Thursday, September 12, 2013


Last week I was I was delighted to have been invited, along with two of my agency pals to a special lunch at Zinc, Federation Square where Megan Quinn was the guest speaker. Best known as one of the co-founders of luxury goods online retailer Net-a-Porter, few are aware Quinn has spread her entrepreneurial wings across multiple businesses over the years. Prior to starting Net-a-Porter, Quinn had worked in advertising and started the cleaning company Partners in Grime during economic difficulties and last year she founded the consultancy firm Q&Co which she didn't really speak about but rather about her involvement with Net-a-Porter during its infancy. 

Born into a family where business was a big part of the picture, Quinn lived and learned business from a young age living in Queensland. She founded Net-a-Porter alongside three others (her friend Natalie Massanet, Massanet's husband Arnaud, and Quinn's former husband Mark) in 1999 before online retailing had taken off. Net-a-Porter as we all know now was one of the few companies to survive the dot com boom and bust.

In the beginning Net-a-Porter raised over three quarters of a million pounds from investors, but by the time the business was sold in 2010 to current owners Richemont for £350 million, it was reported that an original investment of £100,000 was worth just over £4 million. It would seem that growing up surrounded by business-minded people paid off.

In 2003. Quinn shocked her co-founders by deciding to leave the company but with two young children and a desire to spend more quality with them, she felt the business at that stage was self-supporting and just last year, around eight years since she left Net-a-Porter, she entered the working world again and set up a branding consultancy business, Q&Co.

Through Q&Co, Quinn helps businesses with the branding, merchandising and customer service part of their business'.

"It's all to do with the customer experience. I've realised this is an area which is sorely wanting because there has been so much focus on efficiencies and the bottom line. I'm also one for championing staff, staff training and nurturing staff. We deal with everything from merchandising look and feel, customer service and engagement to making sure every channel of the business sticks logistically and everything needs to sing of the ethos of the brand,"

Listening to Quinn throughout the afternoon she spoke about when she was part of establishing Net-a-Porter, they focused on "exceeding customer expectations" from the outset, a mindset she's now injecting into other businesses through Q&Co.

"The central tenant of Net-a-Porter was always to exceed expectations. The expectations of our customers, the expectations of our investors, the expectations of the brands we were dealing with and our own expectations of ourselves."

Quinn says nowadays, businesses are becoming too consumed with the analytics and losing focus of what really drives a business – meeting and exceeding the expectations of the customer. The Net-a-Porter focus was to be the equivalent of reading Harper's BAZAAR or Vogue, like reading a high end luxury fashion magazine, but with the ability to click and buy the products that were on show.

In the late 1990s, the Internet was still developing and not the easy piece of technology it is today. It's available to everyone and back then Quinn found it "disgusting and ugly", so she set out to make it better for women and for all consumers by raising the benchmark, making it clean, fresh and easy to use. Quinn and Massanet envisaged Net-a-Porter from the beginning as a "site for women, designed by women", a replica of a Channel or Gucci store with champagne and hatted doorman, but in an online setting. It had to make everyone special. There was to be no discrimination, no exclusivity. Net-A-Porter was for everyone that wanted to be part of it.

To establish this experience, Quinn invested time and money into the packaging of Net-a-Porter packages to capture the experience of walking down Sloane Street or Bonds Street in London. Each purchase was adorned with bows and rosettes and cost £25 to make, Quinn speaking fondly of the lovely woman that would sit there all day making each and every bow from scratch.

Market research and forward thinking was also essential. Quinn says in 1999, the market only had a 5% saturation of Mac computers, but research told her that 28% of Net-a-Porter customers were Mac users. These people were designers, artists and creative types who they believed would influence the mass public. So from the beginning its website was Mac compatible, automatically setting themselves ahead of the few other existing online retailers.

It was an extraordinary experience to listen to Quinn and I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to her briefly after the talk before rushing back to the office. Still now a week and a bit after the lunch, I am thinking about what she spoke about and if I am being honest it really awoke my love of branding and merchandising. If you ever get the chance to listen to her. Do.

*WINTOUR&GUINNESS was a guest of Adshel Advertising.


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