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By Guido Laures CTO, Spreadshirt  February 19, 2015, 10:35 AM

The chief technology officer at a web-only retailer discusses his company’s approach to gaining a bigger payoff from mobile commerce.

Spreadshirt decided to jump into mobile commerce through a responsive web design site. Responsive design uses one set of code and web content and displays content to fit the width of the screen on the device requesting a page. This is in contrast to building separate sites for tablets and smartphones. Spreadshirt staff had to rework the custom design tool for tablets because the tool was originally written in Flash, a web language that Apple Inc. mobile devices do not support. Now the design tool works on iPads, the dominant tablet computer.

In January 2015, smartphones and tablets generated 53% of a total 157 million online visits to 50 retail sites that to m-commerce technology provider Branding Brand tracks, an 18% increase from January 2014, when smartphones and tablets generated 45% of a total 155 million online visits. Smartphones accounted for 41% of all traffic. Comparing January 2014 ($355 million total revenue) to January 2015 ($364 million total revenue), the share of revenue on smartphones soared from 8% to 12%, the Branding Brand index says. Overall, mobile commerce revenue (smartphones and tablets) jumped from 19% to 24% of total web sales at those 50 sites.

Guido Laures is chief technology officer at Spreadshirt, an e-retailer of print-on-demand apparel and accessories.

$1 million Henderson T-shirt plant formally opens


Several of the work tables on Spreadshirt's production floor, with their sky blue metal legs and light gray tops, would not draw a second glance from most people.

But as the company formally opened its $1 million T-shirt plant in Henderson on Tuesday, CEO Phil Rooke pointed to them as one factor that helped swing losses to profits in 2010. T-shirts do not stick to the laminate surface when they are ironed, saving workers a few seconds compared with conventional table tops.

"If you take a little bit of time on 2.9 million items a year, that adds up to considerable savings," Rooke said.

With revenues continuing to grow rapidly and cash flow now positive, the privately held Spreadshirt, based in Leipzig, Germany, decided it needed a new plant. Spreadshirt liked the location because it shaved shipping time and cost to California, which accounts for 20 percent of U.S. sales. The Southern Nevada site also raised its hopes of building a steady work force.

The only other U.S. production plant is in Greensburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh.

Spreadshirt now has 22 people at the Las Vegas site. The company expects to add 60 more by year's end, though some of them will be seasonal because of the upward spike in orders before Christmas.

He said Spreadshirt will hire another 100 people next year. Several companies have arrived in town trumpeting big numbers only to have them later evaporate, but Rooke said his projections are based on contracts already in hand.

This year's revenues, he said, are on track to rise 81 percent to 67 million euros ($87.1 million at current exchange rates) from 37 million euros ($48.1 million) last year. Nevertheless, he said, the company's name recognition, particularly among individual as opposed to corporate customers, is still spotty.

"A lot of people don't know you can get something like this," Rooke said., the company's store, carries 600,000 T-shirt designs listed by several thousand individual promoters. The website lets people pick what they want, or upload their own ideas and have them applied to a chosen size and color of material. The prices are generally on the premium end - for example, $23.90, including shipping, for a standard T-shirt with the emblem of the Minnesota State Golden Eagles - for the custom process and what Spreadshirt promotes as superior quality.

As a result, the average order includes 1.7 items because Spreadshirt shuns mass production.

"To be honest, if you want an I (heart) Las Vegas T-shirt, you are probably are better off at a two for $7 rack on the Strip," he said. "But if you want I (heart) Henderson, we are the only one who would have it."

Spreadshirt lists several other items in its catalog but only hoodies sell in significant numbers and in much lower quantities than T-shirts.

The production area of the 37,000-square-foot building in Henderson is divided between what the company calls text, where decals are placed on the shirts and ironed on by hand, and flex, where computer-controlled machines spray on the designs. Because of the American taste for intricate patterns, about half of the shirts are flex-made compared with 30 percent in Europe.

As another cost-saving measure, the two flex machines now in operation were purchased used and refurbished at a cost of $40,000 each. A couple of new ones, which will arrive shortly, cost $250,000 each, Rooke said.

While taking part in the ceremonial ribbon cutting, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen admitted to being "a bit humbled."

"A few years ago, this would have been just a blip on the radar," he said. "Now it's a new day with the recent downfall of the economy."

August 1, 2014, 4:48 PM

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at or 702-387-5290.
Global e-commerce: Big opportunities in most, if not quite all, markets
Philip Rooke By Philip Rooke CEO, Spreadshirt Inc.

The CEO of an online retailer that’s actively marketing in 17 countries, with more to come, explains the key elements of his strategy. That includes knowing when to hit the “pause” button on markets that are too daunting.

