February 8, 2019
This series will offer insights from four entrepreneurs covering four very different industries. In this installment, we will hear from Simon Barratt, founder of high-performance wetsuit brand, NCHE.
First things first – you need to do your research. Find out exactly what you will need to invest to bring your business to life, as well as the time and planning that will be required to turn this dream into a reality. You will also need to establish whether your business will start-out as a side-hustle or will you need to dedicate yourself to it full-time? Will you need investors or can you financially back it yourself? When do you anticipate it will become profitable? These are just a handful of the many questions you should be asking yourself.
Every business is different, that is why we asked four different entrepreneurs, who operate across four different industries, to offer us their insights. Learn from those who have first-hand experience in setting up a business, so you have the confidence to start your own.
In this installment of starting a business, we will be hearing from Simon Barratt founder of NCHE: a high-performance wetsuit brand with minimalist aesthetics.
Simon will offer some advice and motivation to get you started. Learn from Simon’s challenges and be inspired by his wins as you discover the trials and triumphs that come along with setting up a business.
Keep an eye out for our other featured entrepreneurs who will be sharing their insights shortly.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Name: Simon Barratt
Business: NCHE (Pronounced Niche)
We offer a very high quality, designer wetsuits for high performance surfing. Our products are made from a limestone based neoprene finished with a soft bamboo external layer. Our minimalistic design is appealing to the customer who doesn’t want to wear the established surf brands and our price point is currently 30% below our competitors.
2. Is this your full-time occupation? If not, do you hope for it to be and how do you juggle your workload?
NCHE occupies 25% of my weekly time after my role as a father to a 3-year old boy, and as Marketing Director for the largest action sports publishing company in Australia, Three Crowns Media Group. Currently, we have a structure of three directors/founders who look after different elements of the business. Over the past five years we have found a harmonious way balance to our required workflow and communicate across different locations and time zones. We have defined roles and responsibilities and each partner has a unique skillset they bring to their component of managed business tasks.
3. What stage is your business currently at?
We started developing the product in 2014 and went to market in Australia in 2015. Since 2015 we have doubled our production each year and doubled our direct and wholesale sales each year. In 2018 we increased our online business by 60%. In early 2018 we expanded into Europe with a distribution partner in Antwerp and agency representatives in Europe and France. In Australia, we are represented in 12 of the countries’ best surf stores, taking space from major established brands in the process.
The surf market has historically been dominated by three or four brands globally. Each of those major brands have undergone a period where people don’t want to wear them anymore. They lost their cool factor along the way. We saw a gap in the market to offer a new brand, one that was more minimalistic in design, cheaper in price but offered the same high level of product and materials. While surfers have turned away from boardshorts and T-shirts they still require hardware products such as surfboards, wetsuits and leg ropes to practise their sport. We wanted to be the new brand they chose to wear in the water.
We started sampling our first product, a 3/2mm steamer and after a few tries were happy with the design and quality. We tested them, changed them, gave them to people to try and the feedback was strong. We discovered all the major brands are essentially working with the same manufacturer meaning we could get a high-quality product to market without the big overheads they faced. We all invested some savings and funded an initial production run. Since the first production run in 2015 we have been able to fund our growth organically and are fortunate to have a +60% return customer rate, meaning people that have bought our product have been happy and came to buy again, and again with our new winter and summer ranges.
We want to continue to grow at more than 50% each year and further increase our core customer base while making sure the product lives up to the customers’ expectations. In 2018 we had less than 2% returns and that is an insanely good number for any wetsuit brand to achieve. We are constantly improving on our design and manufacturing process to ensure our surfers get the best value for money product on the market. Another goal is to grow our European business in 2019 and 2020 and then work into the US market in the next three years. Long term, we aim to have all three partners working on the business full time in Australia and Europe and be turning over 3 million in sales.
Workflow in a shared partnership. It took us three years to fine tune the process so there wasn’t any cross over on responsibilities or three people all feeling they need to make every decision together. Trust and accountability is key when you have multiple people working on the business. We all respect each other’s decisions and trust that each of us have the best interest for the business at heart. Consistency in manufacturing and quality control is also something you need to be ready for, we have invested to make sure we have a great relationship with our manufacturer and that means many international trips to check and re-check productions.
I think it’s the opposite, it seems with the hyperbolic growth of social media and the new generation becoming complete experts in how to use it to reach people there has never been a more prevalent time for the rise of buy and sell entrepreneurs. I think there is still this myth (often perpetuated by so called overnight success stories you see promoted to you on Social media) that it’s easy to land on something that is going to be an instant hit. We know we probably won’t see a wage out of this business until it hits certain sales benchmarks and we are all ok with that.
The reward is in developing a great product and seeing our customers coming back and buying another new wetsuit year after year. Also, we are starting to win over some accounts that have been long established with certain brands. They are seeing they need to offer something different to their customers. When we are a threat to the established brands I enjoy that!
Stick with it and be ready for the ups and downs. It’s easy to give up on something, but quite often, success stories happen over 10-15 years, not 10-15 months. If you have growth in your business then continue to focus on fuelling it, while making sure your product is as good as it can be.