It has been a busy week for independent retail marketplace, StreetHub, which has announced a $2.6 million funding round led by Octopus Investments, as well as a new name for its consumer facing brand – Trouva.

Speaking to one of its co-founders, Maxim Berglund, Essential eCommerce learns how the start-up has spent a great deal of effort building a community of boutique retailers, visiting and learning about their individual needs.

"We've spent a lot of time walking into shops, meeting them face-to-face to understand their pain points and how we can solve them," says Berglund.

Now working with around 300 shops in London and Brighton, StreetHub provides a marketplace exclusively for boutique stores. Berglund says the idea came about after seeing how many independent shops were situated in East London's Shoreditch. But he and his co-founders realised they they were not easy to find, or did not have every item a shopper was looking for.

"The majority of our retailers have their own websites, but that doesn't mean they are selling anything through it," adds Berglund. "We've built Trouva with independents in mind; it's very simple to use and retailers get started by uploading the initial list of products and managing everything themselves online."

StreetHub takes a commission of each sale made through the Trouva platform, and a setup fee.

One gift shop, called Rigby & Mac, claims Trouva has helped boost sales by 10%, while Berglund says another boutique in St Albans has closed almost £10,000 worth of sales in the last month.

"That can make a difference between life and death for independents," he adds. "The core part of our mission is to help them."

After hunting out the best boutiques, Berglund says small independent businesses now really impress him. "They put in very long hours and dedicate their lives to their shops. They are true entrepreneurs and do such a wide range of things from merchandising and window displays, to social media and managing their own websites, while staffing the shop and sometimes even designing the goods they sell themselves.

"They are extremely busy people who have to fight with landlords who want to up their rent every year," he adds.

Community of independent retailers

But Berglund, along with his co-founders, Mandeep Singh and Alex Loizou, believe they are building up a community for the "indies".

"We're helping all of these shops go online and become more easily discoverable and we also do things like retail meet-ups to enable them to share learnings as well," he explains, as he goes on to say how StreetHub is a big change from his previous role in private equity.

Additional digital services

One retail technology feature Trouva provides its retailers with is a click & collect service.

"It's not only about delivering online sales for them, but getting people to visit the store. We allow click & collect which our shops really like because it drives footfall."

Berglund notes how well the bigger retailers like John Lewis have got behind multichannel technologies like click & collect, "but the smaller independents are slightly behind".

"We wanted to develop technology to, not only bring them up to par, but enable them to offer better solutions than bigger retailers, such as providing their customers with 60-minute delivery if they live locally to the shop."

Sight of inventory

StreetHub is able to offer these services through its personally developed platform by tapping into the boutique's inventory, which Berglund says is much easier to keep up-to-date than larger retailers.

"If you're working in your own shop, you're dealing with a couple of hundred products, so you'll probably manage your inventory on a simple system, but you'll always have a sense of what is in and what is out of stock," he explains. "The issue with bigger retailers is they don't really have stock data because their in-store systems are quite old and not very accurate."

Berglund also said a few of his clients do not use any systems for their inventory, apart from a pen and a piece of paper. This is where Trouva can become even more valuable than just a sales tool for independents, because when retailers upload their products to the platform, it can also be used as a stock management tool.

"We're looking to further develop that tool and make it better by allowing retailers to sync their stock levels to their own websites," he explains.

Meanwhile, StreetHub also plans to improve its personalisation techniques to recommend products to customers, while it is also trialling a courier service for shops which not only sends the item, but packages it for them as well.

Mobile

The Trouva marketplace – which was designed in-house by StreetHub's tech team – is fully responsive, and the business also has an iOS app. Trouva sees 50% of its traffic come via mobile devices, but going forward the company plans to concentrate on desktop development over enhancing mobile applications.

"It's easier to get traffic to your website than downloads," explains Berglund. "But the main thing is a matter of resources, we've got a small team of 15 and we'd love to focus on everything, but the desktop and mobile site is the main focus."

International

Once the marketplace survives peak – the onset of which is keeping Berglund up at night – the retailer has set its eyes on international expansion.

"We're ambitious and we'd like to expand internationally soon," he says. "And within five years we want to be in different markets internationally, fulfilling our mission to drive traffic and sales to retailers.

"But I only think six months ahead at any point in time," he laughs. 

*This article was updated on 3 March 2016, to reflect changes to StreetHub's set-up fees.