Kameron Blight: Hentley. Where Adventure Meets Australian Made Craftsmanship.
TOP POST INSIGHTS:
EXPLORE YOUR DIFFERENT PASSIONS.
DON'T RUSH THE DEVELOPMENT STAGE.
WORK ON SOMETHING YOU LOVE, ON YOUR OWN ACCORD.
Kameron Blight, Owner of Hentley.
We had lunch at Daniel San and the interview at his pad in Queenscliff.
What Aesop is to skincare or Haydenshapes is to surfboards, Hentley is Australia's answer to men’s leather goods. Kameron is one of my best friends from high school, it was a pleasure to interview him! His creative curiosity has seen him rip apart antiques as a child, to producing a travel photography book, and now owning his own leather goods business. We spoke about experimenting with creative projects, crowdsourcing, the challenges of international manufacturers and what it’s really like building an Australian Made brand.
For those who don’t know you, can you tell us about your business?
I run my own men’s leather goods e-commerce site, Hentley. We sell kangaroo leather wallets and portfolios. On the side of running that, I was doing some freelance work in the TV industry but that’s recently phased out.
(Kameron handed in his resignation letter the next day to focus on Hentley full time!)
What were you like as a child?
I was always outdoors. I loved baseball and tennis but also liked to build things. I was ripping antiques apart, pulling out magnets, toying with things and always experimenting with different projects.
Did you ever envision yourself in a 'creative' career?
No not really. I loved art and enjoyed D&T the most in high school. But I didn’t think I’d actually get a job in those fields, which is why I did business studies as well.
Which is interesting because now you run a business based on your passion. So what was your first full time job?
I worked at a photography studio for two and a half years. I learned a lot about each process. It was great because I was able to apply these skills to another passion of mine –travel. I ended up taking a lot of photos as I travelled around India, Central America, the States etc.
Beautiful photos may I add. You sold some prints as well. At the time, did you see yourself building a business around photography?
I didn’t look at it from a monetary perspective. I was just experimenting with what I loved doing and pursuing it.
You launched an Indigogo campaign for a travel photography book. How did that idea come about?
One of my idols is Steve McCurry. When my friends would look at my photos, they would say how similar our work was. I love his coffee table books, so I gave it a shot and made one of my own.
What did you learn from that crowdsourcing experience?
Because it wasn’t a money generating thing for me, it was more of a ‘hey I’m going to share this with my friends’ type of thing, I didn’t do any marketing. But if I were to do it again, I’d do things differently like:
1. Approach few stores prior to launch, to see if they wanted to pre-order 50 books. Or seek out people/ friends who wanted to help grow and spread the word.
2. Definitely do more Facebook marketing.
When did the idea for Hentley start?
Around February 2015. I was working in TV production and felt like I was at a dead end. I couldn’t go any higher up and I didn’t want to work there anymore. That’s when I knew I had to do something different.
Where did the inspiration come from?
I genuinely like trying new things and experimenting with new projects. I was looking at high-quality briefcases and if you wanted premium leather, it would set you back over $1, 000. I just thought it was a ridiculous mark up. I thought why can’t I make the same quality but sell them for $200? But going through this whole experience, I now know that isn’t feasible!
For people with idea in their head, what does the development phase looks like?
When I first started, I was so excited and started buying all types of leather. Not knowing what it was for or its uses, I just winged it. I just bought what I liked.
Then through research, like looking at the composition of other bags, I started to refine what materials I wanted to use. For example, I saw this bag at Incu and I really loved its canvas. I looked at the tag and saw that it was from Japan. I said screw it, I’m going to use canvas and booked a flight to Japan!
"In terms of design, I drew everything myself. I either did a 3D mock up on Illustrator or use cardboard. But it was really the manufacturers who brought it to life. I showed them the designs and leveraged their expertise to make it happen."
It also involves a lot of google research and reaching out to people in the industry. Some manufacturers don’t even have an online presence. Word of mouth is how I found my guy in Melbourne.
What kind of customer research or testing did you do?
We just went to markets in Glebe and Bondi. At this point, we didn’t have an online presence, we were just getting a gauge on what people were picking up and what colours or materials they were responding to. It’s a good way to experiment before actually investing in stock.
You have a beautifully polished website. What is it like to set up an e-commerce website?
You’re constantly tweaking it. Whilst people look at it now and say wow that’s a really cool site, its actually taken 2 years to get to that point! I’m always making sure URLs are all working, analysing what content people are looking at and checking in on Shopify’s analytics.
Manufacturing overseas has its benefits of cheaper labour. But a lot of people don’t fully understand the breadth of challenges until they’re on ground. What were some unexpected hurdles you came across?
