Meet the multinational retail software firm that looks set to dominate the market

Reports | Technology

The retail sector is currently experiencing drastic changes. With the rapid rise of e-commerce, the well-documented struggles of the high street, and the impact of Brexit – the sector hasn’t ever seen this level of disruption.

One of the companies looking to take advantage of the evolution of the retail sector is Brightpearl – a multichannel retail operations platform for large wholesalers and brands – whether they are online, instore, or both.

Brightpearl’s platform offers a wide array of useful tools to help retailers manage their stock and orders, and help facilitate growth.

FROM SURFING TO SOFTWARE

The company was founded in 2008 by entrepreneur Chris Tanner, who was previously selling surfing and skateboarding equipment – but soon realised the mounting challenges of the operations side of the business – especially as the company grew.

The company became an established tech partner for many small merchants in the UK, but three-and-a-half years ago, Brightpearl appointed Derek O’Carroll to lead the company as its new CEO. From that point on, the company experienced exponential growth across the world.

O’Carroll comments: “I joined with a remit from the board to take the company onto a faster pace of growth and success. Since joining, we have invested $10m (£7.7m) to capitalise on the foundation that Chris had built and we are now serving over 1,000 companies, in 20 countries across the world. Our platform is now processing over $2.5bn (£1.95bn) in invoice orders, for those customers, every year. The average rate of growth for customers on our platform is 30% year-on-year, which is counter to the normal doom and gloom story you hear from UK retail.

“People are saying that UK retail is dying – it’s not – it is just being disrupted. And we are central to that disruption.”

Today, the company now has almost 100 employees with 50% of the business in North America, and the other 50% spread across nine countries – with the HQ remaining in the UK.

But, what has driven Brightpearl’s growth?

REPURPOSE AND REPOSITION

The company’s initial plans for when O’Carroll joined was to change the strategy and take a larger market share within the retail sector.

He explains: “Brightpearl had built a significant amount of technology and capability, which was well suited to bigger merchants. All I did was reposition the business to serve these larger merchants – that is essentially what has changed over the last few years.”

However, this move alone has resulted in significant growth for the company. Order values on the Brightpearl platform have increased by over 700% when compared to four year’s ago.

Year-on-year new business growth is running at 75% across the world – and the growth in the US is over 100% year-on-year growth. The growth year-on-year is 40% in the UK.

BRIGHTPEARL IN BRITAIN

The growth is softer in the UK though, due to all the challenges across the retail sector and the general uncertainty in the market.

O’Carroll believes that merchants who are planning on taking advantage of that and disrupt the market with a high-quality service across multiple retail channels – both physical and online – are the ones that are winning and largely driving the firm’s growth.

He said: “Brands that are real disruptors in their own right tend to be the ones that are joining the Brightpearl platform and leveraging our tech to achieve their own growth.”

The company’s tech isn’t just helping firms grow, but also make plans for their future, due to extensive capabilities Brightpearl’s platform can offer.

In order for a large retail business to survive, compete, and ultimately thrive in the sector, they need to embrace and utilise modern tech across the whole company.

O’Carroll comments: “With Brightpearl, our clients get the vendor and the tech provider of the service under the same company. In the modern world, to be successful in this industry, all retailers need to also be tech companies. Companies today that do not have a data-centric approach to marketing and customer service are not going to win.

“Merchants need flexibility, so when they do adopt a technology-centric approach that allows them to play in a cost-beneficial manner, is to decide which channels they are going to activate. They can test different countries and markets at low costs to gauge the appetite for the products in that area. That then gives them a better strategy going forward.

“Through this, the customer can create a unique offering – either retailing online, in store, or both – and this can vary depending on which country they operate in – creating a bespoke retail offering. Having that single platform to run all those varieties of businesses is why Brightpearl have seen such growth in the last few years.”

THE B WORD

Growth at Brightpearl has not come without its challenges – something shared with both the retail and tech sectors. One of the primary challenges the UK operation has faced is Brexit.

When the vote was made back in 2016 that Britain would leave the European Union, Brightpearl made the decision to shift its focus to the USA.

O’Carroll explains: “In the UK, when the Brexit decision occurred, we made the decision to really double-down on the USA – to give ourselves that insurance. Two years ago, we saw a real slow down in the adoption of the platform in the UK, so we decided to rebalance our resources. I then directed nearly all of our investments out of the UK and into the USA. We retained our significant investment in R&D – but maintained minimum investment levels in the UK.”

This was in anticipation of a major decline, however, the implications of Brexit turned out to be nowhere near as bad first expected, and the numbers prove that.

He continues: “The numbers are 40% up year-on-year for new business, which was a massive surprise. I think it was down to the fact that the merchants that choose Brightpearl now are bigger companies, and they tend to be the disruptors within the sector.”

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