First published in New Zealand Herald 31 March 2015
Even a few years ago I never thought I’d pay more than $15 for an umbrella. Let alone care about the design attributes of what most of us consider a throw away item.
But that’s the beauty of a product that’s well thought out and, more importantly, well executed. It opens up a new market and suddenly you want to own it too.
Blunt founders Scott Kington, Josh Page and Greig Brebner have been working hard to build an international name in the premium umbrella category, and the way they’ve gone about it is a great story to share.
Right from the start all the parts of the Blunt story seemed to come together. From the design to the marketing, from the sales channel and distribution model they use. It’s so cohesive and makes sense at every point, so not surprisingly their target customers have responded well.
Some companies (and individuals) have an instinct for these things. Others get it right because they document and follow a precise strategy. Lets just say when a business is positioned well, the contrast with a confused brand is patently obvious.
As Kington explains, the Blunt team makes products for the person who appreciates design, appreciates something good and is proud to use it.
The basic answer, he says, is they design and market to an iPhone user.
“The approach we took,” he says, “was to create a website to the world, create an image, develop a buzz and presence with bloggers and on social media. So we appeared in places like Gizmodo, Wired magazine and the Museum of Modern Art. Places people would be looking for design-led products.”
In Australia you’ll find them in higher-end stores like top3 by Design, Henry Bucks and Minimax. (Though oddly, there seem to be quite a few Blunt umbrellas on eBay. I wonder if that’s a legitimate channel for them?)
When they first entered Australia they used an agent with mixed results. They’ve since moved to a distributor model, forming a close partnership with Aussie distributor Joel Schuberg, who came highly recommended by retailers.
Schuberg is equally positive about the Blunt team and product, and says it gets a great response from both retailers and customers. He believes the partnership is also successful because Blunt are committed to working with a distributor rather than direct sales and they have a clear strategy.
Part of that strategy, includes some pretty cool past, present and future collaborations. Any day now the Blunt + Tile limited edition “smart umbrellas” will be available in partnership with the Silicon Valley Bluetooth tracking brand. And there’s even a Marvel collaboration in Taiwan.
Not only are these great for publicity, generating a lot of interest and media attention for Blunt, but the limited edition products are popular in themselves.
The US is currently Blunt’s largest market, but Kington says Australia was one of their easiest. He says Australians understood the product and “just got it” straight away. Whereas another early market, Japan, was one of the toughest, with very high quality controls that demanded product improvement to meet expectations.
“We find that we learn something new from each market that we can then take to the next one. For example, our first Japanese umbrella was a bit heavier,” says Kington, “so, we designed a lighter one and it works in other markets too. We avoided the collapsible model for a while, because strength is the whole basis of our business. But we then created one that allows us to keep that key quality. Then we designed a golf umbrella because the Scandinavians wanted something bigger, as they’re taller. And Germany has taken some time for us, as they have to warm to you.”
Kington believes they’ve only just scratched the surface and that there’s still potential to keep improving the umbrella design.
So, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the copycat fake products are surely a testament that Blunt have “made it”.