me look into it." Like, let's have a better understanding of what's going on in wholesale today, what's going on in B2B for retail and how can we build a recommendation engine, a buying platform that is going to be a good fit for buyers going forward.

Brian: [00:05:37] That's smart. You listened to your customers and that's I mean, that's really you like when you say wholesale picked you. It's really you just interacting with people that you are already engaged with and listening to them and responding. And that's so cool.

Stefanie: [00:05:49] Yeah. I mean, we want to create a solution that's actually going to address their pain points. And I think, like we always come to the industry with a fresh set of eyes. But also, I would say like a deference to the people who've been in it for a long time. There's a reason why they're still around. It's like they're doing things right. And so they know what their problems are. We're here to help work with them to find the best possible solution and then build it for them. But I totally agree. I mean, for us, the way that we've grown really has been keeping our user as almost a North star.

Brian: [00:06:17] That makes sense. So what a success look like to you then as a business?

Stefanie: [00:06:20] Yeah, so couple... A lot of different vectors when you think about success. So, I would say for us in one way we started in toys.

Brian: [00:06:30] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:06:31] And we've now grown into products outside of toys.

Brian: [00:06:33] Oh, OK. So are you changing the name?

Stefanie: [00:06:36] So we're just Fitzroy now.

Brian: [00:06:38] Ok, that's new. That's new.

Stefanie: [00:06:39] We're dropping "Toys." So there's an update there.

Brian: [00:06:40] Nice. So when did that happen?

Stefanie: [00:06:42] It all happened... So there was a soft rebrand last year and then it happened, I would say, more aggressively this year, especially as we've purposely added new verticals.

Brian: [00:06:50] Great.

Stefanie: [00:06:50] You know, we started... Kind of with everything that we build, we always test it before we sort of release it to our broader community. So we really got feedback from our retailers saying like, "Hey, you know, we really like the buying process that we have with you guys. It's fun. It's easy. It's modern. It feels like I'm shopping on a consumer site even though I'm B2B. So how can we buy more?".

Brian: [00:07:07] That's great.

Stefanie: [00:07:08] So we started, you know, essentially by building out the catalogs of brands we work with that already sold non-toy products and then, listening to our retailers, picked a couple additional verticals to go in to that really aligned with the rest of their stores.

Brian: [00:07:22] That's so smart. So product assortment is obviously a big part of what you're doing. Are you actively going out and finding these different brands?

Stefanie: [00:07:31] It's a blend. It's a blend.

Brian: [00:07:32] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:07:33] So we definitely get recommendations from our retailers, and we obviously prioritize those actually on both sides of the marketplace. We hear recommendations on both sides, so brands will say like, "Hey, here's a great retailer we'd love for you to work with." Retailers will say, "Hey, here's a great brand that we'd love to buy on your platform." And for us like that is paramount, just because that kind of social proof that someone else is vouching for you, like we very much know we're innovating in an industry. Everyone knows one another. You know, it's like at the end of the day, what makes our marketplace a little bit different is it's translating a community online that already exists offline. Right? So it's like that's definitely the number one way that we do it. I love the merchandising piece. So, you know, whether it is going to trade shows, or more often than not, ending up on an Instagram rabbit hole at like 2:00 in the morning looking at product, you know, reading about different brand stories like, you know, why did this person...

Brian: [00:08:21] So fun. That's a cool job.

Stefanie: [00:08:23] It's a super cool job. It's a lot of fun to both kind of hear about other founder journeys. You know, both on the brand side and the retailer side, about these people who are building their businesses, which in a lot of ways are even so much harder than the business I'm building. And also be able just to see like the cool products that are out there and be, you know, firsthand taking a role in that discovery piece.

Brian: [00:08:44] That makes sense. So it's discovery for you, but it's also discovery for your customers, and discovery for the brands like finding these new retailers with them. And that's really cool. You mentioned something that that caught my ears, which was providing a B2C experience for B2B, righ?

