VANCOUVERITES | With Jamie & Lyndon Cormack, Founders of Herschel Supply Co.

November 19, 2013 

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Pecha Kucha is coming up tomorrow night (watch for our ticket giveaway on Twitter), and as per usual we’ve sought out one of the interesting speakers for a sit down. Lyndon Cormack is the Co-Founder of Herschel Supply Co.. He launched the company with his brother, Jamie, in 2009, and the two of them have since changed the way we look at the humble backpack as an everyday fashion accessory. Herschel Supply products are sold in Canada, from the foothills of the Rockies and Europe to Australia and all across Asia (and everywhere in between). Their company was named after the small town in Saskatchewan where three generations of the Cormack family grew up. Scout recently took a tour of the Herschel headquarters in Railtown last week and spent some time talking to Jamie and Lyndon. Here is that conversation:

Herschel is an outdoor-focused brand. It’s in the DNA of the company. Tell us about your favourite local excursions. Where do you go?  (Lyndon) I live in Deep Cove and I have kids, so I stay pretty close to home, I think our family is personally responsible for some of the cutaway trails that go to Quarry Rock. We use the trails all the time and run them. During the recent fog we were getting above it and going up to Seymour where it was scorching hot and sunny. Being from Deep Cove, it’s even an excursion to go to Granville Island. Places that other parts of Vancouver consider to be their backyards are excursions to us. Both Jamie and I have boats (Boston Whalers), so we’re boating around there all the time.  (Jamie) Last trip in the Whaler? I use it weekly. I was out last week,  fishing out by Bowen. We caught lots of pinks. Didn’t keep any, but it’s fun to get out there.

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While we’re on the topic of Deep Cove, the two of you recently launched a side project – a new retail shop – there called A’hoy with your brother Jamie and Deep Cove business veteran Megan Curran of Room6. How on earth did you find the time and vision to start a side project on top of running Herschel? (Lyndon) We LOVE Deep Cove. I mean, we both live there. We boat there and spend a bunch of time there. With the geographic location of it, the beauty of it and the access to nature, it’s amazing to me that it’s just not THAT good. It hasn’t developed into something ridiculous. I mean, we have a fantastic, Vancouver-famous doughnut shop called Honey Doughnuts; we have a fantastic restaurant called The Arms Reach Bistro; and there is a great gift shop called Room6, which is also amazing.

So there is some good stuff, just not enough?  Jamie and I were saying: “Rather than bitch, why not do something great here?” We had an opportunity to partner with Megan [Curran] and open something else with a different concept; something that would cater to men, women and kids. It’s a small space (800 square feet), but we fill it up with our favourite classic brands: Vans, Cons, Ray Ban, Levi’s, HBC, Pendleton and Herschel Supply. We wanted a business that could cater to the local community as well as have some cache for Vancouverites to come out for a visit. A’hoy aims to portray a picture of what Deep Cove is about: comfort, casual, classic.

So, Deep Cove is home, but you think that it could be a lot better. The new shop is a move in that direction. How else would you like to see it change?  Why hasn’t someone opened the best fish and chips joint? A cute, organic fish n’ chip shop with perfect packaging and clever design. Why isn’t it there? I mean, there is a fish n’ chip shop there, but…put it this way, I think Bestie is a perfect example of something that has been able to come in and offer a fresh story. It was done through good design. Good design isn’t expensive. It’s the thoughtfulness and the passion that are the hard part. So why isn’t it there? I don’t know. I find it shocking and that’s why we need to fix it.

It’s about doing things differently. I think the clients in Deep Cove will spend money, if it’s worth it. If you’re just jacking up your prices because you feel you can, you’ll fail miserably because but it’s just not the community that is going to pay for that. They like value but they also care about quality. And they care about design. I’m probably guilty of thinking of the macro rather than the micro. I see the big picture of these businesses and I see the way that Deep Cove could evolve. There are a whole bunch of people who could do it better than us. They should come. Come to Deep Cove! Start a trend!

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So, if you have a predilection for the ‘macro’ view with your hobbies, that’s probably true of your business as well. How do you draw the line and stay on track? Both Jamie and I are idea guys. We have to show a lot of restraint in not developing a lot of new products. We’re very focused. It’s not because we can’t. We have every opportunity in the world. We can, wether it be t-shirts, hats, footwear, or glasses or watches or what have you. We could do anything. Right now, what’s important for us is to solidify our foundation, because the foundation’s not set yet. Once we have that firm foundation we can built a lot on that.

The goal is to always worry about that that target on our back, continue to innovate, continue to create, change, continue to adapt . You’ve got to own your space in the market. We earned it, now we have to own it. Globally. That’s a challenge.

How do you avoid the trap of becoming a fad and burning out? We talk a lot internally about ‘getting too comfortable’ and I think that would turn us in to a fad and that would possibly have the ‘fizzle out’ affect. If we got too comfortable and started saying things like “Hey, we sold ‘this many’ black this year and we sold ‘this many’ navy last year” and all of a sudden you stop trying to innovate, stop trying to change, stop trying to be better and you worry about the anniversary of your business rather than creating new stories to tell.

There is a cycle that comes through. Someone who bought a bag in year one might not buy a bag the next year, but they might come through in year three. They need to have that same excitement and sense of discovery at that point. Sure, they know the brand, but now they want to know a new story or a new product within that brand. That requires innovation. That’s going to be the key. That’s the key for every brand. And any great brand that’s actually managed to succeed has constantly innovated, constantly changed. If we don’t do that, we deserve to fizzle out.

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In order to make sure we stay on track, we rely on not only our eye and our travel but our partners’ eyes and their travels. We rely on our ‘reps’ who have eyes on the road and in retail stores, and we rely our design team who is well-travelled and well-versed in culture. We listen to what they tell us about what they see. We trust that – with the number of eyes that we have on things now [hundreds] – that we can come up with a pretty good sense of what will work. After that, you’ve got to just go with your gut.

(Jamie) Pushing in to new categories so that even if someone does own a bag and they are not looking for a bag that day, they are going to come back and buy a wallet, buy a computer sleeve, want that new duffle bag. Our range has expanded. That’s one thing that we knew right from our first season, we did not want to be pigeon holed. We wanted to offer range. It allowed us some creative freedom. It allowed us to be able go out there and think about more than just one thing. We had it on our minds because we were travelling.

At this stage, we’ve been able to stand back and look at things like: how do you us devices, how do you use an iPad, how do you travel with your bag? So our bags have a heritage feel for the user, but once you open them up, they function. Constantly innovating.

Is part of the plan to have a little boutique for Herschel, a flagship? (Lyndon) I would have to say yes. It’s definitely going to be something we do. We have some shops in Hong Kong and Taiwan, some kiosks in Korea. Eventually we would move to having a couple of flagships, but they have to be in the right place at the right time. We’re just getting started here in terms of our brand, we’re only 4 years old.

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