ExportWise is counting down our 10 best performing stories from 2016. This story, first published on April 28, is #1 on our list.
EKUMENIK founder Jordan Kendel has a simple yet powerful message for small companies looking to take on the world – think outside the box.
Why not? He’s living proof that adopting this business mantra, coupled with perseverance and passion, can lead to success.
The small, yet rapidly-growing niche menswear manufacturer has seen sales almost triple the past two years. Now, the Winnipeg-based company that employs 10 and creates snowboard/surf lifestyle-inspired clothing is hoping export sales will skyrocket this year courtesy of a new distribution agreement that gives them stronger access to the lucrative European market. Currently, exports account for 10 per cent of the firm’s overall revenue, generated from sales in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
“I’m always encouraging people to think differently,” says Kendel, who founded the company in 2011. “In terms of marketing, that means inspiring people to make changes in their own lives and the lives of the people around them, as well as around the world.”
According to Industry Canada, in 2014 the Canadian textiles industry employed approximately 18,300 workers, and manufactured $3.66 billion worth of goods—60 per cent of which was exported.
Thinking differently for EKUMENIK – a name that means ‘the inhabited world’ in Greek – began with a decision to focus on shorter-run, niche manufacturing. Embracing that concept led to the company establishing a presence in Bali, Indonesia.
“I had a friend who turned me onto Indonesia and the idea that you don’t need to make 4,000 of one thing, you can make just 40,” Kendel says. “I jumped on a plane, fell in love with the place, and that’s what we started doing.”
Producing smaller quantities of a product gives the company a competitive advantage in terms of flexibility to change and improve the final product based on customer feedback, all in real time.
“That’s made all the difference for us,” he adds.
Another key ingredient in the firm’s recipe for success is a passion for sports like surfing, snowboarding, and skateboarding, combined with the lifestyle that accompanies it.
“It’s really important in our industry that we have credibility as lifestylers ourselves. If we didn’t surf, if we didn’t snowboard and skateboard, we wouldn’t be able to sell products into the stores we currently do.”
While producing gradual growth, this targeted retail strategy is another crucial piece in EKUMENIK ‘s success puzzle, according to Kendel. So is forming long-lasting business relationships.
“EKUMENIK (clothes) are not meant to be in every store in the world,” he says. “That’s not who we are. Our first product offering was initially in seven stores and I was grateful for the business.“
Today the company still partners with those same retail outlets and believes it has a role in shaping current and future customers’ success.
“We don’t want to sell $1,000 in 10 different stores,” Kendel explains. “We want to sell $10,000 in one store. We form relationships where we work close together – we want to help our partner retailers to grow and, at the same time, grow our brand. That’s my philosophy.”
Breaking into new markets builds on his proven partnership philosophy, while also providing words of wisdom for small companies looking to go global.
“A lot of our business comes through spending time with the buyer sitting on a chairlift or in a hot tub after a day of snowboarding,” he says. “You can’t compete in a place that is really foreign to you unless you have someone on the ground who knows the market, knows the end consumer and knows the influential, credible retailers – that’s essential.”
Five Questions with EKUMENIK founder Jordan Kendel
1. What was your first export sale?
Our first export sale might technically be here at our production office in Bali, Indonesia. When we first rented our office space we decided to sell our branded clothing and surfboards out of the front of the shop to help offset the costs. Since then, we have expanded that concept to a full retail store for the EKUMENIK brand and we are currently searching for a bigger office space including a small pick and pack facility.
I would argue, however, that our first significant export sale came through an acquaintance who came through the shop. He had significant experience in Europe as a sales rep working for a distributor, and saw an opportunity for himself to take his career to the next level by acquiring the rights to sell EKUMENIK in Europe. After a couple meetings, we all but cemented the deal relaxing by a pool. He returned to Europe the next day with a small sample set that we took right off the racks from the shop. His first customer was a retail chain with over 25 stores and a huge online business.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
We opened the office to retail in order to expose the brand to the international clientele we see here in Bali. It was a calculated strategy.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Our international clientele has much different needs and desires than our domestic consumers. Trends are much different. It means we need to offer a much bigger product mix in order to meet the needs in all regions and keep a strong sell-through. We also need to provide different packaging, labelling and pricing, which all comes at a cost and workload. Also of note: the ramifications of currency fluctuations in international trade.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
It hasn’t changed much. I still feel like we are brand new at this.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Technology and logistics have changed the entire business landscape for SMEs, which is a bit of a silly statement considering the entire world has been totally flipped around by them. But really, 50 years ago, our business model was science fiction, as were the business models of virtually all of our service providers.
Think outside the box, consider the new software and technology around you, and try to think how you could harness that potential to change your business and/or service. Most of your competitors have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in equipment and infrastructure. Can you price compete by timesharing this equipment and overhead? Can you outsource any work to other SMEs who work smart like you?