Stefanie: [00:09:02] Yep.

Brian: [00:09:02] And that's such a big part of the the commerce discussion right now. What are some things that you've done to help kind of create that feeling and experience?

Stefanie: [00:09:12] Yeah, I mean, we've really had that point of view since day one. And that's because our view, especially for our buyer, who is a small to medium sized business, they're a consumer in their everyday life. They're using the Internet as a consumer. They're used to shopping flows, discovery mechanisms, merchandising mechanisms that are user oriented in a B2C way. And so for us, like what we've always done is look at best in class B2C companies, you know, who essentially work with not just their own products, but across different lines and say like, "Okay, what are they doing right in terms of working with their customers? And how can we take whether it's UX or UI or pieces that we think really work and then apply it to Fitzroy?" So once you log in as a retailer, you essentially have an experience that looks and feels exactly like Nordstrom, or Evolve, a Shop Off, you know, whoever.

Brian: [00:10:01] That's awesome.

Stefanie: [00:10:03] It feels pretty seamless to the rest of your buying experience, even though you know, you're buying B2B, you're buying hundreds or thousands of dollars of product at a time versus one thing you might be buying for yourself.

Brian: [00:10:13] Yeah, when I think B2B, traditional B2B, I think of like spreadsheets and like ordering systems...

Stefanie: [00:10:19] And a lot of pieces of information. Right?

Brian: [00:10:21] Exactly.

Stefanie: [00:10:22] A lot of disparate pieces of information that are not necessarily updated to real time that you also can't fit together. Because when you think about it, it's like we work with a store whose stocks over five hundred vendors. That's like an average number. They're having to juggle PDFs, Excel.

Brian: [00:10:36] Yes.

Stefanie: [00:10:36] Paper. All of it. Just to make sure that, you know, they're making the right buying decisions. It ends up with, and you know, we did a lot of retailer tours and shadowing before we even kind of got the first version of the product out.

Brian: [00:10:49] That's so cool.

Stefanie: [00:10:49] It was just like stacks and stacks of paper that was like dog eared and with Post-it notes and things circled and, you know, business cards stapled. And this is one place where you can take all of that information and make sure it's streamlined and up to date. So then that way, when you place an order, you can get your product quickly. You know that your brand received your order, and you know that the order is right because it removes that issue of double or triple entry in terms of having to place the order in several different places to actually get it done.

Brian: [00:11:16] Well, and it makes discovery easier, too. You're looking at product images, and you're sorting, and you're browsing, and you're treating it like an experience that you're going to then provide to your customers.

Stefanie: [00:11:29] Yeah, and you have, you know, a universal cart. So at the end of the day, you can take a look and see where you're buying from all of your different brands and say, "Is this really all going to fit together?" And a lot of what we do, from a merchandising standpoint, is like we try to help our retailers merchandise across brands also. It's like, you know, the same way that you might get a fall promotional email from someone, you'll get one from us to like, "Hey, here's some great products for your store for holiday.".

Brian: [00:11:53] Wow. I love that. Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:11:54] And they don't necessarily fit in one brand. It's like we know that you don't think about your store in one brand, we're not going to think about your buying experience in one brand only.

Brian: [00:12:00] I'm just curious. Like, what are you built on? Are you completely custom, or are using marketing automation software?

Stefanie: [00:12:06] We're completely custom.

Brian: [00:12:07] You're 100 percent custom?

Stefanie: [00:12:07] Yeah.

Brian: [00:12:08] That's an effort.

Stefanie: [00:12:09] It is. I mean, it's what makes us a tech company. So everything's built from the ground up.

Brian: [00:12:12] Wow. Wow. Interesting. And everyone has to have an account to purchase, right? You can't just go on there and browse as a consumer, obviously.

Stefanie: [00:12:20] Correct.

