Big Interview: managing director Kristian Bromley

Gadgets and gifts e-tailer is powering a new mobile app that, in the words of its managing director Kristian Bromley, will provide a "get out of jail free card" for people who have forgotten the birthdays of friends and family.

The 'Gift Fix' app, which is an initiative run in partnership with mobile app provider Parcelgenie and caters for impulse buys and last-minute gifts, is arguably mCommerce in the truest sense of the word as it allows customers to purchase gifts before informing the intended recipient via a personalised SMS message.

Users choose a recipient from their phone's contact list, select from around 50 gifts and add a message, before paying. The recipient then receives an instant alert, accepts their gift via text message, and replies to Firebox with their delivery address.

"I think our challenge is to try and find the emotional pull of what it can offer," Bromley explained to Essential Retail.

"It's no good just saying here's another way to buy a Firebox product – we need to find a hook and people will then turn to it if they've forgotten a present or think 'here's a nice little gift to cheer someone up'. If we get the messaging and positioning of that right, than I think it's got a lot of potential."

The app, which is powered by technology company Hoita, also incorporates a 'Birthday Alerts' feature so users can upload dates and reminders about special occasions for which they may wish to purchase a gift.

It is still early days since the launch, and Bromley admits that the retailer is perhaps "slightly ahead of the curve" by offering the service, especially with mobile payments in general still yet to break through into the mainstream retail industry. Ultimately, though, he sees the tool as very in-keeping with the overall brand image.

"Tech is more important than ever – you cannot just exist and hope that people find you on one static URL; you have to be representing yourself across social channels, devices and apps," he states.

The brand image Bromley wants to perpetuate is one of cheekiness and irreverence, with the products Firebox stocks often designed to create a reaction and fuel discussions. It all stems from the business's early history when in 1998, operating as, the company's founders Michael Acton Smith and Tom Boardman achieved initial success selling their student-targeted Shot Glass Chess Set invention.

After renaming the company one year later when the business moved from Cardiff to London, Firebox primarily targeted a male audience, with the gadgets and gifts it sold often advertised to the lads' mag market, through publications such as Loaded and FHM. The world has moved on now and Firebox has broadened its range, although Bromley acknowledges that some of the products it stocks are "provocative" and "on the edge".

"I don't think the boys toys, gadget world is quite what it was, and there are lots of reasons for that – the main one being the use of smartphones and the fact that it can do almost everything for you," he added.

"We want to be funny, cheeky and irreverent, so our voice is key and one of the main differentiators for us, alongside our products. We don't want to be a mass generic company – we don't think that's our bag or that there is a future in it for us."

Firebox is 16 years old this week and is actually older than both Google and Amazon in the UK, but it aims to stay fresh by continually evolving and developing its brand across various channels.

The retailer's tagline is 'Not for Everyone', which helps accentuate the business's intended voice, and last year it relaunched its website with a new design and back-end. According to Bromley, further investment is required in the company's messaging and positioning on social media – and there are improvement plans currently being discussed.

The managing director, who has been in his current role since August 2012 and at Firebox for a total of 12 years, is keen for his company to establish and maintain a point of difference by creating its "own category" in terms of the way it does things and the type of products it sells – "our mission is to be a category of one," he notes.

"We want to make sure that every time a customer sees Firebox or is in touch with Firebox, they get an immediate sense of who we are."

With the recent launch of the new mobile app and more social media content on the horizon, it would appear the business is continually working on achieving that goal.

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