Top qual­ity takes pre-owned lux­ury to new level

A stu­dent en­tre­pre­neur who be­gan build­ing his brand at univer­sity is now reap­ing the re­wards

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Small Business Connect - MATTHEW CAINES

JOSEPH McKEN­ZIE was not your av­er­age univer­sity stu­dent. While his class­mates swapped notes to cover for skipped sem­i­nars, he was out trad­ing sec­ond-hand lux­ury watches.

The en­tre­pre­neur’s eBay busi­ness showed such prom­ise that on grad­u­at­ing in 2009, he teamed up with his fa­ther, an ac­coun­tant and am­a­teur art dealer, to turn the side­pro­ject into a fully-fledged com­pany called Xu­pes.

The re­tailer to­day sells oil paint­ings, time­pieces, Her­mès hand­bags and Cartier jew­ellery. “We pride our­selves on hav­ing some of the best pre-owned items in Eu­rope,” says McKen­zie, whose en­ter­prise deals only in high-end brands such as Rolex, Bre­itling, Bul­gari and Chanel.

The firm started out of the fam­ily garage be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to a lo­cal of­fice. “We knew that it was time to move when peo­ple kept turn­ing up at the house to col­lect their pur­chases,” ex­plains the owner.

McKen­zie merged Latin and Greek trans­la­tions for words such as “lux­ury” and “dis­cern­ing” to come up with Xu­pes. “We wanted some­thing a bit am­bigu­ous, but also quirky and mem­o­rable.”

He and his fa­ther ini­tially funded the busi­ness through per­sonal sav­ings, which they used to buy stock and hire a team. “We kept things lean and grad­u­ally rein­vested prof­its back into the op­er­a­tion,” says McKen­zie.

The pair faced a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge in the early years.

“The pre-owned in­dus­try wasn’t very pro­fes­sional when we started,” he re­calls. “Clients want to feel con­fi­dent that what they’re buy­ing has a war­ranty, isn’t fake, is in good con­di­tion and so on, so we of­fer that.”

On the qual­ity con­trol front, Xu­pes has an ex­pert ser­vic­ing team to carry out re­pair and restora­tion work, and it com­bats stolen goods and forg­eries by shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with the po­lice and a hand­ful of global data­bases.

“That’s the big­gest is­sue that faces our sec­tor,” says McKen­zie. He claims that Xu­pes has never sold a coun­ter­feit. “Peo­ple will not buy from you if a cus­tomer has ended up with a fake.”

It’s the kind of thing that can eas­ily harm a start-up in an in­dus­try that is built on pos­i­tive Trust­pi­lot and Google Re­view scores, he adds. “It’s so easy for a busi­ness to be dam­aged overnight by a neg­a­tive re­view – even among a sea of good ones.”

A turn­ing point for the en­ter­prise was mov­ing to its cur­rent home: a re­stored 17th-cen­tury tithe barn on the out­skirts of Bishop’s Stort­ford, Herts.

“It di­rectly shaped our brand,” ad­mits the co-founder. The com­bi­na­tion of a “quintessen­tially Bri­tish” ex­te­rior and a mod­ern in­te­rior gives vis­it­ing cus­tomers both fa­mil­iar­ity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, which has helped Xu­pes to of­fer some­thing away from the “pre­tence” and “pres­sured sales en­vi­ron­ments” of many high-street jew­ellers.

“Ex­pe­ri­ence is so im­por­tant in the lux­ury space,” says McKen­zie. “Some clients will buy at a dis­tance on­line, but many of them want to touch, feel and see the prod­ucts – and the barn was a big step in giv­ing them that.”

McKen­zie wants on­line shop­pers to feel as com­fort­able and re­as­sured.

That starts with a clean and con­tem­po­rary web­site, ex­ten­sive prod­uct de­tails, high-qual­ity images and videos, and a web chat func­tion.

But tak­ing things a step fur­ther is the “Xu­pes Jour­nal”, a blog de­signed like a glossy mag­a­zine. Each post is writ­ten by in-house ex­perts and goes into more de­tail on in­di­vid­ual items (de­sign and brand his­tory, and fa­mous col­lec­tors, for ex­am­ple). Com­plet­ing each ar­ti­cle are shots of mod­els sport­ing the bags and jew­ellery.

“It shows that we ap­pre­ci­ate our prod­ucts as much as our clients, so when they read an ar­ti­cle on a Rolex Day­tona, for ex­am­ple, they’re re­as­sured that we’re as pas­sion­ate about it as them,” says McKen­zie.

“It gives cred­i­bil­ity to what we do, helps clients to make more in­formed pur­chase de­ci­sions, and builds rap­port.”

To­day Xu­pes has 41 staff and an­nual turnover of £6.4m. Early last year, it se­cured £3m in ven­ture cap­i­tal fund­ing from Down­ing to im­prove its IT sys­tems, hire more staff and buy ad­di­tional stock.

The busi­ness has it all to play for, with a re­port by clas­si­fied ad site Gumtree claim­ing that Bri­tons spend an av­er­age of £1,300 a year on sec­ond-hand items – £57.4bn in to­tal.

McKen­zie puts the growing in­ter­est in pre-owned goods down to a de­mo­graphic shift.

Mil­len­ni­als who grew up with the in­ter­net and are used to do­ing lots of re­search be­fore buy­ing are work­ing their way up the ca­reer lad­der and have more money to spend.

They gen­er­ally have a more pro­gres­sive out­look than their par­ents, who would have viewed sec­ond-hand items with sus­pi­cion.

Peo­ple also now see pre-owned goods as good in­vest­ments. “There are lots of lux­ury items out there that you can buy and pretty much guar­an­tee mak­ing money on, with the rest hold­ing their value if you look af­ter them sen­si­bly,” says McKen­zie.

But he of­fers a word of warn­ing for those who see a quick buck: don’t ex­pect overnight riches.

There are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for a small hand­bag or watch dealer, he says, but it’s very dif­fi­cult to build a lux­ury brand fast, be­cause it’s all about pres­tige, which can’t be built in a day.

Joseph McKen­zie has built a com­pany with turnover of £6.4m

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.