Great marketing, inspiring customer experiences and rocking sales growth is only half the story in a global scale-up strategy allowing an e-commerce enterprise to thrive when the world of retail, technology, and rapid delivery for global consumers moves at a rapid clip.

I am the first to say “95% of success is showing up.” But the advent of better e-commerce platforms, cheap translation services and global provisions means that pretty much anyone can “show up.” All the successes generated by launching new countries and new markets from cross-border commerce can be rapidly jeopardized with poor delivery and supply chain instability. Without rock-solid delivery and supply services, you might as well BBQ the spent marketing and development money and watch it go up in smoke.

How does an e-commerce enterprise in rapid international scale-up mode embrace these business realities? As an international e-commerce platform for creating, selling and buying ideas on things that consumers love to share, use, and carry, I am tasked with scaling up our enterprise internationally. We already market in 17 countries and deliver to 200, but this year we are in the full rollout phase of our marketing, sales and operations outside of the European Union and U.S.

My approach in 2014 is an agile strategy in gaining international access and continual investment in our platform technology to engage and retain customers and partners. My top three areas of focus to become a significant global player:

Keep it simple: Our platform needs to be simple to use. Spreadshirt, quite frankly, exists to enable the most efficient publishing of ideas on merchandise for purchase everywhere by leveraging our print-on-demand expertise. Our goal is to allow sellers the ability to publish ideas for sale in every country within seconds and eventually switch off the non-working countries later. It is imperative for anyone selling products across countries to keep it simple for teams to sell everywhere rather than simply restricting access based on assumptions that may not be valid.
Get everywhere fast: Shipping is a vital component in the supply chain and it must be fast, reliable and priced right. This year we added delivery to over 150 new countries. Within weeks, we had to delist 10 countries due to fraud and delivery problems. There were some nice surprises within the mix. Some countries with small populations are doing very well. Other countries like Russia had good sales, but we have put this on pause until we sort out delivery issues. Currently all of our merchandisers can easily and rapidly reach their customers and fans almost everywhere due to our explosive international shipping growth.
Grow the global footprint: Many of our key sellers build a fan base on global platforms like YouTube and Facebook—making demand truly global. Notable huge audiences come from countries like India and Brazil where we see huge traffic. Eventually shipping will not be enough to satisfy consumer expectations; we will have to have a true footprint in those countries. Already 20,000 orders a year come from Australia, so we will be launching an Australian site and marketing this year. A demand-driven approach from traffic or shipped orders always governs our next steps.

Spreadshirt is among the few truly global enterprises in apparel and accessories; we are currently active in 17 markets, nine languages, and customers can pay in seven currencies. We receive orders from as far afield as Afghanistan and Singapore.

Regardless of whether the customer is from one of our key countries or one of those “shipped to” countries, we have to manage their delivery expectations and value. We intentionally locate facilities near our customers to keep them satisfied and meet their expectations and demands. For example, our Las Vegas facility reduces a day in delivery time to California compared with shipping from the Pittsburgh site. It is also ideally located for rapid and cost-effective distribution to Asia and Australia. Orders get to customers in Australia only two days after California for only $1 or $2 more.

Traditionally companies are wary of rapid international expansion due to the fear of potential of fraud or lost orders. Many countries are treated as guilty until proven innocent and are blocked from platforms. However, the world is a great place and I can share that we gained more valuable orders than we lost due to problems. Glitches can be easily sorted out by switching off certain payment types, changing a shipping provider or turning off a whole country.

Our approach is working: In just a few months of 2014, after adding 150 ship-to countries and allowing access to over 200 countries for our direct customers and our 70,000-plus sellers, the trends are very positive and the outlook for the rest of the year is extremely optimistic. Each week, several hundred orders from the new countries are coming in. This reach puts Spreadshirt on par with retailers like H&M and Zara, and far ahead of most other custom apparel and accessory retailers.

In addition to increasing marketing activities in our core markets, new European regions, and new domains such as Canada and Australia, we are well poised to enter a couple of new and promising countries. The short list of countries with good web infrastructure and a growing e-commerce market include Brazil and India. Having spent time in both these countries this year, I can say there is a booming Internet audience waiting for quality services with local fulfillment.

Our goal and plan at Spreadshirt is to continue our global expansion via acquisition, access, and strong global partnerships with an eye towards local production hubs. I envision a happy future when everyone in the world can design or order merchandising, in the language and currency of their choice, and have it delivered within the week (North Korea and few other war zones excluded).

Spreadshirt, an online retailer of customized T-shirts, hoodies and other apparel, is part of AG of Germany. It is ranked No. 379 among North American online retailers in the 2014 Top 500 and No. 218 in the Europe 500.

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