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Fashion / Style File

The Reward

BY PAMELA KRIPKE, MAX TROWBRIDGE // 09.01.14
photography Mindy Byrd

The world is truly a small place — especially when you’re Mr. & Mrs. Box, traveling to more than 60 countries from your home base in Dallas since the founding of rewardStyle in 2011. This entrepreneurial couple has two words in mind: global domination. Amber Venz Box is a striking strawberry blonde, savvy and stylish — reminiscent of Lana del Rey meets Florence Welch. Baxter Box is a wicked tech whiz, handsomely smart and charming. Both are adored by peers and revered in their industry worldwide. Since its launch, the company has untapped a niche portion of the digital style market, empowering the world’s most influential publishers by

Amber Venz Box wears 3.1 Phillip Lim jacket and Carven dress. Baxter Box wears Brunello Cucinelli.
Amber Venz Box
wears 3.1 Phillip Lim
jacket and Carven
dress. Baxter Box
wears Brunello
Cucinelli.

monetizing affiliate web links and capitalizing from online shopping. This ecosystem of innovative technology serves more than 14,000 global style publishers across 72 countries and 4,000 retail brands in 132-plus countries to date. Earlier this year, rewardStyle launched LIKEtoKNOWit, a consumer platform that sends ready-to-shop product links to participating Instagram users when they like a photo from a favorite influencer. And in April, Amber and Baxter hosted the second annual rewardStyle The Conference (#rStheCon), attended by more than 200 style bloggers from all corners of the globe — including China, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Ukraine and Brazil, who descended upon The Joule hotel and Dallas’ iconic Southfork Ranch to soak up the aura of the Disciples of Digital Style.

BACKSTORY

Amber Venz had been hearing a lot about a guy named Baxter Box. His aunt, who worked with Amber at Sebastian’s in Snider Plaza, thought that they should meet. But at age 20, the student at Southern Methodist University resisted. She had jewelry to design and sell at the boutique, a blog to write, customers to style and summers to spend interning in Los Angeles and New York. Fashion first; boys, second or third. “I was in college; I didn’t care,” says Amber, sitting beside Baxter in their Travis Walk office. Now, six years later, she cares quite a lot, understanding the sublime impact of their union, both personally and professionally. Married in early May, the duo founded rewardStyle in 2011 — a venture that grew from the convergence of technology (his) and fashion (hers). They created a network of style bloggers, online magazine editors and affiliate partners (such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Alexander McQueen, theoutnet.com and most powerhouse designers) who use links provided by rewardStyle to promote products they like.

In turn, the 4,000 retailers who sell these products pay a commission to the blogger every time a recommended item is sold. The company, which negotiates these fees for 14,000-plus global style publishers, acts as the middleman. Last year, rewardStyle drove about $155 million in sales to its retail partners — a 300 percent growth from 2012, with everything on track for the same level of growth this year. The company employs 87 people, maintains a second office in London and is currently expanding the Travis Walk location in Dallas.

Like many inspired business concepts, this one emerged from personal need. “Amber was our first client,” says Baxter, 32, who studied engineering and math at the University of San

Diego. He was a research and development engineer at a medical device company and a hedge-fund manager before earning his MBA in finance and strategy/entrepreneurship from SMU in 2011. “When I met her, she had a suitcase full of jewelry she had designed.”

Christian Dior cape and shorts, Roberto Cavalli bracelet.
Christian Dior cape
and shorts, Roberto
Cavalli bracelet.

Baxter evaluated her spreadsheets to determine how best she could earn revenue through her blog, Venzedits, which was then a portfolio for her personal styling business and a showcase for her jewelry designs. Amber describes the premise of the blog as “I like this, and you should like it, too. Today, I’m wearing this, and you can purchase it here.” Making money from the enterprise was the hitch, though. Banner ads were graphically unappealing, and joining multiple advertising networks was a logistical maze. Amber and Baxter realized that advising customers on what to buy in a store commanded payment for that service, so advising customers online should have the same financial benefit. Soon they understood that they could monetize online product promotion, too, if they figured out the technology.

What began as a personal need for Amber expanded into a platform for style bloggers just like her: aesthetically driven technology-averse creative people looking for an easy way to navigate a website, track sales and earn cash for their efforts. Julia Engel, who started writing Gal Meets Glam as a junior at the University of the Pacific, says, “I was excited to use a platform where everything was in one place. It was really hard to keep track of money coming in; rewardStyle made it friendly. And they are continually trying to make it easier and easier, so we can focus on creating content.” A year and a half after signing on with rewardStyle, Engel says she has 150,000 unique visitors per month.

When Amber and Baxter began thinking about the potential for such a business in 2010, just a few other style bloggers were establishing themselves in Dallas. Nationally, fashionable young men and women were beginning to discover the medium’s power of personal expression, yet they didn’t consider or even expect that they could earn an income from it.

venzcombine2

Amber and Baxter sensed what bloggers needed at the time and were able to maximize a couple of industry the democratization of publishing. People were turning into trends, notably the disruption of traditional media and magazine editors from their home computers. Additionally, shoppers began buying merchandise online in swooping numbers. “We devised a way to connect brands with style bloggers that is performance based,” Baxter says. “It’s an easy sell for brands because they only pay if it works. It’s not enough for a shopper to click. Now, we have a marketplace where brands are bidding for the attention of the publishers.”

As the conduit between online publishers and retailers, rewardStyle has created technology that serves both entities in specific ways. Retailers, for example, can gauge shopper traffic from clicks to revenues and chart the products sold, as well as the individual bloggers responsible for sales. “The numbers speak for themselves,” says Serena Chan, e-commerce and planning manager for French Connection (U.S.). Before rewardStyle contacted the company, French Connection worked with an agency for six months. “It was horrible. Horrible,” Chan recalls. “We’ve seen the benefit through the partnership [with rewardStyle]. I don’t think anyone else comes close to honing in on just the blogger relationship.” Part of that focus stems from a careful balance between style and computing. So-called “fashtech” companies, many of which are based in New York, have difficulty straddling the two worlds. “Tech guys should not be exposed to customers,” says Baxter — a tech guy.

For the Boxes (who realized as adults that they grew up across a Park Cities alley from each other), balance is critical —at both work and home. Dallas, while hardly the center of fashion or technology, is a strategic spot for their headquarters — and also a huge advantage. “New York companies all copy each other, and employees with the same ideas jump from one firm to another,” Amber says. “We are isolated and, because of it, can be original in our thinking. We don’t hang out with the competition, so we can ask, ‘What are our needs?’ and ‘How can we innovate?’ Not ‘What are they doing?’”

The global nature of e-commerce and online publishing also makes location

inconsequential. The home base of a blogger, for example,

has little effect on how many people purchase the skirt they recommend. “There are no boundaries,” Amber says, “so we are not looked at as a Dallas company.” In the end, the marriage works: shopper and blogger, blogger and retailer, computer code and the hottest design. Style is, after all, fueled by what is current — what is it. “There is so much churn in fashion,” she says. “People are looking for what is new, all the time. What we do goes with that attitude — that need to have the latest thing.”

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