ValiantCEO Magazine is pleased to introduce Andrew Neelon, the founder, and CEO of 1REC, a platform that supports brands in their physical retail strategies and operations.
Having worked in retail for a majority of his career with DNVBs (Digitally Native Vertical Brands), Andrew has faced unique challenges building and scaling a retail channel from scratch or infancy.
Based on his experiences, Andrew realized that retail is a complicated industry that requires a great network of brokers, landlords, vendors, or counterparts at other brands.
Hence, he founded 1REC to help brands lower the barriers to entry for offline retail by providing various ways to access people and knowledge through consulting/advisory, content, and community
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Andrew Neelon: I’m Andrew Neelon, Founder & CEO of 1REC, a platform that supports brands in their physical retail strategies and operations.
A majority of my career in retail has been with DNVBs (Digitally Native Vertical Brands), where I faced two unique challenges:
- Building/scaling a retail channel from scratch or infancy, and
- Doing it in an environment where e-commerce was the dominant sales channel.
I’ve scaled up (and down) the retail channels for Hudson’s Bay Company, Bonobos, Walmart’s Digital Consumer Brand portfolio (Bonobos, ModCloth, ELOQUII, and Allswell), and most recently Interior Define.
As a former operator myself, I know how hard it is to “do stores” if you’re new to it. Spinning up a new channel is complicated enough: you have to build new teams, strategies, budgets, and processes that likely didn’t exist before – and that’s just to get started! Each new store that is opened or closed then comes with its own sets of all of those, and require increasing amounts of maintenance.
And if you’re a retailer with an established footprint, you’re likely still opening/closing/renegotiating locations, and also trying to measure the relationships between stores and other channels. Regardless of where you are with retail, it’s a complicated channel to build and maintain.
On top of that, throughout all of those experiences I realized that retail is unique as an industry because WHO you know is just as important as WHAT you know. Put another way, you can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t have access to a great network of brokers, landlords, vendors, or counterparts at other brands, then you won’t succeed.
Access to networks is critical because so much of what happens is based on the (often verbal) exchange of information in a highly fragmented professional industry. Despite all the technological advancements in retail and proptech, retail is still a very old-school industry.
These reflections are what fueled me to eventually build 1REC. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and as I noodled on which challenges I want to try solving, I eventually realized I should just try to solve the problem I know the most about: how hard it is to learn and scale retail.
The timing is also pretty advantageous in that DTC brands are finally beginning to realize that (1) digital growth at all costs is no longer accepted, and (2) one of the most effective ways to achieve profitable growth is with offline retail.
I built 1REC as a platform to lower the barriers to entry for offline retail by providing various ways to access people and knowledge. We lower those barriers in three ways: Consulting/Advisory, Content, and Community. This flywheel offers various levels of engagement to help brands open, operate, and even close stores.
If you were in an elevator with Warren Buffet, how would you describe your company, your services or products? What makes your company different from others? What is your company’s biggest strength?
Andrew Neelon: The retail real estate landscape is incredibly fragmented: there are consultants, retail strategists and content creators, and a few professional associations; but they rarely offer more than one way to expand your knowledge or network.
And many of the service providers are also financially misaligned: consulting firms often rely on brokerage services where compensation is directly correlated to how high their clients’ rents are, and professional associations tend to cater more toward landlords, brokers, and vendors.
Unlike most of the services and associations out there, 1REC puts the retailers first: our consulting is not intertwined with brokerage, and our community and content are built with only the retail operator in mind.
Our goal is to help brands become self sufficient as quickly as possible, whether that’s building out playbooks and teams, setting up processes and dashboards, or drawing out data-driven roadmaps. Our biggest strength is our commitment to the mission of lowering the barrier to entry for offline retail.
What advice do you wish you received when you started your business journey and what do you intend on improving in the next quarter?
Andrew Neelon: I actually did get this advice, but I ignored it: don’t be a perfectionist. This was tough for me because I’ve accelerated in my career, in large part, because of how much of a perfectionist I was. And honestly when I got the advice to lean out of that for this venture, I always just thought “well if it’s not perfect then no one will want it.”
The truth is, if you’re just getting started and people are aware of that, then you actually are being given the permission to be imperfect. This isn’t always the case, but is definitely something I think about more recently.
