AussieBum’s glocal success: Turning mocks into money
Today, aussieBum is the go-to brand for A-name celebs around the globe. But before gaining international recognition, aussieBum’s founder, Sean Ashby was literally laughed at by local retail buyers. Bravely choosing not to wallow, Mr Ashby turned his attention overseas and now makes big bucks online.
Mr Ashby’s idea for aussieBum was born on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Fond of making up original business ideas, in 2001 Mr Ashby decided to give into his entrepreneurial spirit and invest his house deposit savings into manufacturing a line of Aussie-made men’s underwear and swimwear. But, when Australia blatantly rejected his idea and retailers slammed their doors in his face, instead of shutting up shop, Mr Ashby turned his attention to the global market and the world wide web.
A few years later, Mr Ashby’s swimwear featured in Kylie Minogue’s music video clip Slow. He later won a national award at the Australian Export Awards in Canberra, and now his products are raking in money across North America, the UK, France, Germany and South Korea.
You initially faced harsh rejection from local retailers, tell us how you decided to go global?
AussieBum was rejected by retailers in Australia for being ‘too Australian’, ‘out of touch with swimwear trends’ etc. As I was constantly met by rejections from retail buyers, I decided to start learning how to build a website. I learnt this from scratch.
After exhausting every retail sales channel locally, I found I had plenty of time to refine my skills building an e-commerce site. Ironically, when I decided to enter the e-commerce market everyone else was getting out. My first order was from the UK. After that initial sale, orders began arriving from other countries. It made me realise just how powerful e-commerce on the world wide web was.
I completely refocused and invested in this sales channel. My motivation and drive were driven by the results I was achieving every time I updated my website.
What are the benefits of becoming a ‘glocal’ company?
I would do more than recommend internationalisation to local SMEs. I would say it is the only way for you to sustain an e-commerce business online, with the world already parked in our back yard (so to speak). I’ve come to learn that Australians struggle to accept that what we produce for consumers (B2C), does have a market value internationally.
If you’re not selling globally, then you are not going to sustain your online sales channel. If your business does not have the resources or financial capability to invest, then I suggest using one of the multiple market places available online, like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba etc.
Today, Australian sales make up only 10 per cent of your business, how did you turn your international experience into a success?
Our Australian market has grown in the past few years, however, so have other markets internationally. South Korea is now our seventh largest market, but a short four years ago it didn’t even exist. I continue to stay close to my customers and focus also on the technology that is driving my sales and my business growth.
Our success is derived by our ability to disrupt overseas competitors’ markets with ongoing innovation, eye catching and socially relevant media content and, most importantly, by selling the Australia dream and lifestyle.
AussieBum doesn’t actually have sales reps overseas, everything is done online, tell us more about the benefits of the web?
Our sales reps are our customers and each one is armed with an amazing social media account. We refer to our customers as ‘The Tribe’. The Tribe rule every decision we make. They use our brand to link with like minded customers in other parts of the world. During summer time, members of our Tribe can identify each other by the swimwear they wear. This is no different to wearing a rugby sports top, or a watch brand that indicates your level of style.
“The benefits of the web are endless. The best one is that as I sleep my shop is open. It’s literally open for business 24/7, 365 days of the year. I had a meeting recently and a colleague asked how my recent overseas trip went. I had to stop and think for a moment because I no longer think of overseas as being “overseas”. Weird? Yes, I realise.
I speak more to people from other countries than I do in my own country. And when talking, I think of these colleagues as being in Australia. It’s one of the benefits of living in a diverse, multi-cultural society. If I was to talk about the benefits of the web, this interview would go on all night. In essence, the web has simplified the way we connect and communicate with like minded people or businesses.
Not being part of that community is like living in the outback. There are many that love the outback lifestyle, and I am one of them, but if you want to be part of society you need to be present in the forum everyone else is communicating in.
Is it safe to say that expanding globally does not have to be a costly process?
Many SMEs are worried about the cost repercussions. It’s not a costly process as long as you are prepared to get hands-on and learn about all the solutions yourself, so that you develop a solid understanding of how it all works.
Your business acumen and gut instinct need to come into play. I find it amusing when a business person says they can’t do it because of the cost. But they’re very happy to spend a bucket load of money to reach a fraction in their local market. So, it’s more of a “I won’t”, rather than “I can’t”.
The truth is, the only way a business can withstand today’s market is by consistently innovating and remaining relevant to modern society. It’s as simple as, if “you snooze, you lose”.
You have won numerous major export marketing and e-commerce awards in Australia; would you say that SMEs receive enough government support and guidance once they choose to expand overseas?
The Australian government does do everything it can to assist during the start-up process. However, following the initial start-up support, you are on your own. But, by that stage you should have already developed a strong network of training, support and mentorship to take over where the government has left off.
The biggest challenge for exporters, trading in consumer goods globally, are the high import tax and duty charges.
I personally would like to see our free trade agreements include Australian made consumer goods that are purchased from our country and shipped to another via B2C sales channels. Apart from this, I think our government is doing the best it can and is equal to governments around the world.