Taxes! We started in Indonesia because you could get smaller volume for cheap labour costs. As opposed to China where minimum orders are usually 1,000 units.
It's the import, shipping and customs taxes you have to be aware of. For example, you could spend $5, 000 on uncut leather. But after all the taxes, you end up paying $10, 000. And that’s not even the product yet, it’s just the leather.
Also, some manufacturers couldn’t provide me with receipts. So yes, it was a bit dodgy and the language barrier was another big challenge.
Today, you source and manufacture everything from Australia. How has that impacted you and the business?
The manufacturing cost per unit is a lot higher, but it’s absolutely worth it! I can get issues resolved straight away and there’s no language barriers, currency fluctuations or import taxes. When you way up the travel costs and time delays, there’s also a lot more peace of mind.
You’re now ‘Australian Made’ certified, what impact has it had on your buyers?
It’s definitely helped. We’ve always had a lifetime guarantee on our wallets, but having the stamp provides more credibility.
"People know the product will last because the Australian Made logo says quality."
There’s also a big community in Australia who are happy to pay a premium for Australian products. People love supporting Australian made designs, products and local businesses, so it’s been really good feedback.
Hentley’s branding has an authentic and premium Australian feel to it. What else does the brand stand for and who are your target customers?
We’re definitely an adventure brand. All our marketing is adventure and experienced based. It could be anything from surfing around the world, traveling, van life, experiencing new cultures or even checking out a new café.
We have buyers all over the world from USA, Canada, UK, Dubai, Vietnam and Malaysia, but I’d say our audience is typically 21- 35 year olds who have a little bit more money to spend and enjoy a lifestyle. Not necessarily white collared professionals, although we definitely do have those customers, but more so people who crave adventure and live for what we stand for.
Liv: We’ve also just bought a Kombie, which will be one of our biggest marketing pieces. It’s lifestyle shift for us too. We’re going to brand it Hentley and take more weekend or day trips with it. It’s a great way to show how we’re relatable and actually living brand!
It's amazing to have a partner who supports you from a business perspective too. What’s that been like?
She keeps me grounded. I want to do everything now and she’s great at taking a realistic view on things whilst sticking to our time frames. When I get really stressed she always reminds me of the bigger picture. It’s really good.
How do you keep motivated?
For me it’s not the sales that drive me, it’s the reviews that keep me motivated. It’s pretty much all 5 star reviews which is great.
Liv: I try and remind him how far his come, compared to a lot of people. Like if something isn’t going right, I tell him ‘yes but you’ve done so many things right, you should be so proud of yourself.’
How do you mitigate external opinions?
"Successful people tell me, even if Hentley doesn’t work, the lessons that you’ve learned over the last year, you will never be able to pay for that. These life lessons are in valuable."
Where do you see Hentley in the next 5 years?
It’s changed a lot over the last 2 years. Before I wanted to have a storefront, like a café/retail store. But with everything I’m learning now, I want to move to a place where it doesn’t rely on me. Automate a few things and get fulfilment houses.
We’ve tripled our growth in the first year and plan to quadruple in 2018. If we want to keep growing, I need to focus on the creative and business side of things. I’d love to streamline the business so I don’t get too caught up in the logistics and operational side of things.
What’s some practical advice for someone looking to start their own ecommerce business?
1. Find a need. But also, don’t get too personal. You need to see things objectively because things might not necessarily work.
2. Just put yourself out there. If you’re passionate about something and love it, chances are someone else will too.
Who inspires you?
Tim Ferriss. He’s book changed everything. Although I started Hentley before I read The Four Hour Work Week, he helped me look at the business from a different perspective. Outsourcing and automating things, rather than doing everything myself, which is where my stress comes from.
Hayden Shapes. He started his business out of a warehouse in the Northern Beaches. The opening image in his book is of him sitting on the floor of this warehouse he spent all his money on. He’s now one of the most successful and innovative surfboard manufacturers in the world.
(Caveat: they also look really similar!)
What is your definition of hacking life?
Kameron: Using your time how you want. Not being restricted eg. If I want to go for a surf, I’ll go for a surf. You’ll have work to do, but you’re doing something you enjoy and doing it on your own accord. I’m only now learning about what’s important. I’ve sold my unit to support the business because it allows us to focus on what makes us happy. Essentially its spending your time how you want.
Liv: Yes, definitely ownership of time. It’s something that we’re not guaranteed, so why waste your life doing something you hate or doing something that doesn’t fulfil you.
Exactly, I couldn’t agree more. I’m super excited for what the future holds for both of you. Thanks so much guys, this was so much fun!