Review how Australia-based Bellroy is bringing calm and order to work-from-home life, its strategy for breaking through the digital noise of life, and what product you should try first in this interview with co-founder Andy Fallshaw.
In 2009, co-founders Andy Fallshaw, Hadrien Monloup, Lina Calabria and Matthew Fallshaw founded Bellroy, and released their first product — the slim sleeve wallet — in 2010. (The name Bellroy is a mash-up of the towns of Bells Beach and Fitzroy in Australia where the company is located.)
Bellroy specializes in products that reduce clutter and bring calm to people’s lives. One of their most famous products is the slim sleeve wallet, designed to reduce the huge bulky wallets in men’s pockets, and minimize what they carry with them.
Today, Bellroy creates a slew of sleek, minimalist, and sustainable products that keep people organized, including a tech kit for organizing cords and other tech at home, a work folio, and a classic pouch. The company is an excellent example of the digital-first brands helping men dress sharp and live well in the modern world.
Omnichannel and global from Day One
Bellroy has “always wanted to show up where our customers want us,” according to Andy, which led to an omnichannel approach to retail from Day One. Their major sales channels are their website, third party digital marketplaces, and global retailers.
Their largest sales channel is their own website which is translated into multiple languages and currencies. Bellroy utilizes warehouses around the world to support fast shipments.
Bellroy also leverages digital marketplaces around the world, including Amazon, Tmall, and Rakuten. They also distribute through an extensive retail network with retailers in over 50 countries.
The company is impressively global. Each month Bellroy sells to over 120 countries. The United States is its largest market, “but not by much, as we have strong sales in all the major economies of the world. Japan, UK, Australia, China, Singapore, Germany and France,” Andy told me. “It’s heartening to see our products resonate in so many regions,” he added.
These are the products you should try first, according to Bellroy’s founder.
I asked Andy what product he would recommend for someone who has never tried the brand.
“I always like to start with the things that are most broken, which is different for every single customer,” he replied.
“I’d start by asking a number of questions, trying to tease out whether they’ve felt held back or weighed down, as they’ve tried to move through the world. For most of us, there are one or two products we’re using that actually suck, and are holding us back from doing what we want, where we want.
“Those products may be a bulging wallet that has to be removed before we sit down. Or a bag that is uncomfortable, ungainly or not versatile enough for the life we are living. Or it may be the mess of cords and tech accessories we need to do our work, but which are lacking a good way to manage.
“But if I need to pick a gift for a person I don’t know much about, there are two areas I’ve noticed most people don’t have a good existing option for:
- Bellroy’s Tech Kit, which manages those cords and tech accessories that few people have control over.
- Bellroy’s 3 Card Phone Case (pictured above), which discreetly nests your most used cards on the back of your phone, so you can get through most excursions with nothing but it and your phone.
How Bellroy breaks through the digital noise
I spend a lot of time at Modern Fellows exploring how brands are breaking through the digital noise of everyday life to connect with customers. Some digital retailers will send you snail-mail catalogs. Others like M. M. Lafleur and Ministry of Supply are shaping brick-and-mortar 2.0 with new retail concepts and installations.
Andy told me that, “the most obvious avenue is that while we’re digitally native, we’ve always valued the role of multi-brand retailers, rather than restricting our channels to only Direct To Consumer. So our products are carried in amazing stores like United Arrows, MOMA, Huckberry, Patagonia and Nordstrom, with those partners introducing us to their communities.
“We also do a lot in the product collaboration space, favoring on-going relationships rather than one-off releases. We’re really proud of the programs we’ve built with brands like Google, Clae, MAAP and Qantas, where we explore new variations of our products specially tweaked to resonate with those communities.
“Something else we do that is different to most brands is our Carryology.com platform, where we founded the world’s leading ‘carry’ blog. Carryology explores ‘better ways to carry,’ across all the brands in our space. So we share the best carry the world has to offer, as well as promoting learning, events and best-practice from all of our ‘competitors.’ This is run by an independent team to maintain objectivity, and has had remarkable success in raising awareness and solutions in the carry space.
He also told me that it’s important to think carefully about what a company does once you actually get in front of that customer.
“Once you’re in front of potential new customers, you need to show up well in ways that answer questions and anxieties these folks may have. We put a lot of time into compelling imagery and videos, like our recycled bottles stop-motion, which help potential customers understand a product and its intention when they can’t interact with it physically.”
COVID-19 is making Bellroy reassess the role it plays in customers’ everyday life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has roiled retail, forcing many brands to rethink their messaging, product mix and role in their customers’ lives.
