Mambo. Deus ex Machina. Two brands that when you hear them, you know what they stand for. It’s constant, it’s fun, it engages you.
And in a time when the retail industry faces numerous pressures from ecommerce, reduced consumer spending, the dominance of global giants like Amazon, and more, it takes a special business to break through and rise to the top.
But how do you achieve that?
Business Insider spoke with Australian businessman Dare Jennings, founder of Mambo and Deus Ex Machina, ahead of this year’s Vivid Festival in Sydney where Jennings will be speaking, to find out what makes his businesses successful, how to make consumers excited about the idea you’re passionate about, and how to stay relevant in an industry going through immense change.
Here’s what he had to say.
Do what you love
Jennings is a real salt of the earth kind of guy.
When asked whether he considers himself a “game changer” he said: “It’s odd because in the end we have a life and we live our life the way we feel fit.
“It’s always strange for me when people ask me that because in a way I don’t wish to prescribe what to do (to others) because I did what I was capable of doing.
“The point that I am trying to say is we should all look in our own heart and decide what we want to do. There are entrepreneurs who will decide they have the secret and they’re going to tell it. I’m not like that. I would just say you have to find your own way… I am happy to tell people what I’ve done and in that they hopefully can find some inspiration that can apply to them.
“If I am to give advice to anybody it is to stay as close as you can to your heart and what you know. The minute you have do market research – from my point of view – you’re in trouble.
“Some people do it and they do it very successfully but for me, if I don’t understand it then I don’t do it… I do things because I care about it.”
So where did he find his passion?
Well, it wasn’t from the family business.
“I have a very rural background. My father was an excellent farmer and I was his only son and he probably wished that I was going to follow on in his footstep and we would create a rural dynasty. But sadly that was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do.
“I had no real interest in farming; popular culture was far more interesting for me.”
Instead he went to university, for a short time.
“When I left the country it was the late 60s, early 70s and it was a very exciting time – there was sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.
“And compared to driving a tractor around in circles, it sounded a lot more alluring.”
It was then the anti-Vietnam War movements caught his interest and altered his course.
He dropped out of uni and decided to teach himself how to screen print, starting with T-shirts and fabric, which turned into his first business: Mambo.
“We really did feel like we were changing the world, but the world was changing and we were at the forefront of it,” Jennings says.
“That was really part of the attitude of the time, but in the end, all the things I was passionate about at that stage I put into Mambo because it was art, it was music, it was surfing, it was clothing – it was all the things I really liked.
“I think I’ve always… liked to take things and put them altogether to make them an interesting whole. In the end I think that was the great thing about Mambo, it represented the pop culture of the time, it was political, it was satirical, it was intelligent… woven into what was in a lot of ways pure old boys’ jokes.”
Create an experience the customer wants to be a part of
It was this idea of combining ideas and activities that Jennings reinvented and applied to Deus ex Machina years later, contributing to its success.
More than creating a product and giving it to the consumer, Jennings stresses the importance of making a connection with your customers and bringing them into the fold.
“Happily, both my brands are dear to the hearts of many people. I’m astounded about the warm feeling people have about Mambo even though I sold it 20 years ago.
“[Similarly, Deus] is something that people want to belong to, that they will subscribe to, and become a part of,” he says.
“I always want people to feel like they have learned something or discovered an idea, an attitude. With Deus its about how to build things, make things”.
And when it comes to the headwinds the retail sector faces, Jennings said it’s this point of difference that helps his business succeed.
“The things that I am proud about with Deus is, we have opened these places called temples… they’re places you can come, they’re not high street places, but when come there are things being built, things being made, its worth making the effort to go there.
“So our stores are actually doing very well, but they’re not simple shops. They’re a combination of a bunch of activities which makes them far more interesting.
“We’ve got Milan, one in Tokyo, Venice Beach, and Bali, and they’re doing very well because they’re worth going there, there’s a bunch of different things going on.
“It’s not new but it’s never been more relevant, as people become more reliant on ecommerce they want to go places that are interesting… that’s the new reality.”
When asked how the internet and players like Amazon had affected his businesses, Jennings’ response was clear.
“Massively,” he said. “The internet has changed the world.”
He added: “You can’t begin to describe it… Everything speeds up. The thing is, it’s a game and the rules have changed. And you’ve got to change your strategies with it.
“The thing that I am proud of is the businesses that I have created have always had an authenticity to them. The things that we have participated in have been real, not sort of fashion affectations.”
Reflect the local market in your brand
But how do you take that authenticity and replicate it across numerous international markets?
Jennings’ answer is this: “Australia has a really shallow culture. Whether we like it or not we’re a new culture, compared to European cultures and even American
“To me this is an advantage because we can do something here that we’re passionate about, and care about, and we can take it to Italy… and we allow it to grow in an Italian sort of matter so it takes on an Italian character.
“It’s like planting a seed in different soils, the plant will grow according to the environment.
“So if you go to Tokyo, our Japanese store is identifiably Deus but it has a Japanese flavour to it. Same in America, same in Bali. Our store in Indonesia is fantastic with all wood, it’s like a big old Indonesian house but at the end we’re building motorcycles, making surfboards and all those activities go on there.
“Whereas if you go into a Prada store in Italy it will be exactly the same as the Prada store in Cape Town or Portland because they’re rolled out to a very tight brief. Whereas we’re the opposite of that.
“It’s not without its problems but I think when you get it right it’s fantastic, and I think we’ve done it well.”
He adds: “The second part to that… is you’ve got to be tenacious. It’s never easy. As I like to say, ‘the chilled wind of economics is forever blowing around your ankles.’ You’ve got to respond.
“As well as having a lovely idea, you’ve got to put it into practice and not go broke – that’s the other half of it.
“All the things that I’ve ever done have just been things that I know and care about, and that’s probably the message that I can give to people.”
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