Workspace chats to Rob Evans of Rarewaves, the entertainment retailer that won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise earlier this year

In the 80s and 90s, Brad Aspess amassed a huge collection of vinyl while running various music and video businesses. When he started selling off his “doubles” on eBay in 2005, some of his music industry contacts asked him to start selling their products too. These were the humble beginnings of Rarewaves, an online retailer which now sells 650,000 entertainment products from music to video games to gadgets on marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and FNAC.

Based at The Light Box in Chiswick, the company employs 21 people and also owns a US business employing 15. In 2012 Rarewaves was ranked the 19th fastest growing tech company in the UK by the Sunday Times’ Tech Track 100 and this year was named the SME with the 66th–fastest growing international sales by the same paper’s Export Track 100.

But Rarewaves’ biggest accolade came recently when it won the Queen's Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2018. “It was a huge honour,” says Rob Evans, Rarewaves’ Business Development Director. “It took us by surprise. We sent off the application last year and didn’t think anything more of it. It’s such a prestigious award.” Two weeks ago Rob accompanied Brad Aspess, the founder, to a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by Prince Charles and the Duke of Kent. “I was proud of myself,” admits Rob. “I got to park inside the palace.”

As well as providing the opportunity for a photo with the heir to the throne, the award has attracted new interest in the business. “It opens doors,” says Rob. “The award and logo show other potential partners who we are and what we’re about.”

Rarewaves is part of a growing trend of virtual retailers. Rather than holding any stock, it works with over 150 supply partners, including major record labels, who keep stock in their own warehouses around the country. Rarewaves puts those products on the marketplaces that they sell on worldwide. When a customer orders something they ship the product from the UK via a fulfilment centre in Hampshire. The company supplied 175 different countries last year.

Rob EvansRarewaves

Rather than selling products themselves, tech giants like Amazon are increasingly looking for partners to do it for them — on platforms like Amazon Marketplace. “Amazon wants to be a shopping mall,” explains Rob. “They’ve needed to sell products in the past to build trust but now they want other people to do it for them. They love working with people like us.” Rarewaves works closely with Amazon on things like copyright and trademark policies. As a retailer sitting between Amazon and the music industry, Rarewaves is well placed to advise on this.

Rarewaves first became a Workspace customer in 2008, when the company moved into Grand Union Studios in Ladbroke Grove. The company moved offices several times within Grand Union Studios as it grew, before moving out due to the redevelopment of the building. Three years ago, Rarewaves returned to Workspace, moving into Chiswick’s Light Box.

“Workspace works really well for us,” says Rob. “We’re a very fast growing business which means we can grow within Workspace’s centres rather than constantly looking for new premises.”

Ultimately it was this flexibility that brought the company back into the Workspace fold. “In Chiswick we can start in an office for 20 people, but if we grow by 50% in a year, which is absolutely possible, we can move around the building into what suits us, and also downsize if necessary.”

In addition, The Light Box fits well with what Rob describes as the “young, vibrant and multicultural” ethos of the business. “We have a large spread of nationalities working for us. The feel of The Light Box mirrors that.”

What’s next for Rarewaves? “To continue to grow,” says Rob. “New markets, new product groups, new supply partners.” The company also hopes to grow within Workspace. “Hopefully we’re going to move into a new larger office at The Light Box once the redevelopment is done in a few months’ time.” Having just won the Queen’s Enterprise Award, it seems this company’s going to be making waves for a while yet.

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