Brian: [00:12:20] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:12:20] Yeah. So, I mean, we've made the choice to keep everything behind the login wall. For us that I think like fits in the spirit of what we're doing, because, you know, brands are putting up product that aren't even necessarily available yet. Everything is built for wholesale in terms of wholesale pricing, wholesale case quantities.

Brian: [00:12:36] Yep.

Stefanie: [00:12:36] You know, everything kind of fits the B2B model. And on top of that, we want to make sure that... Because we stand behind every brand that we sell. We also stand behind every retailer that it's on our platform. So we do a lot of that vetting that a brand would do on their own if they were to get a new application for an account.

Brian: [00:12:52] That's great.

Stefanie: [00:12:53] Like we want to make sure that they know when they receive an order from Fitzroy, they know who they're getting it from, and that they're excited about getting into that store, and that they don't have any questions around is this person going to sell on Amazon? Are they going to respect [00:13:05] map? [00:13:06] All of those issues that are, you know, really, I would say like hot button topics for retailers and brands today.

Brian: [00:13:12] Speaking of Amazon, I feel like you're... Amazon's moved into the B2B space pretty heavily. Are you competing with Amazon?

Stefanie: [00:13:24] Yes. I think anyone that sells anything, if you sell it online in some way, you're competing with Amazon whether you know it's or not.

Brian: [00:13:32] Interesting. Interesting.

Stefanie: [00:13:32] And you should probably at least keep an eye on it and be aware of it. So, you know, we're not head to head competitors. I don't think, I'm pretty sure Jeff Bezos doesn't wake up in the morning and think, you know, top five things... "How do we sell more children's products B2B?" But, as you said, they have moved more aggressively into B2B sales. I think one of the things that they realize is those customers that they have also have professional lives that they can help outfit.

Brian: [00:13:56] Right.

Stefanie: [00:13:57] So we keep an eye on them. Absolutely. You know, but I would say that goes really for anyone who's selling B2B online or offline. We want to make sure that we do have a differentiated experience, that we have a great customer service experience that, you know, at the end of the day, people come just because they want to support different and buy wholesale in a way that's modern, easy, and fun.

Brian: [00:14:16] Makes sense. Yeah, I think... And you say that, Jeff Bezos is not like waking up in the morning thinking, "Oh, what's Fitzroy doing?" But now that you're...

Stefanie: [00:14:26] If he does, I hope he sends me an e-mail.

Brian: [00:14:29] Well, now that you're expanding into other areas, I mean, that's you know, that is kind of touching on where Amazon is right now. And so you actually kind of will start to head into that head to head range soon in someways.

Stefanie: [00:14:45] Closer and closer.

Brian: [00:14:47] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:14:47] Everything we do still has a focus on a little one, on home, on family, on mom, on baby. But, you know, in addition to I would say, like other toy products... So play, we also do home, with like decor and kitchen entertaining and wellness. We do gear in terms of mealtime and feeding and sleep time and all of those things. So, yes, as we kind of...

Brian: [00:15:06] Amazon started in books. Think about that.

Stefanie: [00:15:10] Yeah. Absolutely. I'm a big believer in you can pick one vertical and do it really well and see where else that you can go. But I think for us, the other way that we think about it, too, is in addition to just selling more product, if we're working with small business on both sides of our platform, how else can we help small business? What other pain points do they have that we can help address through technology? Like if this first one is around discovery and purchasing, great, what else can we do? So, you know, we definitely think about it that way, as well. And then I would also say, like the other way that we really think about it is from a curation standpoint, from a design standpoint, how can we really differentiate ourselves? Because especially I would say, like with Amazon, it's a pretty standard experience, you know, across the board. And we want to make one that is, I would say a little bit more elevated.

Brian: [00:15:58] How big is your catalog? You don't have to answer.

Stefanie: [00:16:00] So it's pretty big. {laughter}

Brian: [00:16:04] Big.

Stefanie: [00:16:04] Somehwere between big and pretty big.

