Here, they explain what it’s like to start a business during a global pandemic.
Inside Retail: Why did you decide to go out on your own and launch Sole Collab? Were you planning to launch it pre-Covid?
Jodie Piper & Craig Wissler: In the first few weeks after we left our previous roles, we were approached by several businesses within the industry which was really flattering. We got great advice from our former CEO Martin Matthews to take our time and really decompress before deciding what [to do] next. It was going through that process that we both gravitated to the idea of pouring our energy into our own business. It started as a shift to improve work-life balance and provide more autonomy in our careers. Sole Collab has flourished into an incredible opportunity to focus our collective experience in areas we are truly passionate about.
To answer the second part of the question about timing. We had for many years tinkered with the idea of creating our own brand at some stage, but always found excuses to pour our energy into existing brands. On reflection it was the implications of Covid that became the catalyst for us to seize the opportunity. And ironically as we shared our plans with friends and close colleagues, overwhelmingly the response was “about time you two did this”.
The interest both domestically and internationally has created some amazing opportunities which is a great endorsement of a long-held dream for both of us. ToeZone the first of our brand launches, went live on January 11, and is a great showpiece of what Sole Collab is capable of. Our licensed partners have been blown away by the level of execution in such a short space of time and we are now actively participating in their next stage of growth in the northern hemisphere.
IR: How would you describe the process of launching your own business together during a pandemic?
JP & CW: Exhilarating! Covid has taught us so much about seizing opportunities in a fluid environment. There is a new sense of energy around getting on with life in a very startup mentality. Whilst the broader economy has stalled through a series of lockdowns and stop-start reactions. Being smaller and more nimble has given us the opportunity to chase green shoots as they appear without the historical lengthy approval processes. Making decisions together, backing ourselves and getting on with executing has been incredibly liberating.
And whilst we have to constantly balance risk and reward, it’s on our terms and with a greater control of our own destiny. We are thriving on a shared vision that has been a lifelong dream. We have been re-energised by what it is to live and breathe brands uninhibited.
IR: How would you describe the current footwear industry and what does Sole Collab offer that’s different? What’s missing from the market?
JP & CW: The current industry is full of opportunity and we are seeing that in recent results being posted by really clever businesses like Accent Group, Premier Investments, JB Hi-Fi and the Shaver Shop. These are great examples of business that capture and hold the attention of the customer seamlessly across multiple touchpoints. They are mastering the ability to engage with customers on an almost daily basis by building loyalty and advocacy. This will be critical in separating innovative branding and product strategies as opposed to relying on the crowded discount promotional calendar to generate sales. Those that have fallen victim to this are in a race to the bottom, I’m not sure that is a race you want to win.
As consumer confidence rebuilds, we think customers are craving differentiation. It’s human nature to be inquisitive about something new, something clever, something original. The market is primed for that experience delivered through brands that are trusted and, most importantly, transparently focused on what the customer genuinely wants. But to find that out, you must be able to have a conversation with the customer. It is almost Retail 101. Great service has always been about listening to customers’ needs and wants and finding solutions with them.
IR: What are some of the lessons that you learnt from your previous roles in retail at Clarks and Julius Marlow that have helped you build your new business? How has your experience helped you shape Sole Collab?
JP & CW: Sole Collab is really a culmination of all the great brands we have been part of and the amazing people we have worked with. Julius Marlow and Clarks reinforced how important brand disciplines are. The acceleration of online showed us the potential to take brands directly to the consumer and how great content is crucial in engaging the end consumer.
We want Sole Collab to challenge the status quo. Leveraging brands and partnerships, we want to inspire the world to be the best version of itself. Through understanding a customer’s needs and unlocking the full potential of brands and categories.
ToeZone is a great example of how we harnessed a unique solution to a customer pain point that has evolved through the growth of online.
We know how hard it is to get the right fit for your kid’s shoes. Busy shopping centres, trying on pair after pair. Our ToeZone patented visual fit technology fixes all that.
In three easy steps, you can find the right fit for your child’s shoe and easily keep an eye on how their feet are growing. Reminding you to replace your pair before they get too small.
IR: You both worked in the same company before, but now you work together. What’s that been like for you both so far, and what are some of the interesting insights that you’ve learnt about each other?
JP & CW: We have always thrived on working in the same industry and we have been at our best when working for the same business. We have this intuitive ability to lean into each other’s individual strengths. With a diverse network of resources, unparalleled experience and an infectious enthusiasm that create a wealth of knowledge and experience we complement each other.
We have had to learn extra skills and hone our existing expertise. To do that you have to be honest about what you can and cannot do. We know each other really well, there is no room for egos or one-upmanship. You need to be brave enough to have discussions that are not tainted with personal agenda. We have developed a hypersensitivity to each other’s needs emotionally and professionally that has brought us even closer together. It is the most invigorating and incredibly satisfying experience.