Next quarter, I plan to continue leaning into that mentality of “done is better than perfect.” I have a few other products and services I’d like to launch for 1REC this year, and instead of spending time and money trying to perfect an idea that will inevitably change, I’m going to put out the beta versions sooner and iterate more publicly than privately as I’ve been doing.
Online business keeps on surging higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for the year to come and how are you capitalizing on the tidal wave?
Andrew Neelon: There are a few relevant trends in this context that have already begun and that I believe will persist this year:
1.While B2C retail will undoubtedly continue to be more digitized, consumers are actually expressing a stronger interest in stores now than ever in the last 5 years. In fact, 2022 marked the first year since 2016 where store openings outpaced closures — and the most net openings in at least a decade.
This is largely also due the fact that growing online is very challenging to do profitably now. In short, there’s a strong subset of retailers who will actually become less digitized in their sales channels as they look to grow offline.
2. As brands turn to offline channels for profitable growth, so too will talent, investor dollars, and brands’ capital investments. However, the industry has been, and still is, incredibly fragmented.
I suspect that this will drive significant hunger for access to knowledge and professional networks as new brands try to scale brick and mortar for the first time, and as established operators attempt to keep up with the industry’s technology advancements and talent growth.
3. COVID not only accelerated and amplified the growth of virtual meetings, but also virtual communities – many professional associations have either evolved into, or are now born as, digital communities.
Because the real estate industry is still very much relationship-driven and old school, many associations and events are still in-person. However I suspect this will evolve at an accelerated pace now that the pendulum is beginning to swing from e-commerce to stores, and more digitally-savvy operators are in the workforce.
I’m capitalizing on the convergence of all three of the above trends by building a digital community for retail operators. The mission of the platform is to provide network and knowledge expansion opportunities to aspiring and experienced professionals.
Christopher Hitchens, an American journalist, is quoted as saying that “everyone has a book in them” Have you written a book? If so, please share with us details about it. If you haven’t, what book would you like to write and how would you like it to benefit the readers?
Andrew Neelon: Three years ago I actually started writing what I thought could later become an academic or business book called “Clicks to Bricks: The Playbook.” The goal then is the same as it is now with 1REC: the support retailers’ growth into brick and mortar.
Since starting 1REC, I’m still sort of writing it, but as a piecemeal newsletter (clickstobricksplaybook.com). This is a great way for me to share strategies, frameworks, and templates with readers, and it also gives me the opportunity to write it in a way that I can also gauge which specific topics people find the most interesting.
My goal is to eventually sort and package the newsletter deep dives into a “retail real estate for dummies” type of book in the future.
In your experience, what tends to be the most underestimated part of running a company? Can you share an example?
Andrew Neelon: I think this varies a lot from founder to founder, and even over time with the same founder, but for me it’s been the art of simplifying everything. I have hugely grandiose ideas and visions, but it’s neither financially or strategically advisable to build out the end goal without taking all the intermediate steps to validate and pivot along the way.
My best example is my journey trying to build the community platform. I had a range of features that I wanted built into it, and I decided to start my endeavor by hiring software developers to build me a custom solution (facepalm, I know).
After I got about 25% of the way in, I didn’t like the progress the team was making, and I also realized that I wouldn’t even have the time or resources to manage a custom solution on my own even if they finished it.
I’d previously browsed and trialed about a dozen “community-as-a-service” platforms that could be white labeled, but none of them had the full suite of features I wanted. In retrospect, I should have settled with a smaller feature set as an MVP, and “earned the right” to worry about the more advanced features after gaining some initial traction.
By trying to build something as grandiose as I wanted right from the beginning, I burned cash and time on something that hadn’t even been proven out yet. And as I’ve wrapped up the MVP product, I can finally see and appreciate the value that even this limited version will bring.
Whether it’s a product, a pitch deck, or a piece of content, perfectionism can kill your momentum — and bank account — if you’re not careful.
What does “success” in the year to come mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Andrew Neelon: I would love to see the 1REC Community take off! Building the initial community “network effect” from scratch is incredibly difficult: people join to meet other people, but in the beginning there are no people to attract other people!
And even once members join, the next challenge will be getting them engaged with the platform and each other. I’m not sure how long it will take for it to be self sustaining with user-generated content, but if I can get there in 2023 I’ll be very happy!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Andrew Neelon for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Andrew Neelon or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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