Brian: [00:16:06] Okay.

Stefanie: [00:16:06] So we work with over 100 different children's lines.

Brian: [00:16:08] Wow.

Stefanie: [00:16:10] And we work with a couple of thousand retailers.

Brian: [00:16:12] Wow. Great. That's awesome. Everything that you're saying right now just is the polar opposite of everything that I read about in Sucharita Kodali's new book that's coming out on Toys R US. Toys R US would go to these shows, to these toy shows, the industry shows, and then they would look at all this cool stuff, and then they would end up just buying the same twenty toy vendors. And so what would a great time to come in and say, here's a different way to think about toys.

Stefanie: [00:16:50] Yeah, I mean, so I haven't had a chance to read her book.

Brian: [00:16:51] I don't think it's quite released yet. Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:16:54] But I'm looking forward to it. With Toys R US, obviously having been the big player in the vertical for so long is someone that people are always, or were always thinking about. I feel that actually really opens an opportunity. And one of the things that has been interesting as we see our retail graph grow is the type of space that thinks about themselves as a children's products retailer. So it wasn't an issue of connecting toy brands to toy stores. It was more of a "Hey, you're a retailer who wants to stock children's products. How do you do it?" Whether you are a toy store, a gift store, a stationery store, a restaurant, a hobby store, a museum, you know, if you're first floor, ground floor, retail and you want children's product, and especially in that case that it's not most of what you do, you don't have a buyer who's scouring trade shows.

Brian: [00:17:42] Right.

Stefanie: [00:17:43] You don't have a buyer that has the time to figure out, you know, what's new and up and coming to merchandise in a way that has new product. Things like that. And so for us, like, we really see that as an opportunity where it's like, how do we help folks who want to get into the space do that?

Brian: [00:20:58] One thing you were telling me about that also caught my eye, or my attention, and I should say. It was really, I think a big part of how commerce is going to work in the future is the ability to sort products by value. And like how its sourced and what it's made out, and so on. How do you see values impacting business practices and shopping habits?

Stefanie: [00:21:25] Yeah. I mean, I think going forward we're working with a customer, whether it's B2B or as a result the end customer of a parent or a mom or whoever is purchasing who really cares about transparency in terms of what they're buying. They're not necessarily going to grab just the lowest cost option. They want to be able to stand behind whatever they're bringing into their home. And so for us, like for our retailers, we want to make sure that they can shop in that same way, as well. So we do have values that you can shop by, so you can shop by organic and eco friendly products. You can buy products from companies that are women led and women founded. You can buy products that are made in the USA. So, you know, for us, it's something where we want to make it easy to surface that information that if you do have that philosophy, if that's your point of view in terms of curation, because it's important to you, and you think it's important for the customer who comes in your door. It's easy to find that info, right? It's like it's not you having to dig for it to try to piece together different brands that are able to support that mission. We're here to kind of help you proactively do that.

Brian: [00:22:26] Do you think more retailers are starting to put an emphasis on this?

Stefanie: [00:22:30] I hope so. We see it in our data, and I personally hope so as well, because I think it's so important. Especially in this day and age, if you're not Target, you're not Walmart, you want to make sure that you have differentiated product however you define that. And if it is by a value, then it should be easy for you to shop in a way that matches it.

Brian: [00:22:51] Do you pass that product data on to your retailers? Is there an easy way for them to take your product data along with the fact that it's made in USA, it's organic and so on, and then pass those over as attributes that they can then display to their customers, whether it's in store or online?

Stefanie: [00:23:10] Yes. So we do. We don't do it in a dashboard. One of the things that we found with our user is they're often wearing a lot of hats, and there are not enough hours in a day and certainly not enough hours to sit in front of a brand new dashboard and try to figure out data. So a lot of what we do with our technology is actually pre-digested for them and try to serve it up at the right time. So then that way, they have the information that they need to make a well-informed purchasing decision without having to crunch the numbers themselves.

