Visiting Net-a-Porter felt like going to see the Wizard of Oz - everyone knows about net-a-porter but having a chance to get a peek behind the scenes was geniuinely exciting! We weren’t going to any generic office building though, but ironically enough to the modern-day monument to brick-and-mortar
retailing: the gigantic Westfield London Shopping Centre, which opened in October 2008 as the current financial crisis began to drastically reshape the retail landscape. Net-a-porter has gone from strength to strength though, and somehow it only makes sense that one of the biggest online retailers is situated right in one of the biggest malls in the country - because it situates them close to their customers. We climbed up several flights of stairs, through the big black doors, entering 44,000 square feet of serene white space without walls. This space is the manifestation of Natalie Massenet’s vision of a media company, as she “visualised a large white space with lots of young people working and smiling.”
“I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur…certainly not a businesswomen” but that is exactly what the former editor of WWD and Tatler did. The share price is at least one clear measure of the success of any business, and luxury giant Richemont bought Masset’s shares for £50m this spring. Needless to say, those in attendance were eager to hear from someone who could generate that kind of value in a company.
This was a true multimedia event, and the second of the Fashion Pioneers series from the Business of Fashion editor and founder Imran Amed. There were 200 attendees and several thousand more viewed the event live streamed.
While we waited for the appearance of Natalie & Imran they suddenly appeared projected on the wall and we were guided on a behind-the-scenes tour of Net-a-Porter. Webcams were used for bloggers to ask questions and questions were also received via Twitter. One of the highlights of the event was the Net-a-Porter iPad application, a global BoF exclusive via a 3 minute film.
Natalie Massenet wanted to create an environment where people wanted to come to work and where women wanted to shop. Net-a-Porter is listed as one of the Top 100 companies to work for and many of Natalie’s employees have worked with her right from the beginning. Natalie is always putting herself in her consumers mind, thinking about where women shop - not just at our desks, but increasingly on the move, which is the rationale behind the iPad application. Natalie wanted to create a place just for women and now she’s creating a place for men to shop as well – Mr Porter. It will have it’s own distinct style and focus on mens style and how men shop.
What was most interesting about seeing Natalie Massenet is her attitude - so many businesses lose focus about their customers and their employees, focusing instead on their business, their bottom line. While this is understandable, especially during the economic downturn, it’s also counterproductive because more than anything it’s critically important to continue to think from the customer’s point of view. When Natalie spoke about “overdelivering” it was easy to see that this point of view is paramount at Net-a-porter, and it’s the key to Natalie Massenet’s success in business.