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The online community of 'amazing little shops'

Trouva gives independent retailers the chance to reach beyond the high street

Mandeep Singh

Mandeep Singh

Mandeep Singh

Described by GQ as “the web equivalent of those cool little curated shops you find off the beaten track”, Trouva brings 160 boutiques and more than 38,000 products together on one online platform.

“It’s really important for our customers that what they’re buying comes from a real shop and real people,” says Trouva co-founder and chief executive Mandeep Singh, as the online platform for lifestyle, fashion and homeware independents celebrates its first year in business.

Trouva evolved out of independent retailer network StreetHub, which was established by Singh and co-founders Maxim Berglund and Alex Loizou in 2013 as an app that uses location technology and inventory data to show shoppers what is available in local stores. Trouva takes things one step further by bringing its pick of independents into one place, and giving them tools to compete with multiples and pureplays such as Amazon online.

“I was working at [strategy consultant] OC&C, and we were always looking at how technology was changing the way people shop and the shift to online, which was exacerbated by the recession but was happening anyway,” he says.

There are so many amazing little shops on the high street that can’t invest in technology

Trouva co-founder Mandeep Singh

“The big chains have the resources to respond to things like that but there are so many amazing little shops on the high streets around London and elsewhere that can’t invest in technology in the same way.

“The other thing is that a small store is never going to be a destination online in the same way a big firm can – they simply don’t have the volume and range of stock.”

Trouva now offers more than 38,000 products from 160 boutique partners, 100 of which are in London. The remainder are dotted around the UK from Brighton to Harrogate in North Yorkshire. Singh will not disclose sales figures, but says that partner stores have reported sales exceeding £75,000 through the site.

The start-up has raised around $3.8m (£2.5m) from investors, including Index Ventures – which has backed Farfetch, Asos and Net-a-Porter – Octopus Ventures and Playfair Capital. It plans to expand further regionally within the UK and into Europe early next year. 

“Getting to around 100 stores in London shows proof of concept and now we have really built that community,” says Singh, explaining that Trouva holds events for its partners to network.

There are similarities to Farfetch and the recently relaunched Atterley, which both provide a platform for independent retailers to sell online. Trouva also follows the same business model – retailers pay a joining fee and a percentage of sales – but Singh says it is ita clear identity that sets it apart, as well as its unique blend of fashion and lifestyle.

“Trouva is like shopping London’s best neighbourhood boutiques without the inconvenience of having to go there,” says lifestyle website Refinery 29, while GQ describes the site as “the web equivalent of those cool little curated shops you find off the beaten track”.

“I wasn’t sure to begin with but it has been a great success so far,” says Lorna Fairbrother, owner of Lorna Ruby Clothing in Exeter. “The system is really user friendly, and the marketing is second to none and has helped increase sales. We’ve also gained recognition from brands that want to sell to us, which has been interesting too.”

Digital database

The company helps stores to digitise their inventory so they can provide click-and-collect and one-hour delivery within London. Its courier service also consolidates deliveries in the capital so customers do not receive several packages from different places for one order.

“Of course, this isn’t viable everywhere but where there are clusters of stores such as in Brighton or Edinburgh, it could work,” says Singh.

The system is really user-friendly and the marketing is second to none

Lorna Fairbrother, owner of Lorna Ruby Clothing in Exeter

The site’s fashion offer is mainly targeted at women but it has started to introduce menswear from stores such as Lissom & Muster in Manchester, Percival in London’s Soho and Seagate Hastings in Kent.

David Whitehill, owner of Seagate Hastings, says he only finalised his store a month ago but was selling products through the site before he officially finished his ”shop front”. “That was a good sign,” he says, “and sales have been steady ever since, so it looks promising. They’re very switched on in terms of social media too.”

The site is also attracting attention from overseas. International sales vary month by month, but can be as much as 15% to 20% of total revenues. The US and Australia are the main markets as the site is currently only available in English and sterling but early next year Singh is planning to push the button on further expansion.

“We’ll look to add some stores in Europe first to allow our customers to shop the best of Europe and then roll out further,” he explains. “There are some great curators out there whose passion it is for product and retail and we just want to allow them to continue to do what they love, which is running those stores.”

Its current results suggest that Trouva will make a success of its European expansion, too.

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