Brian: [00:23:37] Makes sense. Yeah, yeah, it's true. A lot of the brands that I interact with, people are winning a lot of hats. And so having that information available to them at the right time, in the right way is really important. So I think that's really cool, as well. Well, one of the things that has been a big topic of conversation for the past couple of years now is this whole retail apocalypse nonsense that's been happening. And pretty much everyone agrees that wasn't really the end of retail. Steve Dennis called it the end of boring retail, which I appreciated that. But we're obviously at some sort of state of transition in the industry. And so how would you categorize what we're experiencing and especially from a wholesale perspective, has it affected you at all? What's happening there?

Stefanie: [00:24:29] Well retail is changing. I think that's great that it's changing because I think that it offers a lot of new experiences and new ways of sort of thinking about traditional models. And at the end of the day, the consumer wins because they're able to have these new options that are out there. In terms of how it's impacted us, what I think we're seeing is there was a lot of buzz about going direct to consumer. And I think now you see an entire class of companies that were built on a direct to consumer model or, you know, essentially like a digitally native vertical brand, start playing with offline retail and brick and mortar retail. And I think that's because there is a cycle there where one reinforces the other. Yes, you have to understand how to sell online. You have to invest in that. But at the same time, there's a value to still having a physical presence where people can walk through the door, take a look at product, play with it, understand it. And one ends up reinforcing the other where maybe someone make that purchase at that physical point, maybe someone goes back and makes a purchase online, one or the other. But, you know, they have to grow together. You can't just invest in one without the other.

Brian: [00:25:35] Makes sense. Yeah, I know. I love that. A couple of other questions. I want to go back to your history for a minute. And you know, it's really cool what you've been able to build. It's a woman-led company, which was amazing. And, you know, you're building a really unique model. I've never heard of anything like this out there. A couple of questions. First of all, do you see any competition out there for what you're doing? And then after that, maybe kind of dive into a little bit about who inspires you, what's your like constant inspiration and motivation? And, you know, obviously, as you expand from Fitzroy Toys to Fitzroy, what are some of the things in the market that are really capturing your attention as you move forward?

Stefanie: [00:26:29] Yeah.

Brian: [00:26:32] That's a lot of questions. Sorry.

Stefanie: [00:26:32] One at a time.

Brian: [00:26:33] Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:26:33] Competition. Yes. We absolutely have competitors. Because, you know, the pain point that we're solving is brands want to be able to sell their stuff wholesale. And they're trying to figure out how to do it. So it's like they will do it in a lot of different ways. For some of them, they'll have a homegrown wholesale site that they've built themselves.

Brian: [00:26:52] Right.

Stefanie: [00:26:52] For others, you know, they'll go to a Shopify. And because they're already using Shopify for essentially their direct to consumer site. And so they'll kind of put together a password protected wholesale version. You know, we want to be able to offer a better experience than that because we're a tech company that's solely focused on B2B wholesale. We also you know, it's like Etsy used to have wholesale. They actually shut that down this year. So there's some people in, I would say, like the consumer facing B2C world who kind of have wholesale as a tack on, if that makes sense.

Brian: [00:27:20] Yeah. That's what I'm hearing is like basically you don't have any direct competitors. It's more like you're competing with individual pieces out there that kind of make up what you're doing. But there's not another Fitzroy Toys out there.

Stefanie: [00:27:34] Yeah, absolutely. And I always say our biggest competitor is paper. Because I think a lot of tech companies underestimate just how great paper actually can be. Like the bar that you have to hit to be better than it. Right? Because at the end of the day, it's like, you know, if you print something in a catalog, you do it the exact way that you want to do it. And it's perfect based on your specifications. It's not you as a brand or a retailer trying to fit an existing process into, you know, a tech pathway. So we definitely... I always think about it as how can we be better than that as a process, too?

