Following record trading in 2013, this year is shaping up to be another milestone for The Hut Group, as the multi-website retailer and brand owner celebrates its 10th birthday.
Matt Moulding, 42, and John Gallemore, 45, started this Cheshire business in 2004 to provide a technology platform for retailers needing ecommerce services, principally selling entertainment products such as CDs and DVDs, and they quickly struck a deal with Asda.
By 2006 the company had switched to powering only its own websites, or acquiring existing sites. It now sells third-party branded or own-brand health and beauty products through websites such as Lookfantastic, Myprotein, Myvitamins and Exante Diet. Last month it bought the classified ads website Preloved. Profits have grown on average 178% a year over the last three years, reaching £10.9m in 2013, before the deduction of some exceptional costs, on £185m of sales.
The Hut Group has continued to invest in its ecommerce technology and logistics platform, and has recently begun planning a new 900,000 sq ft warehouse in Warrington. It now attracts more than 275,000 customers a year throughout the world, via numerous local language and local currency websites, and 50% of its sales come from outside the UK.
In 2011, the company also launched a technology services business, providing software, ecommerce and consumer insight services for media and brand owners. Its clients include Unilever, DMGT and Hearst Media.
The business has attracted some heavyweight investors, including Balderton Capital, Artemis, former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy and M&S’s former head Sir Stuart Rose. The founders have also strengthened the board, appointing Wm Morrison’s former finance chief Richard Pennycook as chairman in March last year. The company is playing down speculation of a stock market listing this year.
The growth of the business has created a new challenge – IT recruitment.
“You have to be the first to spot the talent,” says Moulding.
“So we go to the universities, talk to the professors and meet the parents. We’ll often put people on the payroll a year before they even graduate.”
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