The man who says he can make the web work for luxury brands.
LONDON – A tax accountant from the depths of rural England might not be the first person you’d look to for technological innovation in luxury, but then Andrew McErlain says he’s always tried to eschew expectations.
After moving from Hertfordshire to the City, he rose to become a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 2003 McErlain decided that the time was right to branch out and teamed up with his current business partner Deepinder Sahni, when they initiated several successful private equity-backed acquisitions. But it was after doing some work with a small boutique IT company that he decided to develop something new for the luxury industry – a website to showcase luxury goods and services within designated luxury environments. He and Sahni purchased the domain www.elitemarket.com in December 2008, and got to work.
The Elitemarket concept derives from McErlain’s conviction that the current set of marketing tools on the web are just not designed for the presentation of the complex messages that luxury brands need to convey. McErlain believes there is a better way of presenting luxury brands and bringing them to market. Only now, he says, does the luxury industry seem ready to address the challenges of the web.
He describes the current situation faced by marketing execs as a complicated balancing act between mass marketing efficiency and presentation quality, all the while having one hand tied behind their back. The Elitemarket concept is fairly simple – but McErlain thinks that the web seems to have got caught in the tramlines of one dimensional presentation – text and pictures. Instead, McErlain’s site markets luxury brands via one of the company’s high-end virtual environments. Resembling something of a sleek ultra-luxe version of Second Life, Elitemarket’s pavilions include a ski resort, marina and wine cellar, which can be personalised by visitors.
The “Ski Resort”, the first of these online showcases to launch, is a ski village that presents users with the top end ski resorts, ski hotels, prime winter vacation property and ski equipment. As a portal for multiple luxury brands that offers multi-faceted web links, McErlain argues that his set-up is much better placed than any single luxury brand to drive substantial traffic flows to proprietary sites, which is often the main challenge for brands investing in image-rich online presentation. New pavilions are scheduled to open throughout the year. McErlain says that although innovation, diversification and imagination are what drives him in business, these are not qualities typically associated with an accountant, and because of this in the past people have been too quick to pigeon-hole him. It would seem this aversion to single-track thinking started him on his journey to rethinking luxury experience on the web. Not bad going for a tax accountant from the middle of nowhere.