Brian: [00:28:07] Than paper. That's so funny. In the world of direct to consumer commerce, the idea of competing with paper is almost gone. It's so interesting. And then I think that's why there's such an intense focus on B2B right now, because that's it. You're competing with paper. You're competing with faxes.

Stefanie: [00:28:24] Yeah.

Brian: [00:28:25] And like catalogs and all these things that you feel like...

Stefanie: [00:28:29] And we have a fax line, just to be clear. We have a fax line.

Brian: [00:28:30] You have to.

Stefanie: [00:28:32] That being said, we're very proud that no one has ever used it.

Brian: [00:28:37] There you go.

Stefanie: [00:28:37] It means we're offering a good experience.

Brian: [00:28:39] Good. Good. Yeah, that's awesome.

Stefanie: [00:28:40] But we have that because we also understand that for like a lot of our users, like you mentioned, you know, retail is in a time of transition. So we have folks who are brand new to the industry in terms of buyers. And we also folks who are using us who have been buying in the industry for 30 plus years.

Brian: [00:28:53] Right.

Stefanie: [00:28:53] And so we just want to make sure that as we introduce them to our way of how we think wholesale should be done, that we're not saying that that's the right way. It's just another way of doing it. And we want to make sure that there's an accessibility regardless of what you're comfortable with as a buyer.

Brian: [00:29:08] That's supersmart. You much word accessibility, too. That's a big trend right now in the industry, in e-commerce in general. I'd be curious if you've started to, it's not exactly what you were referring to, but have you started to introduce any accessibility practices into your online experience? And, you know, has that...

Stefanie: [00:29:32] Can you be more specific?

Brian: [00:29:34] Like ADA compliance.

Stefanie: [00:29:36] Got it.

Brian: [00:29:37] Yeah, sorry. I totally went in another direction there.

Stefanie: [00:29:40] Yeah. So we're working towards it. You know, I would say, and this is not a question that you're asking, but one of the things that has been really fun about the space that we're in is, I would say accessibility for products. So a lot of the toys that we actually originally started with, we were able to work with retailers for children with special needs and learning disabilities.

Brian: [00:30:00] Wow. That's amazing.

Stefanie: [00:30:01] And so one of the things that we're able to do was essentially to help merchandise product that most buyers didn't realize could be a really good fit for kids with learning disabilities. And actually if you look at, you know, the way that this product develops sensory skills, develops open ended play, things like that, like it could be really like a great fit for a specific needs. And like that was kind of one of our early views into values. I know that's not exactly what you meant by accessibility, but that's kind of like where we got started.

Brian: [00:30:28] No, that's great. I love that. I love that. And again, you're surfacing that data to your buyers.

Stefanie: [00:30:32] Yeah. Yeah.

Brian: [00:30:33] So that's really important, that discovery and making things equitable. That's amazing. Yeah and back to your kind of original point, you know, addressing the iPhone user and the paper user and like making that a seamless experience where neither of them needs to be trained on what you're providing for them. And it's just easy for them use regardless. That's phenomenal.

Stefanie: [00:30:59] And you had two questions. You had a competition question. What was the other one? Remind me.

Brian: [00:31:03] My other one was. So who...

Stefanie: [00:31:04] Who do I look up to? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.

Brian: [00:31:07] Who are you looking up to, and what are you looking out into the market that's inspirational?

Stefanie: [00:31:09] Yes. I mean, you know, this is recent news, right? Like Jack Ma is kind of taking a slightly different role at Alibaba.

Brian: [00:31:16] Yes. Yeah.

Stefanie: [00:31:16] I absolutely kind of look at everything that he's done and he's built. And I think it's pretty amazing. We were talking about another hero of mine. Remy from Ratatouille.

Brian: [00:31:27] Yes, I love that.

Stefanie: [00:31:27] I definitely look up to him because he's a little guy who dare to dream big. Definitely bootstrapped his business.

Brian: [00:31:34] Yeah. Exactly.

