FREE UK Delivery For Orders Over £50

Close Up Interview - Lee Smith (Rakuten)

October 14, 2013

Close Up Interview - Lee Smith (Rakuten)

FORZA Supplements may be relatively new to the Rakuten platform, but with 300% growth this year alone, they’re not wasting any time catching up. We talked to Managing Director Lee Smith about the secrets of their success.

FORZA joined Rakuten’s Play.com in 2012 but, according to Lee, it has only been in 2013 that they have fully embraced the platform’s opportunities. He says that since the beginning of this year they have given more focus to developing the store and have been reaping the benefits ever since. A manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of some of the UK’s most popular food supplements, FORZA specialises in everything from weight loss and general wellbeing to muscle growth and energy enhancement products.

All products are made from naturally-sourced ingredients and they have established a solid reputation as an honest and trustworthy brand. As a result of its credibility and good quality products, FORZA is publicly supported by a number of UK celebrities and regularly endorsed in some of the country’s biggest news publications. Their PR team is adept at using its insightful research to publish survey findings regularly through national media and specialist press alike, so the business is certainly not lacking in brand awareness. Despite its nationwide coverage, however, driving actual sales has been more of an issue. Engaging fully with the opportunities offered by the Rakuten platform has transformed the business, according to Lee. He says, “Opening our Rakuten’s Play.com store has been massive for us. No other platform gives merchants the same level of control when it comes to webstore personalisation, and we have had so much fun creating something that fits in perfectly with our brand.”  

Taking Control

Control is something that Lee feels is a major benefit of Play.com’s marketplace. As he says, “There is no other platform on which we have experienced such a high level of control. It is also very easy to list products, modify content and personalise the style and layout of the store itself.” As well as the control Lee and his team have over the store, the Rakuten’s Play.com team plays an important role. He says, “After trading primarily on Amazon and eBay for a number of years, we have noticed a huge uplift in pride and passion on the Rakuten team’s part that is just not present with other online marketplace teams.

This makes our job a lot easier and means that we can really enjoy the work that we do with Rakuten - it is never a chore. “One of the most unique things about the Rakuten model is the level of collaboration that is able to take place between us and our representatives. They remain in constant contact and provide us with great ideas for offers and promotions. We really appreciate the hard work that they do on our behalf.” Rakuten aims to empower its merchants at all times and FORZA has definitely seen the benefits of that approach, as well as the company’s tenacious and dynamic attitude. As Lee says, “The Rakuten way of business is primarily concerned with evolution and progress, and is not prepared to stand still and let the competition get ahead. This is something that we also feel very strongly about and, as a company operating in a highly competitive industry, is something that we cannot afford to dismiss.”  

So How Have They Done It?

Using the merchant tools at their disposal and focussing fully on the store, FORZA has tripled the size its business in the last ten months alone. So how exactly have they done it? According to Lee, the biggest impact on sales has come from the participation in General Interest and Deal of the Day email newsletters, which have resulted in some of the best trading days of the year. This now means that inclusion in the Rakuten emails has become a business necessity. Promotional activity is planned on a weekly basis and they use emails to communicate special offers regularly. Lee says, “We experienced a particularly good level of success after getting a great spot on a recent email newsletter, in which we ran a half price offer across our hugely popular weight loss range. It was our most successful day of trading on Rakuten to date.”

The FORZA team is far from complacent when it comes to their product offering as well. Since January 2013, they have expanded their weight loss range from three to twelve products and will be looking to include six more by the end of the year. Lee says, “With new ingredients and research appearing all the time, we have to act fast when we feel that launching a certain product would be successful.” FORZA ensures that it gets plenty of PR attention in the national media to keep the public aware of the brand.

As well as advertising in popular monthly magazines, such as Marie Claire, Essentials and Women’s Fitness, the PR team’s efforts mean regular endorsements by some of the biggest online news publications in the UK, including the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Star and The Sun. Lee comments, “Our products have therefore been publicly supported by a number of UK celebrities, including Made in Chelsea’s Spencer Matthews and former Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallett.

We have also been able to conduct a variety of weight loss related surveys that have all generated lots of national coverage - even sparking debates on the Twitter feeds of This Morning and Loose Women.” The national coverage is brilliant for general awareness, but Lee makes sure that the sales opportunity is not lost in the mix. He says, “We have promoted the opening of our Play.com store within our own marketing and have made sure that we run our best deals and promotions on the Rakuten platform. We are also happy with the way the Rakuten is currently pushing its most popular merchants and guiding customers towards individual stores.”  

Onward and Upward

Of course there are always areas to focus on for development in the future. Lee hopes to see more automated scheduling of product price changes in the future as currently changes for promotions are all made manually. While that can be an advantage, allowing incredibly agile turnaround reactions for getting promotions live, it can make things quite work-intensive. But in terms of design and storefront, Lee is delighted with the way everything looks and operates on the Rakuten platform.

Any issues that have arisen have always been dealt with promptly and efficiently by the Rakuten team and Lee says he always feels confident that the support is there for the merchants when it is needed. He says, “We are very happy with our current performance as it has allowed us to grow at an incredible rate. We know that there are many areas where our performance can be improved - we want to improve our conversion rates, and we have some work to do making our promotions more appealing to customers.” But the message is clear - FORZA is trading in the right space, and Rakuten’s Play.com has helped to propel their business way beyond expectation this year.  

So What Advice Does Lee Have for Other Merchants Out There?

“The one regret that we have with regard to the Rakuten marketplace is that we did not take more of an active role sooner,” says Lee. “We were present on the site but it was not until recently that we have really become engaged as a merchant and taken advantage of everything that the marketplace has to offer. Our advice to other merchants would be to put in as much time and effort as possible, because with Rakuten you will see immediate results in terms of sales performance. The system is easy to grasp, the people are very friendly and always on hand to help, and the high level of progress that can be made makes working with Rakuten fun and enjoyable.”  

Now we know all about FORZA, but here are a few things that you didn’t know about Lee Smith Favourite Film:

Anything Woody Allen otherwise it has to be crazy action films like The Expendables for the fun. I can’t handle horror movies as I get too scared.

Favourite Band or Album:

All rock music. I’m an old school rocker at heart. I also really like country music.

Favourite Book:

I loved Driving over Lemons by Chris Stewart and I am about to read A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

Favourite Quote:

“We pray that others don’t find our strengths too intimidating and that they don’t mistake our kindness for weakness. Go forward and excel despite your fears. It’s what we do, it’s who we are and we won’t feel guilty for it.”

Favourite Place in the World:

I love Las Vegas but, as I’m getting older, I enjoy eating Tapas in Madrid.

Favourite Hobby or Interest:

I love to cook. It relaxes me and brings me down from a hard day’s work.  

Rakuten Dream - Empowerment Magazine (Autumn-Winter 2013)





Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.