Black Lapel is dealing with the coronavirus while suit sales are down. Personal care products brand Duke Cannon Supply Company is helping first responders and generating amazing PSAs. Wolf and Shepherd CEO Justin Schneider had to make quick decisions to survive. Rumpl CEO Wylie Robinson Tweaked its Brand Positioning to adjust. Jon Shanahan, co-founder of Skincare innovator Stryx, pivoted its messaging to show how his products can help you look your best on Zoom calls.
I asked Andy about the impact of COVID-19 on his business. He told me that, as life ground to a halt earlier this year, “like many brands, we needed to quickly reassess the role we played in people’s lives.”
“Our products are designed to help people move through a variety of different environments. Public transits, like air travel, are a part of that, but we are finding that our products are still really useful in helping people move about their everyday lives. Even now, when life is more confined than ever, we have been able to offer products that organize a workspace, which is likely a dining table or similar, at the moment, or help people with smaller, local spheres of movement,” he observed.
“On the product side, with global travel at a standstill, we pulled our travel marketing campaign and instead decided to release our new travel bags quietly,” he said.
Bellroy had also been working on a collaboration with Jeff Staple and the Miller Design Lab, which they had to pivot from a planned 250 in-person event to an at-home-only digitally accessible experience.
Andy observed a shift in demand among Bellroy’s product mix.
“We began seeing our bag and wallet demand start to slow, with most people staying at home and no longer commuting, and cash payments becoming less accepted around the globe,” he noted.
“In the opposite direction, the increased usage of digital tools for virtual calls, social interactions, online purchasing and remote working meant that our Tech and Work Accessory categories began to spike,” he added.
Managing supply chain and distribution channels
Andy also noted the impact on Bellroy’s supply chain and distribution channels.
He told me that, with factory closures happening across Asia, and store closures throughout the world, he and his team had to keep a close eye on the movement of the virus in order to manage both ends of supply and demand.
“We didn’t know when people would begin to shop in stores again, so we worked to support our brick and mortar retail partners with online transitions, as well as ramp up our digital marketing and tech product category while things stabilized.”
Assessing the new normal for Bellroy’s workplace
Andy described how Bellroy is adjusting to the new normal of workplace restrictions and social distancing.
He told me that everyone is adjusting to this new landscape where restrictions, new rules and different modes of interacting are likely to pervade our daily lives for some time.
“Culturally, we Australians are used to traveling outside of our country so being home-bound has challenged us to appreciate our own backyard more,” he said.
Bellroy is now running some experiments, in some cases by necessity, that they’ve thought about in the past, like testing what it would be like if we didn’t have an office and instead all worked from home.
“Generally, you learn things from experiments, even when they’re not a screaming success,” said Andy.
He noted that meetings actually run pretty well on Google Hangouts, but “we’re missing the serendipity of the conversation at the coffee machine or in the walkway.”
He added that, “we’ve really come to realize how important these moments of interaction are. It lubricates the creative and decision making processes. So we’re all working harder to connect through the week because connection isn’t happening as naturally anymore.”
These are some of the brands that Bellroy’s founder admires most.
Andy told me that so much of Bellroy’s own progress has come through learning from others.
“The brands we most admire tend to change paradigms, operate with long-term horizons, and unite business and brand with discipline and spark. That’s no easy combination!” he said.
He pointed first to Patagonia, who not only makes consistently great gear, but “has done more than almost any other brand to pioneer sustainability in the apparel space. They’re unapologetically focused, yet share their learning and innovations broadly to help lift others up.”
Andy said he’s also a huge fan of Outlier. “Not only were Abe and Tyler one of the first in what might be labelled the active everyday clothing space, they have also continued to innovate in materials, cuts and community communications without ever slowing,” he added.
“There are so many others, including Burton snowboards, Hestra gloves, David Kind Eyewear, Mystery Ranch packs, Arc’teryx outerwear… I could be here all day.” (For more on David Kind, check out Modern Fellows’ guide to alternatives to Warby Parker that will let you try-on glasses at home.)
What’s next for Bellroy? Organizing society’s new essentials.
Bellroy is about to launch their smallest-ever bag silhouette, the City Pouch (pictured above). It’s a cross-body bag that builds on the design principles of their Sling bag.
It’s a bag that unpacks your pockets, and organizes your essentials. It organizes new essentials like masks and hand sanitizer, and separates them from high-touch accessories like phone, wallet, and keys.
“It’s a bag for the world we live in now, and will teach the wearer to simplify what they carry,” said Andy.
For more, you can listen to Andy discuss bringing value to customers, how the company has changed it’s model during COVID-19, and the importance of categorizing remote work vs. in-person work on the Business of Hype podcast.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Bellroy.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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