Stefanie: [00:31:35] There was a lot there as Remy, the entrepreneur. But I think for me, like, I really look up to storytellers across the board. I think that regardless of the experience that you are offering, it's important that you know how to tell that story because people have a choice. And I think people have to want to, at the end of the day, use your service or your product or whatever it is that you're selling. And so a lot of the people that I look up to, I would say, aren't necessarily traditional tech executives. But more on the storytelling side.

Brian: [00:32:03] I love that. Wholesalers out there... Listen up. You need to be focused on storytelling. It doesn't matter who you're selling to or when you're selling or how you're selling or your business model, you need to be telling a story about the products and then your business.

Stefanie: [00:32:20] Absolutely.

Brian: [00:32:21] Yeah. I love that. That is such good advice. Yeah. And then what about out in the market? Is there anything out there that you look up to for inspiration? You mentioned, Alibaba's one. Anything else out there that's like, "Man, I love that that feature," or "I love that tool." Actually. How about this? Have you seen anything at the show where you're like, "Oh, that's cool. I'm really interested in that," or heard something at the show?

Stefanie: [00:32:48] Well, I'll be honest. I've had the chance to walk the floor, yet.

Brian: [00:32:49] Ok. I'll have to follow up with you then.

Stefanie: [00:32:53] Exactly. So we'll do a follow up on that. I will say, I'm excited to see what the guys at Handi are doing. We're all business school friends. So it was like it was cool to see their booth on the floor and like looking forward to kind of catching up with them as they kind of think through, you know, just extending their model from where they started. Which I think is really cool. You know, in terms of other companies that I look up to, you know, I think that there's a lot of interesting retail models that are out there. So Story, which, you know, got bought by Macy's this year, I think has done an amazing job of pulling together an experience in the store. At the same time, you know, really in a way kind of is like a masterclass in merchandising. And both in terms of the in-store experience and building out the product that's around it. Looking at kind of what b8ta has done with their thoughts around like retail as a service, I think are super interesting. That's another... Macy's seems to be kind of scooping things up left and right these days.

Brian: [00:33:52] Macy's been making moves. I love it.

Stefanie: [00:33:53] That's another Macy's investment. But, you know, it's been really interesting to see that company grow, as well. And that's obviously a very different model, too. I've definitely kept an eye on kind of what are those companies that are kind of bridging online and offline. I think what Bulletin is doing in New York is super interesting, as well.

Brian: [00:34:11] I haven't seen that yet. I'm always interested. I'll have ot look that up. What are they doing?

Stefanie: [00:34:14] So Bulletin is pulling together. They have two stores and one flagship in New York now. But, you know, they're also kind of, I would say, like a twist on almost like a b8ta like showroom model, retail as a service, like a way for brands to, you know, test to test offline and to be able to kind of have access to brick and mortar.

Brian: [00:34:32] So do they have like test products in the store and then you can order them and they get shipped to your house? Or do they have inventory?

Stefanie: [00:34:38] They have... It's a mix. They have some inventory. They have some dropship. But, you know, it's a really well thought out, well curated group of brands. They stand for a lot of values, so a lot of women led brands that are kind of all in the same place. So I really kind of love what the two founders there are doing. But yeah, there are a couple there. Definitely. I'm always looking to see what else people are doing. You know, I think also from a retail standpoint, it's been super interesting to see retail bleed into non-traditional retail sectors. So even with like a WeWork. The way that they've opened up, WeWork market and taken the honesty market into a much bigger space and formalized it, and use it as a way to not just showcase their own users and their own kind of like tenants, but at the same time also service their users. I think that's great. So there's a lot out there.

Brian: [00:35:30] Yeah, there is. No, I think retail is... I mean, that's the thing. Big brands right now are having to get really scrappy. And that's why Macy's is acquiring Story and others. Because, and actually it was at the Big Show, I think was two years ago when Richard Branson was like, "You big brands, you need to get cheeky." You need to get scrappy and cheeky and like, get out there and act like you're a startup, because if you don't, startups are going to come along and people who have innovative ideas are going to come along, build something from the ground up that's going to, you know, instead of trying to modify something that already exists...

