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Boxing clever - ToyNews

Boxing clever

Firebox.com is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. What started out as an attic-run internet business in Cardiff has evolved into a multi-million pound venture. Helen Jacobs traces the firm?s development?
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Firebox has made identifying the latest trends in consumer products its mission over the last ten years. It prides itself on bringing the latest gadgets, games and gifts to the market ahead of its high street competitors.

And, on entering its 10th anniversary year it is determined to maintain, if not better, the significant growth rates it has experienced, particularly in the last eight years.

Christian Robinson, managing director of the gifts and gadgets-fuelled business, believes it all comes down to the right mix of people, technology and products.

“We have a fantastic team at firebox.com who give world class service and provide worldwide fulfilment. And of course, we find the very best products.

“There’s also the correlation between broadband in the UK and online consumers. We’re now able to show richer content online and consumers are shopping a lot more online, and moving into purchasing higher ticket items,” Robinson says.

Robinson joined the business in its infant years, back in 2000, when it was known as Hotbox.co.uk, until it was discovered that a US adult entertainment site had a similar name. It was a significant time as both online firms were setting up and consumers were still being introduced to the new concept of shopping online.

“It was incredibly, incredibly exciting. We thought, ‘what if we could take it one step further so customers could upload photos and videos of themselves playing with products?’ and this was long before You Tube,” Robinson says.

“I think the fastest we brought a product to market was about two days, from initially seeing it, to securing stock, taking photography and uploading our review onto the site. And we aim to keep that much spirit and momentum about us today,” he says.

The firm’s top selling products have included Silverlit’s Picoo Z Micro RC Helicopter, Mattel’s 20Q and Master Replica’s Star Wars Force FX Light Saber, but Robinson insisted there is plenty more than just toys at Firebox.

“It’s an interesting point, but it hasn’t been a conscious effort to increase the number of toys that we sell or to become a ‘traditional toy retailer’. We want to sell products that we as consumers would buy; that when you look at them the right way they’re ideal for adults as gifts,” he says.

“Age compression, that is kids getting older younger, and convergence means that manufacturers are including more technology in their products which means they actually appeal to a wider spectrum of buyers,” he adds.

The firm relies heavily on word of mouth to generate and increase sales, investing in brightly coloured packaging and free packs of retro sweets with every purchase.

“We want to make the experience as remarkable as possible,” Robinson says. “We’ve also had very successful marketing partnerships with Carling and Nestle with their Kit Kash promotion.”

But the online retailer, which came 44th on the Retail Bulletin’s January Website Rankings of 100 Retailers, endured tumultuous times during 2000 – 2001. The young firm quickly put its expansion plans aside as many online retailers were forced to close when the dot com bubble burst.

“One thing that did save us is that we didn’t raise a lot of funding, unlike other e—tailers, so we didn’t have huge budgets to begin with – when the bubble burst we tightened our belts and reigned our more ambitious plans back in.

“In retail, there are obviously some key metrics you have to watch and keep on top of. We became very skilled at forecasting and meticulous in executing our plans,” he said.

“It felt like a huge achievement when the business started to achieve regular profits and we were determined to never let ourselves get into that situation again.”

Since then Firebox has grown its turnover from a £400,000 loss in 2001 to an estimated £12 million in 2007. A US version of the website has launched along with the opening of a US warehouse and customer service centre.

“I’m absolutely delighted and incredibly excited about the future. There’s still a huge amount of growth potential – we’re still only scratching the surface,” Robinson says.

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