Mobile Fun not playing games with top 50 bid

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Founded 14 years ago, the mobile phone accessory etailer achieved record turnover and profits in its latest financial year and has set its sights on having a presence in the world’s dominant e-commerce markets

In 2012, the mobile accessories market was valued globally at more than £20 billion. By 2017, that figure is expected to more than double.

So it’s little surprise to find the MD of mobile phone accessory etailer Mobile Fun Mohammed Hussain (pictured centre) in good spirits during our  tour of its impressive 10,000 sq ft warehouse in Birmingham.

And he has every right to be happy. The firm completed a “record-breaking” year – which saw turnover increase almost 15 per cent to £11.5 million – whilst, more importantly, profits have risen close to 16 per cent to just over £1 million.

“It’s been a great year for the company,@ beamed Hussain. “Business is on the up and we have some exciting plans as we move in to the New Year and beyond.”

So what’s its secret? For starters, Mobile Fun has a vast portfolio consisting of more than 7,000 different accessories and 60 brands sourced from all over the planet. Its site receives more than 2.9 million hits every month – amounting to more than 33,000 sales.

In addition to Birmingham, the firm has offices in Bilbao, Hamburg, New York Melbourne and Paris that employ 19 people, with 12 in the UK to support the international teams. Overall, there are more than 100 people employed by Mobile Fun.

Accessories cover every aspect of the mobile market: batteries, cases, bluetooth products, car kits and holders, chargers, screen protectors, speakers, headphones, keyboards, data cables, stands, smartwatches, memory cards and USB,  and even spare parts are available.

“Variety is key – but it’s not all about throwing a bunch of products and hoping they will sell.

“Accessories are no longer a niche product. People want accessories to protect their expensive devices – and you can buy them everywhere.”

Driving force
Since being launched in 2000 by co-founders Anthony Cook (pictured left) and Dennis Cook, the firm has cast its net internationally, delivering products to more than 31 coutries and opening six additional offices. This, according to Hussain, has been the driving force behind the company’s recent success.

And looking at the firm’s figures, it’s clearly the case. International orders increased by 45 per cent in its last financial year, accounting for £4.9 million of total revenues.

Mobile Fun’s first international launch was in Hamburg in 2008 with France following shortly after. Since then a total of 31 have opened, with a staggering 22 added in the past 12 months.

Hussain has set a target of having a presence in 50 countries before the end of the firm’s current financial year (March 31) and added 10 new staff at the end of last year focusing purely on this expansion.

“Sales are up on last year at present and that has been driven by our international business. It is our biggest driver and will probably eclipse our UK business. That would be quite a milestone for us to reach.

“The aspiration is to be in the top 50 e-commerce markets,” he says. “You need e-commerce penetration and a relatively thriving consumer and mobile market but that’s working in our favour.

“We have our eye on more countries because the model works. We’re really proud to have the process nailed. We want to get a map, put pins in it and target the countries we want to be in.”

The right customers
Hussain also notes the importance of local knowledge, with each market differering from the next.

Not all handset releases by manufacturers are sold in every market – and it’s important for Mobile Fun it ensures it sells and pushes products to suit the right customers.

“We have to take the market seriously and understand the phones that they sell are the ones that we are going to accessorise. We’ve been able to capitalise on the fact that a Galaxy S4 or S III are global handsets but there are phones in other countries that we haven’t heard of that we need to accessorise.

“Getting bigger in these countries will drive our next growth spurt. Being in the markets is one thing, but being number one, like Mobile Fun is in the UK, is the other. To be a top 10 player in the US, due to its size, would be huge, let alone be number one.”

China challenge
One market Hussain seems intent on cracking is China – a country with more than 1.2 billion mobile subscribers and growing.

The market opportunity is “enormous’ notes Hussain, particularly given China has only recently been granted license to stock the iPhone,  which analysts expect to reach sales of 30 million there by the end of this year. But Hussain admits it has been difficult to make an impact to date.

The biggest, and perhaps most obvious problem is that its website operates in English rather than Mandarin. According to figures listed on Wikipedia, less than one per cent of China’s 1.3 billion population (excluding Hong Kong) understands and can speak English.

“At the moment, China is challenging. It’s our fault as we haven’t fully localised. For example, people in Denmark are able to order from a website that is in English, but nothing beats true localisation.

“We haven’t got a country manager for China or anyone focused on it. It’s not going the way we would like it to. We haven’t done enough work for us to deserve doing well there but we will rectify that before the end of our financial year.”

Curiously, Hussain seems less enthused when discussing the UK market, despite believing the brand to be one of the largest of its kind on these shores.

Competition remains increasingly high – with accessories available across numerous market sectors, be it traditional technology retailer, greengrocers, clothing stores and even bottom-end pound shops.

Full article in Mobile News issue 556 (January 27, 2014).

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