Stefanie: [00:36:11] Especially with their own product.

Brian: [00:36:13] Yes.

Stefanie: [00:36:13] I think you see it, you know, with like Glossier, or Allbirds, or Casper, you know, folks who have such a specific vision for what on-brand means in terms of an offline experience. And so they know exactly what they want. They're going gonna go out there and build it themselves. I think there's obviously an opportunity for existing retailers to be able to co-create those experiences because at the end of the day, not every brand is going to be able to fully dive in to rolling out however many stores.

Brian: [00:36:41] So give me some recommendations for merchants in the near term. Like if you were thinking about being a retailer, one of your retailers, and you wanted to give some good advice to one of them... You're probably doing this already. What would you say?

Stefanie: [00:37:00] I would say double down on your strengths. If you're in retail, you have a local presence in a community, a physical presence, and double down on that. You're able to have an interaction with a user in person every day that they walk through the store. And so that's something that, you know, even Amazon is always going to have at an arm's length away, like with all the data that they have. You have the ability to create an experience in your store, whatever type of store that is, whatever community or part of, that is different and has a point of view. And you should double down on that. Now is the time to take that gold swing. It's not a time to kind of middle ground it. There is a reason why you're still excited to be in retail and why you wanted to start that store in the first place. So, you know, I would say lean even further into that instead of leaning away from.

Brian: [00:37:48] Yeah. Don't try to be Amazon.

Stefanie: [00:37:50] No. Don't try to be Amazon at Amazon's game. Play your own game and be good at that instead.

Brian: [00:37:57] I love that. What about long term like looking out in the next three to five years? And that's so hard to predict that far out. But like, is there some technology or business strategy...

Stefanie: [00:38:05] So two things I would say, like, you know, one, think about that last mile problem, you know, in terms of same day delivery. How do you kind of introduce and partner with additional technologies that are trying to help you introduce being able to offer convenience to your user? So that I'd say is step one. And then two, in terms of the long term, is start thinking about what experience means to you. There's definitely a trend of pop ups and has been for a while. But at some point in time, that trend will also, as all things go up, will also come down. So start thinking about like what does a pop up mean for you once people are sick of pop ups? You're still gonna need to offer some sort of in-store experience that gets people excited about kind of coming out and being that foot traffic. So, you know, it can't just be a trunk show or this or that. It's like think about kind of whatever that means. And also don't be afraid to have that means something different for you, like something that if you're a co-working space, a WeWork, that's gonna be something totally different than if you're a museum store. It's gonna be something totally different if you're a hobby store. Don't just jump on a bandwagon. Make sure to interpret it through your lense.

Brian: [00:39:14] Oh, my gosh. I love that. That's a great way to end this. Thank you so much, Stef, for coming on.

Stefanie: [00:39:16] Thank you for having me. This was so much fun.

Brian: [00:39:18] Yeah. Where can people connect with you?

Stefanie: [00:39:22] So, you know, Fitzroytoys.com is still our URL. That's kind of the easiest way, especially if you're a brand or if you are a retailer. You can always email me directly. So stefanie@fitzroytoys.com especially if you're looking to connect again on the platform. That's probably the easiest way.

Brian: [00:39:41] Okay, great. Well, as always, thank you so much for listening to the show. And our listeners are the heart of the show. We always are looking for your feedback. So drop us a line on our site or on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you can find us. And don't forget to subscribe to the show. We always love it. We've got a lot of great content coming up. It's really exciting where we're headed. So please do subscribe. And if you a moment, head over to iTunes and leave a five star for us if you like the show. So thank you so much for listening. And as always, we retail tech is moving fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster. Thanks again, Stef.

Stefanie: [00:40:21] Thank you.

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