How Roberta Benteler went from wanting a job in fashion to owning an online retailer to challenge Net a Porter

How Roberta Benteler went from wanting a job in fashion to owning an online retailer

Roberta Benteler runs Avenue 32, an online retailer to challenge Net a Porter. She talks to Emma Sinclair about how she grew her business from scratch, her biggest inspiration and whether the fashion world really is like The Devil Wears Prada.

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Roberta Benteler founded Avenue 32 to challenge the likes of Net a Porter

By Emma Sinclair

1:30PM BST 19 Aug 2013

In April 2011, Roberta Benteler founded Avenue 32, an online retailer to challenge the likes of Net a Porter. The site has already made its mark: its largest single order to date is an unbelievable £51,000 (I’d love to know who that client was!). If Net a Porter is something of a department store, Avenue 32 is more a series of independent boutiques all under one roof with well-known designers on their pages. A firm advocate of new and young brands, it provides an online platform for young designers who otherwise might not have much of a presence on the internet. Additionally, the site looks after distribution, logistics and photography; often the most challenging elements of an online business for young designers.How did you end up in online retail?

Roberta was always passionate about fashion. Her father strongly encouraged her to study business and after completing a Masters in finance her dream was to work for luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in the strategy and business development team. Alas, she didn’t have enough experience to do that so she went into finance instead. Never one to give up, once she’d built up the right skills in the finance sector she reapplied to LVMH only to find out she didn’t have enough experience in fashion.

She started working with a young designer to gain that experience – and that’s when the concept for her business was born. Working with young designers gave her insight into the everyday challenges that designers face and within three months she came up with the concept for Avenue 32; a platform where designers can showcase their product in their own ‘shop in a shop’, accompanied by editorial.

How does Avenue 32 differentiate itself from other online retailers?

Roberta’s aim is to bring back the element of discovery to online shopping by scouting for new and exciting talent all around the globe – a mix of new and exclusive brands together with more established ones. They also offer personal shopping services or alterations of products and made to order pieces, putting customer wants and detail at the heart of their proposition.

What are your plans for international growth?

Whilst the UK represents two fifths of total traffic to the site and a similar number in terms of total revenue, the USA is a big source of business for Roberta. It represented almost a third of total traffic last year, with average order values a fifth higher than in the UK. That’s despite shipping costs and taxes – a development which has surprised Roberta. They also have growing interest from Australia, France, Germany and Canada.

Are there any things you wish you’d known before starting out that would have made setting up Avenue 32 much easier?

Roberta conceived the business when she was 26 years-old with no IT experience, so she admits she made many mistakes – but luckily none that have proved detrimental in the long term. One of the most valuable lessons she learned was that you must never take your eye off the ball. As an entrepreneur you have to oversee everything from accounting to operations, irrespective of experience and whether a team is in place. Her sister joined the company recently and that shared responsibility for the business has been something of a relief.

You have some wonderful young designers alongside your bigger brands on your website. How do you find them?

Roberta travels to all the big and quite a few smaller fashion weeks such in cities including Sydney, Moscow and Stockholm, scours trade shows and showrooms and gets a lot of recommendations from friends and people in the industry. And of course new talent often approaches her directly given the company’s reputation for their interest in up and coming designers. For spring/ summer 2013, Roberta had a whopping 1,500 options but for autumn/ winter 2013 they have over 2,000 pieces for sale.

Whats the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

Her parents always said “where there is a will, there is a way”. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and work hard for what you want, as far as she is concerned. Like me, her father is her mentor and role model. She refers to him often – and how she learned a great deal about work ethic, discipline and communication skills from him.

Many SMEs cannot afford a robust online store. What advice do you have for small businesses about their online presence?

It depends on the industry, Roberta says. In fashion, where branding is “everything”, it is important to have an immaculate well-designed web presence that reflects the image of the brand. Her advice is that it’s relatively easy to make a website look good with great imagery but functionality is a “whole different story”.

It can be costly to invest in the right back-end technology systems and platforms, so if there are financial limitations, her advice is to “go for a nice-looking web presence with no or limited functionality first as a place holder or something that can refer customers offline.”

Is the fashion world really like the film/ book The Devil Wears Prada?

Sometimes it is, it would seem. Roberta travelled to Paris for Fashion Week this year. Celebrity spotting at a café, they noticed that everybody was heading to a nightclub around the corner. They followed suit, only to be told it was a private party that night – so one of her buyers stepped forward and explained to the lady at the door that he was once Mario Testino’s first assistant and he really needed to be at the party, or there would be trouble.

They got in and to this day the buyer gets greeted as Mario Testino’s first assistant at Montana. Confidence and name dropping can work a treat.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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