Why Centra+Grebban is the winning concept: interview with Martin Jensen
Centra and Grebban have had a deep partnership since the start, always with one common mission – to provide our mutual clients with exceptional e-commerce experiences. We had a chat with Centra Co-founder Martin Jensen about future opportunities and challenges within e-commerce, the strengths of their unique platform and why Centra+Grebban is a winning concept. And of course, a walk down memory lane.
Hi Martin! Can you tell us a little bit about who you are? How did you end up co-founding and running Centra as CEO?
Hello Grebban! I was working with strategy consulting, helping companies of different sizes with their digital strategy and execution. This was a couple of years after Jack Ma’s AliBaba had made the largest IPO ever on the New York Stock Exchange, and the only thing everyone talked about was online marketplaces. At that time, I realized that the shift from offline commerce to e-commerce will mean not only the rise of large marketplaces but also a huge shift in the consumer goods value chain, in favor of brands that are able to carry out the right strategy. And then I was randomly introduced to the other co-founders of Centra by a friend. And it turned out, they had the same idea, and had already started building a product to help brands turn their creativity into profit online. We connected very well and the rest is history.
What is Centra?
Centra is the only e-commerce platform purpose-built for fashion and lifestyle brands with global ambitions. Centra enables brands to sell globally, both direct-to-consumer and wholesale. It is a so-called “headless” platform, meaning there are no themes or templates - you work with an agency such as Grebban to develop a fully custom user experience and integrate whatever 3rd party tools you need.
Can you also give us the story about the company Centra? Offices, employees, culture, revenue, investors, etc.?
Centra grow out of a web agency business, run by the other co-founders of Centra. We were doing pretty much the same as Grebban, helping brands with their e-commerce stores. Today we’re 100+ people split across a few offices. The 100+ Centroits, as we call ourselves, come from all walks of life and all over the globe but we are all very social and open and come together to be nice and win. One of our investors is Verdane, which is a large growth equity fund manager. Centra is the market-leading e-commerce software among fashion and lifestyle brands in Sweden and has clients all over Europe, America, and Asia.
We think Centra is quite unique in the e-commerce platform market. What is the position you want to take? What is the vision behind this focused approach?
Our overall vision is to help brands turn their creativity into profit, by helping them optimize sales through all channels.
We are unique in the sense that we are focused on brands and the fashion and lifestyle segment. When we say focus, we mean solving the specific problems that fashion and lifestyle brands face. We have embraced those complexities and made them our roadmap.
The way we see the market going, we believe brands will be winners. But not by becoming IT powerhouses and maintaining intricate backends but by shifting attention and resources to making sure they can deliver awesome customer experiences on a global scale, both for B2B and DTC. So by providing a platform that solves all functionality that “should just work” and be set up once, it enables brands to more easily keep up with the pace of frontend innovation and be allowed to experiment with technology that generates the most customer value. We provide what we think is a great mix of native world-class core functionality and full flexibility for integrations.
Are there any new product features or updates lately you want to highlight?
We’re releasing new features all the time. These are some of the things we're focusing on this quarter:
- We are about to roll out some really exciting and powerful changes to our pricing engine, to make it even more intuitive to work with campaigns and promotions, so watch this space.
- Multiple features for Centra’s wholesale module to drive more revenue outside of the DTC channel. Including better localization support, analytics, reporting, line sheets, using barcode scanners, etc.
- We are about to roll out an even faster set of APIs, based on GraphQL. This enables our partners to build even better and faster sites, with more flexibility than before.
Grebban and Centra have had a deep partnership since the start and we have grown our companies side-by-side. From your point of view, what is so special about our partnership, and what have been the success factors?
One critical element that has contributed to our success is having a clear vision of our goal from the outset: to provide our mutual clients with exceptional e-commerce experiences. With this goal in mind, we have cultivated a strong partnership in which Grebban delivers top-of-the-line storefronts with stunning designs, while Centra's headless platform ensures global scalability with endless possibilities.
Who should choose Centra+Grebban for their next re-platforming project? Which brands and companies have a great fit with our combined combo?
We are fortunate to have done a few of these together already, but the perfect fit for Centra+Grebban would be a mid to large consumer brand within fashion or lifestyle. The brand should ideally be present in or targeting 10+ markets, going beyond the English-speaking world and running both DTC and wholesale. If we are allowed to dream, it would also be a brand that embraces omnichannel next-generation retail and e-commerce.
