When it comes to building a brand, it’s a difficult proposition. In fact, the statistics say that 9 out of 10 brands fail in their first two years. One gentleman very successful in the clothing business who I looked to for advice said that I should do anything else but this business. 18 months later, I understand the reason he said that.
It seems from what I am learning that most brands start with a level of funding (a rich dad or angel investor, maybe their personal finances) but since it takes awhile to build a brand, they can easily go through the initial investment cash and become under-funded and will often run out of the working capital needed. Salaries get cut and there is a lack of funds for new development projects.
But what is always interesting is you would never know it. The website doesn’t show it. The clothes look great and aren’t whispering… “this company is falling apart.” The pictures of the models are of people smiling, the products seem fresh, but then one day they disappear or go bankrupt. I’ve watched a few companies that seemed like great companies just fold up and go away. It always come at a surprise… that company? No way. They seemed to have such a good product or company. But so that is the way of business. Laissez fair markets.
But I hate how that part of the brand is left out. The story behind the story. Why is it that brands today require some sort of illusion? Let’s present a successful logo and image, but behind the scenes there is scrambling and they might be in bad shape. But isn’t a brand at some level supposed to reflect truth? Honesty? Story? A narrative that connects to the heart of it customers? Should it also resonate with the people running it? Do they love the products they are selling? Are their passionate people in it or is it just a investment firm who hired out employees who don’t care about the products or purpose? For the most part, we don’t know this with brands. It’s all the behind the scenes stuff.
I realize this might be a little idealistic thinking. That somehow a company would be honest about their company or how they are doing. In essence, who wants to be buying products from a company that might go bankrupt in a few months? We want to buy from a brand, like we might pick a stock, the ones that are on the up.
But here is where I see the problem with that. It takes away the personal part of the brand. The people behind it are no longer people. They become politicians and only salesmen. They no longer simply relate to who we are and the lives we lead. They are supposed to be fantasies of the life we want.
Ok, that will sell clothes. And you can be successful at that. But I am a believer that we also need people who relate to us. That are maybe just like us. And just living a slightly different life that we can relate with. I'd like to think most of our customers would just as easily be my friends, as anything else.
With that said, I wanted to share what I read this morning and offer a little reflection on our business.
“The bows of the warriors are broken but those who stumbled are armed with strength.”
-1 Samuel 2:4
I’ve been reflecting over the last 24 months of our company, and with it being the start of 2012, I read through a journal I had been writing in. Spent an hour reading the last years moments on paper. It was the most sobering experience I’ve had in awhile. I didn’t realize how many moments of confusion, and struggles over the last year with our business. Building this brand is extremely hard. While I would also say it has been some of the most thrilling moments of my life. There have been many set backs, adversity, manufacturing problems, financial struggles, days of depression. Some days I have found the energy to overcome, other days not knowing if I can make it another day.
We’ve had a few periods of time where I wasn’t sure if I could pay our mortgage. A few nights where I was with my wife and saying if this is too much for our young family, I will give it up. In fact, about 18 months ago I suggested we just set the products on fire in our driveway if she felt this wasn’t a risk she felt confident in. I had to hold it loosely with some of those family obligations. Some of the hardest moments of my life.
But we are also growing... and building new products, sales are increasing, and doors are opening. But one thing I am learning is even with great signs, that doesn't mean we can't still fall on our face. The journey is still hard.
I think that is why that passage in Samuel means something in relating to our business. You can't just look at facts and figures. They aren't the end game success or strength of our business. There are other things going on. Both good and bad. And those are part of life and most certainly our brand.
Our company has gone through the joys and pains of a business, and I must confess it can be difficult. And I am realizing at whatever level I can, I want to share that. Successful people always talk about failure, and struggles are the way to success, but notice how it is always when they have already overcome it. When they are standing on a platform being invited because of their “success.” It’s not a risky place to share it then. But did they feel that when they were in the middle of it? When it could go either way?
I am reminded of that today, this Monday. The best brands aren’t always the ones with the most money or marketing, or even best products. It’s often out of their hands, their customers and people decide. Greater things going on in the cosmos we aren't in control of. I realized that I want to be a man building a business that brings that part into our story. We might still fail, we might succeed, all that is still open for the days ahead. One of my favorite quotes is Teddy Roosevelt’s “It’s not the critic who counts” quotes. But you have to think… you don’t just come up with a line like that. You have to live it. Roosevelt’s story has all of that. So in essence, the quote is just an embodiment of who he is and what he became.
And so that is my hope with our clothing brand. What is it? Well, it is part of my dreams, part of my sufferings, and struggles, and the hope to see some things change in American apparel and how we run companies. I want authenticity, I want to see little guys be able to succeed, and earn their place in those huge corporate world of brands and money. I hate how our country is polarized and how our country doesn’t believe the little guy can win or earn his way through the American dream. But I have to start with believing that myself, and part of that is growing a company in the midst of all that.
Part of why I love that passage is that it always reminds me that it is sometimes those who have been through something, who have felt the pains and struggles of life, that might a little more perspective and strength. That those who stumble and can live to tell it, and learn from those experiences gain something far beyond just power or victory. I hope that is encouragement to you as well. That often it is our pain and struggles that brings the greatest clarity and hope. And that if we can overcome those falls, we might gain something on the other end.
- Xan Hood, Founder of Buffalo & Company