by Holly Haber | Photos by Tamytha Cameron. Originally appeared in our 2019 MPrint issue. Read more here.
Amber Venz Box is president and co-founder of rewardStyle, a multimillion-dollar company that is a huge player in the business of connecting social media mavens with retailers and brands eager for their influence on consumers.
Last year, it enabled $1.3 billion in gross e-tail sales through websites from Amazon to Neiman Marcus via 50,000 influencers in more than 100 countries. Influencers post photos of outfits, makeup looks, home décor and more on their individual blogs or social media, with an e-commerce link to each item shown. When a consumer buys through one of those links, rewardStyle collects a percentage of each sale and pays a commission to the influencer who facilitated it.
Sixty percent of its 2018 sales were of fashion, where rewardStyle started, rounded out by home goods, beauty, fitness, family products and travel.
Established in 2011 by Venz Box (B.A. ’08) with then-boyfriend, now-husband Baxter Box (M.B.A. ’11), rewardStyle has created career opportunities for style aficionados around the world.
Several thousand of them make their livings through it, says Venz Box. By the end of this year, 80 influencers – mostly millennial women – will each have made over $1 million.
The Box and Venz families own a majority of rewardStyle, and it’s profitable, she says.
It’s an astonishing achievement that becomes less surprising when you meet Venz Box. A Dallas native whose father was an insurance agent, the stylish redhead race-talks at five words a second, and even then it’s clear her mind is jumping ahead. You might call her type A-plus.
Nonetheless, being a 32-year-old titan in a seminal industry was “definitely not” the plan when she earned her degree at SMU Meadows in corporate communications and public affairs.
Today we are the largest influencer-driven shopping channel, and we want to maintain and grow that position – that’s key.
“I’ve always loved fashion, and I knew that I wanted to work for myself, but I had thought a little smaller,” she says, seated in her spacious Dallas office.
Back in 2010, Venz Box had a jewelry line and a personal shopping business that she intended to build by flaunting outfits on her blog, venzedits.com. But the opposite proved true. Women who had once paid her to shop for them simply bought what she showed on her blog.
She discussed the dilemma with Baxter, who was working on his M.B.A. and now serves as CEO.
“He said, ‘In an ideal world, if anything were possible, how would you make money?’ I said, if I could just make the personal shopping commission online,” she recalls.
Box said he’d build a system to track those sales, but she’d have to get retailers to sign up for it.
Digital natives Shopbop and Net-a-Porter came aboard first, but traditional merchants were not only reluctant to channel business away from their stores but also leery of random bloggers.
“It was very hard to get retailers to agree,” recalls Venz Box, who had only $435 when they started the company and who often slept in her office. “At this point most retailers only had a splash page, a basic promotional screen without shopping links. The first several years all I did was travel to retailers and try to get them to commission online.” It didn’t help, she points out, that being a blogger was considered peculiar.
“They said, ‘I have to get models and celebrities and major publishing companies to talk about my brand. If I start paying weird girls taking pictures of their outfits, I will lose my job.’”
Still, Neiman Marcus registered within the first year, and Nordstrom shortly thereafter. Today, rewardStyle has 4,500 e-tailers enrolled plus an- other 5,000 applicants awaiting vetting. In August, the company facilitated sales of 102,000 sweaters, 91,000 jeans, 57,000 booties, and 9,000 hair dryers, among other merchandise.
“Today we are the largest influencer-driven shopping channel, and we want to maintain and grow that position – that’s key,” Venz Box says. “Essentially, we have built retailers a secondary salesforce that is widely distributed. It’s women all over the world talking about their products and actively selling them.”
In addition, rewardStyle leverages its voluminous database, which tracks every image ever posted by its influencers and every transaction they inspired, to negotiate targeted marketing partnerships between merchants and influencers.
“We see more opportunity in influencer marketing as it’s moving from tactic to core strategy,” Venz Box says. “We think we have a lot of room for growth.”
On top of that, 5 million consumers shop through rewardStyle’s mobile app, LIKEtoKNOW.it, which enables them to search blogs, Instagram and Pinterest to find and buy products. “LIKEtoKNOW.it lets consumers shop in the context of real, influential people’s lives,” says Venz Box. “Every one of the millions of images in the app is 100 percent ready to shop.” The app, which primarily serves “affluent working females who have children,” shepherded $300 million in sales last year and is on track to double that in 2019, she says.
All this might seem far afield from her SMU education, but Venz Box says it’s been critical to her success.
“My teachers really tightened my writing, and I use those writing and communications skills daily,” she says. “As the face of rewardStyle, I can do public relations strategy and marketing text and lay out the message for the team to take forward.”
RewardStyle has employed a multitude of SMU graduates over the years and “would love” to hire more, Venz Box notes.
… I use those writing and communication skills daily. As the face of rewardStyle,
I can do public relations strategy and marketing text and lay out the message for the team to take forward.
“We can’t get enough engineers,” she notes. “Humility and integrity are what we hire and fire by.”
As befits a millennial-built company, rewardStyle has slick offices and a culture that emphasizes community. There’s a free snack shop, two well- stocked bars, Ping-Pong tables and lounges.
“I want the team to be happy and engaged,” Venz Box says. “Fun is part of it. I want the space here to be more comfortable than your home and have all the treats that you like because you’re here a lot.”
The Boxes have three children, ages one, two and four, and they are big on family-friendly events. Last year, the company threw an anniversary fair featuring a Ferris wheel and circus acts.
“It’s part of a statement I am making, that you can work and still have kids,” Venz Box says.
Naturally, she has also engineered a way to relax. The Boxes retreat to their new compound of yurts near Big Bend National Park, where the Wi-Fi is so spotty it takes a minute just to load Instagram.
“I have friends with Wi-Fi out there if we need it, but otherwise I’m pretty unplugged,” she says. “It’s great to be outside in nature. It’s a whole other world.”