On the second day of Venue Tradeshow, you immediately felt the energy of the hustle as soon as you stepped on the 11th floor of the Cooper building. Sticking true to the saying “Hustle never sleeps”, throughout the show, there was constant commotion circulating through the room. To keep the entrepreneurial energy alive and the hungry mind satisfied, Venue offered guest speakers during different times of the day to feed answers to these up and coming brands with their need-to-know questions. Our 5th Element team sat in on several great speakers that definitely brought perspective and knowledge of the industry to the forefront.
In a one-on-one discussion between Jon Phenom and Rhuigi Villasenor, Design Director of RHUDE, they discussed the importance of saying “No”, respecting your art, and focusing on what really matters. As a designer who has explosively made his way in the industry, the story begins when he interestingly denied Snoop Lion, formally known as Snoop Dogg, his bandana shirt during a music video shoot. Shocked by many, Rhuigi explains that you don’t always need to “Yes” to everyone, even if it is Snoop Lion. Regardless if a celebrity is interested in his work, it does not justify the means for him to give it out for free. He appreciates and values the work he creates and price comes secondary. Admittedly, he enjoys creating for himself and sometimes doesn’t want others to have his work. Treating his art as his prized possessions, Rhuigi believes the artist comes first and the brand comes second. He further explains, in order to build integrity, one must showcase their work at its highest level and understanding the direction you want to take with your art. Organically growing into his brand, the focus has always been about the heart of the design and contributing to the culture. Developing and progressing his designs through his passion, price will never be a factor, but fortunately the money has followed. So, the message to learn is sticking true to yourself as the artist.
Later, we caught Jon Phenom bring out a panel of speakers, in which they all answered his questions collectively.
First on the panel was Ryan Teng, Asia sales & marketing Liaison for Billabong/RVCA/Element/Plan B. For others who may know Ryan, he’s The 5th Element’s very own Nova Teng. Next, Jon brought on brand manager for the Attic, Nicholas You, followed by, retail and wholesale Specialist, Vincent Marjes, then anchored by Seven Cohen, director of Private Label at Karmaloop.com.
With no time to waste, Jon wanted to know how they got to their current position.
Ryan: A stroke of luck, networking, and building organic relationships. Selling shoes as a hobby and then working at Kitson, it paved a road for him to work his way up.
Nicholas: After going into law school and passing the bar, the power of networking strikes again. Linking with a friend, he became the Brand Manager for the Attic.
Vincent: Being in the industry for a long time, working for Kid Robot in sales, functioning as an Independent Sales Representative, and opening his own boutique, it helped own different horizons.
Seven: An entrepreneur at heart and starting with music, he took the plunge to switch industries. Approaching Greg Selkoe, he told him he didn’t want to work for him, but rather with him.
Next, important things a brand should know.
Seven: Understanding your strength and weaknesses as a brand. Do what you do well and hire help for components you’re unsure of. If you’re creating the art, bring someone to manage the business or vice versa.
Vincent: Knowing your target population and understanding your audience. It’s important to have an organic vision and building from. Most brands fail because they don’t know how to speak with their audience.
Nicholas: The ability to think down the line in long terms. Most brands focus on the happenings of today. As a brand, you need the ability to envision what your brand will look like years later. Understanding your story as a brand and how it will remain fluid is key.
Ryan: Having clarity and being honest. It’s imperative to be clear with the consumer and always delivering a cohesive message. If there isn’t a clear focus established, discuss with the rest of the team and develop a collective response.
As a brand, these are mistakes that should be avoided.
Ryan: Some brands struggle with their image and there’s not enough focus on the longevity of the brand. For example, some brands have entered the industry at full force and may have come on too strong. As a result, brands with a strong presence in the beginning tend to plateau thereafter.
Nicholas: Offering advice from a sales standpoint, he suggests taking your time with your approach. Don’t rush; only approach the retailer when you’re truly ready as a brand. It’s not a race, so it’s critical to really understand your market. For many successful brands, it took them years to hit a breakthrough.
Vincent: An issue arises when the brand aims too high and promises a huge production without the proper funds to produce products. It is of best practice to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver. It’s critical to be on time with your buyers and the promised products on hand. More often than not, brands that don’t deliver, rarely ever get a second chance.
Seven: Some brands approach retailers with such high confidence that many times they fail to show the retailers the added value they can bring to the table. From a retailer perspective, there are many similar brands throughout all 50 states; if a brand can’t showcase the benefits they can bring to the retailer, there is no incentive for a deal. The key is finding ways to uniquely position yourself for the retailer.
With knowing the do’s and don’ts, Phenom wanted to know what makes a good salesman at a trade show.
Seven: Making good use of the booth and creating a space that embodies the brand is plus. However, one of the most important things is the salesman’s knowledge of product. Salesmen should know the blends of the product and how it all comes together. If they don’t know, how do you expect the buyer to know?
Vincent: A good salesman shouldn’t be shy to talk to people; they should be very attentive, proactive, and always smiling. It’s important to be genuine.
Nicholas: Elaborating, he believes if you’re shy, you shouldn’t be a sales representative. Period. People who bring in the money need to foster good relationships.
Ryan: Drink a lot of coffee, he states jokingly. Using a girl at the bar analogy, you can’t talk to her unless you try. Hence, you’ll never know the answer if you don’t ask.
So then, what makes these guys take a chance at the brand?
Ryan: The brand must be able to support itself first without the financial aid of the buyer. Establishing a story and creating it’s own image gives the brand a good start.
Nicholas: The support the brand already has established and the presence of the brand within the industry is a plus. Also, buyers look for brands that have done their homework.
Vince: The idea needs to make sense and the story has to fit with the brand. He likes to look at the margins of the product and the demand of the consumer base for the product.
Seven: In agreement with the other 3 panelists, he adds the ability for the brand to keep moving can be the deal breaker. For a brand to have other avenues to keep it moving and without solely relying on a buyer, it creates a greater incentive to sign the brand. Overall, it’s the momentum that will foster the breakthrough.
Finally, they wrap with last words of advice for new start-up brands.
Seven: For brands with low capital, focus on creating a few staple pieces. Create a few good pieces that will generate revenue and create other pieces that are unique and will stand out.
Vincent: It’s important to have a good team to support you. Work with people who will watch your books properly. A great supporting cast will foster an environment of collaboration.
Nicholas: Knowing the business and understanding your design will serve the brand well.
Ryan: Act stupid. Sometimes, it’s good to not know everything. Lose that sense of arrogance that you know what you’re doing. The people who are continually asking questions will be the ones ahead of the game.
With a round of applause, the panel speakers did a wonderful job! Overall, it was very insightful and added value to the experience of Venue.