Retail success stories have been few and far between during the pandemic, which is why the galloping success of Heat mystery boxes is particularly uplifting. Founded in November 2019 by two UK-based entrepreneurs – Joe Wilkinson and Mario Maher – the idea behind the concept stems from the Youtube mystery box phenomenon, with an added “guaranteed value” fashion spin. Inviting consumers – of any gender – to order a box with largely unknown but desirable product, a definite draw is the price, which works out significantly less than the RRP. The content of each box is curated and consists of anything from new season items and archival pieces to brand exclusives.
Initially, boxes were filled with end-of season gear from retailers, but new formats have emerged – involving collaborations with some of the industry’s buzziest names – think Off-White and A-cold-wall. The latest Heat move involves an exclusive capsule range signed Haider Ackermann. Priced at £750 for a guaranteed value of £1200, it sold out shortly after its early December release. Come Boxing Day, a collaboration with emerging Manchester brand Represent will launch. This one will cost £299, promising an RRP value of £450+.
Here, Managing Director Joe Wilkinson and Buying Director Mario Maher shed more light on the concept and its future.
Mario Maher (left) and Joe Wilkinson, Heat
You’ve had instant success with your mystery box concept – in the middle of a pandemic… Tell us about the Heat journey so far.
Joe Wilkinson: So much has happened over the last twelve months. From storing boxes at my parents’ to moving into a new 15 000 sq ft. fulfillment center in July 2020, with orders flying off the shelves. We initially opened an office in Italy but relocated to the UK as the Covid-19 crisis took hold, officially re-launching over here on August 13 with a streetwear box – and the company has grown steadily ever since. As for the idea behind the concept, we’d seen the mystery box phenomenon on Youtube and thought: ‘how about we start selling boxes with guaranteed value and branded, desirable content’? Initially we worked with retailers, helping them to shift unsold stock at the end of the season. When we started out, in the middle of the pandemic, brands really needed to move stock, so we filled the boxes with items from various brands.
…and then Haider Ackermann came knocking, resulting in an ‘exclusively for Heat’ collaboration mystery box. How did you get Ackermann onboard – and other notable designers and retailers?
Wilkinson: We currently have a roster of about 40 brands and we’ve managed to team up with a lot of them via referrals – for instance, JW Anderson referred us to Loewe and so on. We don’t want to rush getting new brands in – they’ll enter the fold at a steady pace and only when the time’s right. We were chuffed when Haider Ackermann turned to us saying ‘I love what you’re doing and you’ve managed to attract the Gen Z consumer in a good way – can we work on something exclusive together?’”
The Heat concept seems quite fluid and you work in a range of ways aside from exclusives. What determines the various formats – and how will they develop?
Mario Maher: Exclusives are only one way of working, we also offer reissues of old styles as well as end-of-season product. There’s no set rule and we’ll keep coming up with new ideas that may benefit brands and appeal to our target consumer – it’s an organic process and we like to work on a case-by-case basis, reacting to the market and the needs of our brand partners. We’re constantly working creatively to be more than just a vendor. To give you an example – when we started out selling mixed-gear boxes from retailers, we got phone calls from designers saying they’d seen their product featured in the feeds of various influencers. And that’s how we got into selling current season stock and working directly with brands. This way, influencers got to feature current-season pieces allowing consumers to purchase these directly via Instagram. We also love featuring new brands that need support. We managed to introduce Casablanca to a broader audience, and we’re just about to launch a box with Manchester streetwear brand Represent.
How would you define the Heat consumer? Is the initial Gen Z target group widening?
Maher: We initially targeted the Gen Z consumer, but as the concept continues to develop, we’re getting more and more attention from other consumer groups. Some people struggle to grasp how the concept works, but they still want to buy into it. In the near future, we’ll be offering a beauty mystery box and perhaps a classic offering and so on.
Might you risk diluting the Heat brand by broadening its appeal too much?
Wilkinson: We’ll only tap into new markets when the time is right and each box is so tightly focused on a specific consumer group… the streetwear box was first out – and the timeless box might be next, perhaps filled with Loro Piana pieces. As long as you keep an exclusive element, pitching each box to its target audience, we feel the concept can work across many corners of the industry. The benefit is that boxes are limited, released once or twice a month and usually selling out within a couple of hours.
What about the physical box itself – is it getting the right level of attention?
Wilkinson: We’d say so – we’ve seen it resold on Ebay for £80 and we keep getting photos from customers showing us how they’re using them at home for storage. The boxes are sustainably made by Delta Global, a UK-based company that produces high quality boxes for the likes of Matches. Our version is sturdy, featuring a magnetic closing functionality that can be removed, should you wish to recycle your box rather than continue using it.