This business has confronted the new retailing reality and gone totally online, writes Alexandra Cain.
It's a tough call for any business to shut up shop, so to speak. But for Matt Dampney, founder of cutting-edge clothing brand Damp Streetwear, it was the right move at the right time. One he hopes will help him connect with an investor to take his brand global. Dampney also runs a boutique design studio specialising in branding called Damp Design.
At the end of 2012 Dampney decided to eschew a bricks and mortar strategy and close his shopfront, located in Curl Curl, in Sydney's northern beaches. Instead, he is rolling out an online strategy for the clothing side of the business. It's a novel and practical response to the tough retailing environment.
"People loved coming to the shop but it was hard for them to discover it hidden away in a little seaside town," Dampney explains. "With online, there's lots of opportunities for people to come to you. Yes, there's more competition, but in contrast running a quiet shop was much more difficult and challenging."
Before he closed the shop Dampney was paying around $20,000 a year in rent and working solo. Now he works from a vibrant space in Manly called Berrins with a community of creative entrepreneurs for less than $700 a month.
"I really needed to streamline the clothing business. We were having monthly gallery shows and parties in Curl Curl, which is a core part of the label, but expensive on top of having to pay big rent. Luckily Berrins is a converted retail space and on the weekends I can use it as a pop-up store which gives me access to a much bigger audience in Manly compared to further up the coastline."
Dampney estimates rental for a shop in Manly would cost him roughly $50,000 a year. "The way I operate now, for a couple of hundred bucks a weekend I can have a fully fitted out shop and create our own Damp environment filled with art and t-shirts. That's where retail is going; it's all about finding cheaper ways to sell things - there's a reason why you see shops in Manly close every month."
He's also identifying smart ways to market the business online. For instance, he recently did a campaign with Sprout Daily, a daily blog filled with dawn shots of Manly taken by local photographer Murray Fraser. The blog is distributed to thousands of people each day and Dampney advertised his t-shirts on the blog during the week-long promotion.
Aside from his clothing business, Dampney also runs a thriving graphic design firm from his new Manly base. He has recently entered into an arrangement with a local marketing consultancy, Marketing Angels, to be its creative director.
Dampney's background is in medium and large creative agencies, but five years ago he decided to go out on his own so he could see more of his creative ideas come to fruition. His clients have included Universal Sony, EMI Records, Cosmax and Remington.
"I got jack of the agency world. There was always a level of people stopping your creative ideas from going through. I wanted more control over the creative process so I decided to go on the adventure of starting my own business," he said.
The streetwear side of the enterprise came three years ago. "Streetwear had always been a hobby but it became more serious when I started to make good connections in manufacturing," he explains.
Dampney started small with market stalls in Manly and Narrabeen. "I realised that was a difficult row to hoe and that's when I decided to open the store, which was a space where I could combine both businesses." He's now fully focused on running the design business from his new Manly home and ramping up online sales of his streetwear gear.
He's not phased by big online competitors like clothes e-tailer The Iconic, which offers same-day delivery of its products. "Where they are is exactly where I need to be. The volumes they do mean they get good postal rates, which makes it hard for smaller guys, but we'll get there."
As for the future, Dampney says, "the beauty of online allows me to express myself creatively and connect directly to consumers around the world. At some point I'll need to find the right type of investor to take the business to the next stage."