Are there any cases we have done together you want to highlight and are extra proud of?
I love all the projects we’ve done together but some favorites are:
- Björn Borg: amazing new on-brand experience for legendary brand, leading to double-digit growth. Fun subscription model - you can get a pair of fresh underwear shipped monthly.
- NN07: Excellent match between design, tech, and business. Lowering TCO, launching in 8 new markets, and running DTC and Wholesale in one platform, truly living their “No Nationality” ethos.
- Sandqvist Bags: Amazing Swedish success story, grown every year, new markets and channels.
DTC-focused lifestyle and fashion brands have been growing fast in the last couple of years, what advice would you give them now entering a recession? How should they adapt and prioritize in the new market conditions?
In these times, competition for customers’ dollars will be even fiercer so maintaining or growing the top line will be challenging. We believe brands can do it by being intelligent with promotions, segmentation, bundling, merchandising, etc. Flexibility will also be key, having a tech stack that makes it possible to be fast-to-market and also quickly adapt to conditions in various markets and regions that will be increasingly out-of-sync from a recession/customer-behavior point of view.
We also believe more and more brands will consider digital wholesale as a way to generate more revenue in a very cost-efficient way, i.e. very limited salesforce.
Perhaps goes without saying, but Total cost of ownership (TCO) should also be scrutinized. Both regarding giving away a big portion of revenue to software/platforms but also from the resources needed for hosting, changes, innovation, etc. This is of course a change that will take longer to impact the top or bottom line, but the faster brands move, the greater the impact.
Centra has a brilliant wholesale/B2B product, can you tell us about it and why it does make sense to combine the wholesale channel while also building a DTC e-commerce? Are there any trends in fashion wholesale for 2023?
Thanks for the kind words - we are very proud of it and it’s getting even better.
A big trend we are seeing, as mentioned above, is that more brands are considering wholesale, even if they didn’t use to do it before. Another trend we see is that brands are moving away from online multi-brand retailers and marketplaces to keep the online channel exclusive.
We believe wholesale should essentially be run just as D2C and most importantly from the same setup, using the same product info, images, sizes, etc. This is only getting started and an area where brands will see significant savings by digitizing wholesale but also an increase in wholesale revenue by incorporating D2C thinking for how products are showcased, promoted, purchased, and negotiated.
Adding some perspective with numbers, around two-thirds of our clients use both D2C and Wholesale and we have clients that have started with Wholesale and then added on D2C and vice versa.
Both Grebban and Centra are now entering new markets and internationalizing our offerings. What markets have you extra focus on and why? What insights and learnings have you got about the different markets so far?
Apart from Nordics; the UK and the Netherlands are our areas of focus with us just opening a UK office. There are for sure differences. If we look at the UK as an example, they rely much more on large, typically US-originated, platforms compared to the more disruptive landscape in the Nordics. There also seems to be a big misconception about “headless” and that it is a very difficult undertaking. If I am honest, it also feels like many markets are years behind in terms of design and customer experience, there are lots of very basic commerce experiences out there today.
Vision aside, what type of use cases can Centra handle better than any other e-commerce platform in the world? What features stand out? Time to brag!
Centra is the best there is for mid-to-large international fashion and lifestyle brands, we are excellent at solving all their product, promotion, and market segmentation complexities. I would also say that we are the best choice for brands that do international wholesale and DTC as our omnichannel and order management offerings are stellar.
Grebban has the highest number of Centra-certified experts worldwide - designers, developers, solution managers, solution architects, and project managers. What do you think makes a great Centra expert? What knowledge from a consultant do clients usually appreciate the most about how to use and get the most out of Centra?
Excellent question! In addition to experience, a proficient Centra expert has a profound comprehension of the core features that Centra offers, as well as an extensive knowledge of e-commerce. With this expertise, you will thrive in your work with us by effectively catering to our client's needs. Ultimately, a vast understanding of the entire e-commerce ecosystem is what our clients truly appreciate.
What (non-fiction) book or article do you recommend Grebban's followers to read?
Measure what matters by John Doerr, which also happens to be the last non-fiction book I read.