Inside Redbox: meet Paul Lewis, head of creative at Redbox
In this weeks Inside Redbox, we speak to Paul Lewis, head of creative for Redbox. We learn about his retail roots, life outside of Redbox, love of fashion and the brilliant business ideas he came up with, that never quite got off the ground. Who knows where he would be today if they did!
Tell us about your background?
I grew up in a retail family, my father created the Chelsea Girl fashion retail concept: my earliest memories included opening shops, developing products, being present at fashion shoots, re-designing shop fronts and going to store openings. As young as five, I used to go to our Oxford Street store and help serve customers.
For a short spell, I rebelled against being in the family business, but after a while and at the request of my father, I returned and spent a number of years working with my him and his brother in our footwear and accessories business, The City Bag Store and Terra Firma. We had 12 stores.
We sold that business in the late 90s and I had to rethink what I wanted to do. I decided to get into the sunrise industry of ecommerce. I was invited to become the commercial director of a tech start-up called 2020 ME, developing a profile-based search engine long before Facebook existed. I spent two years doing that and introduced a “thumbs up/thumbs down” interface as a quick way to learn consumer preferences. In the end though, they couldn’t get the overarching technology right.
I then worked for one of the UK's first online gift stores – SF Cody’s Gift Emporium. The business was named after one of the earliest aviation pioneers. One of the gifts we offered was an opportunity to buy a ticket to space and to be trained by the Russian space agency in Star City. The price tag was a cool $20 million. We had one interested party but, in the end, he went direct. Our primary purpose, however, was to gain media exposure for the brand and we got a lot of publicity for the initiative.
I was then invited to join one of the early ecommerce agencies as creative director. I worked with them for two years and quickly realised that there was very little understanding of the creative retail process and there was a huge opportunity to create a retail-focused creative agency specialising in ecommerce content and design. This was the start of Lewis Creative.
My first client was Cath Kidston, shortly followed by Lulu Guinness. Two great brands and long-standing clients of Lewis.
How did the relationship with Redbox come about?
I was invited to pitch for Fortnum & Mason 10 years ago and that’s when I first met Jonty, CEO of Redbox.
Lewis was successful in winning the ecommerce design contract for Fortnum & Mason and Redbox won the platform build. We worked really well together. We then went on to work collaboratively on several other clients including Heal’s, Elemis and Paperchase.
As an agency, we had extended our design capabilities in to build. I had always envisaged that one day we would align ourselves with a tech agency – it was a just a question of when and where.
That time came in July 2018 when Lewis was acquired by Redbox.
Our joint vision was to bring together the creative and technology strengths of our respective businesses – the art and science of ecommerce, as I call it - strengths we believe that are highly desirable in the ecommerce market.
Tell us about your role at Redbox?
My role is to oversee the creative and design output of the business and how we interpret our clients' brand and customer experiences.
For us, it’s about striking a balance between style, usability and functionality to help our clients realise their ecommerce goals.
What are your motivations in life?
In life, it’s to clear space so I can pursue more of my other interests - cooking, painting, playing the guitar and piano and of course, spending time with my family. I also like working out, practicing yoga and meditation when I can. Most of all I want to take a year off and travel the world on a motorbike. I have already ridden across Europe and parts of India.
At work I enjoy any project where we can solve problems creatively. I still love the excitement of pitching and sharing innovative ideas with clients.
I’m a great believer in being open to intuition and have a lot of faith in my team’s ability to think laterally to create beautiful, inspired work. The best solutions always combine creative inspiration with technical innovation.
Any work achievements you are most proud of?
One of my biggest achievements is building-up the Lewis brand and the subsequent acquisition by Redbox.
Back then, Lewis was a forward-thinking agency. We accelerated the integration of rich content and commerce throughout a number of customer sites. I like to think we anticipated the way the market was heading.
In terms of specific clients, we created a new standard in publishing for Faber and Faber in design, layout and usability.
The launch of The Watch Gallery’s website shook-up the watch industry and took retail engagement to a new level.
And with Ottolenghi, we turned recipes into products and utilised the power of Magento’s related products features to match them to buyable ingredients – a first in the industry.
Main challenges of your role?
I’m freewheeling, my ideas come all the time. It’s channeling them through the filter and process of a larger business like Redbox to make sure they get realised. I don’t, however, believe that creativity can be monopolised by the design department. Creativity is about an open approach to problem solving and as such is something the whole company partakes in.
Any particular clients you would like to work with?
I have a great fondness for fashion. I’d love to work with the Richemont Group, they’re a swiss-based luxury goods company with numerous brands under its fold like Cartier, Montblanc and International Watch Company. LMVH - the French luxury goods company - would be another great group to work with. They own brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Fendi. These well-known brands really inspire me.
Zara would be a great company to work with too. For a mass market business, they are very creative and forward thinking and this is evident in its imagery, culture and overall shopping experience.
Technology will become invisible, much like the service at a Michelin starred restaurant – it’s there but non-intrusive. With technology out of the way, we will see more of a brand’s products, services and propositions.
I also believe in an atomised digital world, where platforms are so intrinsically linked to our personal likes and dislikes, there becomes a borderless exchange of products comments, data, ideas, music, events, bookings, travel etc, where the right stuff comes to you when and where you want it.
If you had your time again, what would you do?
I sacrificed my place at Uni studying philosophy for a record deal. I thought it was a better option at the time. Should I have gone to Uni? Maybe.
I’ve had a lot of good ideas in the past. I came-up with an idea for an online personal video channel long before YouTube. Then there was a national chain of docking stations for iPods called ‘groove stations’, which I took to Apple. This was before Wi-Fi existed.
My regret was not finding the right people - technicians, physicists, other creatives etc. to work with me and further develop these ideas. Who knows, maybe one of these ideas would have taken off.
A key lesson is to find the right people who complement your skill sets – people who you can trust and throw it all in with them.
What's your motto in life?
The RAF’s motto is quite powerful - “per ardua ad astra”, which means "through adversity to the stars”. That’s where we want to go!
If you could pass on one piece of advice you have been given, what would it be?
My father always said “everything in moderation”. I haven’t always managed to live by this, but the older I get the more wisdom I see in it.