Hats off to brolly good deal

17:00, Apr 08 2014
Mark Duffin
MARK DUFFIN: 'We've learned that the big buyers in the US are looking for sell-through and that's all they really care about.'

The staff at Kiwi umbrella company MadeBlunt might be the only people who are hoping it will rain at the Masters golf tournament this week.

MadeBlunt has signed a deal with top US golf brand, Titleist, to have its wind-resilient Blunt golf umbrellas used by their sponsored caddies and players, including last year's Masters winner, Adam Scott and his New Zealander caddy Steve Williams.

But the golf deal is only part of Blunt's US success story. Last week Mark Duffin, MadeBlunt's US distributor, signed a supply deal with prestigious US retailer Bloomingdales.

The former Aucklander and his business partners, Auckland Grammar School rowing buddy Daniel Houghton and American Matthew Rhodes, have had the licence to distribute Blunt in the US since 2011.

Based in San Francisco for three years, Duffin's efforts with the Blunt umbrella are finally paying off. After putting in the legwork selling the premium umbrellas to smaller stores across the US and Canada, the big boy retailers such as Bloomingdales, outdoor company REI and Nordstrom's catalogue and online wing, Nordstrom Direct, are following suit.

"We've learned that the big buyers in the US are looking for sell-through and that's all they really care about," Duffin said.


If a large company has a budget of $100,000 the buyers focus on how much of that $100,000 stock sells through to the market, Duffin said.

Blunt was able to prove its worth came when the umbrella recently won Germany's prestigious iF design award and The Netherland's red dot award. Duffin also demonstrated to the retail giants the reordering history of their 250 smaller stores.

"We couldn't come out here in 2011 and sell these straight off the plane. Back then we were nothing except a website so it's about proving our concept."

In the US market, where most flimsy brollys cost around US$5, Blunt umbrellas range in price between US$50-US$120. Despite industry pressure, the company has stood by its price point, as its higher manufacturing standards guarantees 100 per cent product quality control.

Their smaller metro umbrellas have proven popular, particularly in San Francisco, New York and Chicago - areas where a wind-hardy umbrella comes in handy.

Last month Duffin and his team moved into the Kiwi Landing Pad start-up workspace, in San Francisco alongside Silicon Valley New Zealand companies Booktrack and Modlar.

"The majority of companies at the [Kiwi Landing Pad] are tech-related, and although we are the only physical product company in there, it's a good place to work because you are constantly around really driven people, and that helps with your own ambition as well," Duffin said.

"It helps us emphasise that Blunt is a Kiwi product too.

"A lot of people will hear my accent and then ask if Blunt is an Australian product, but New Zealand has a really good reputation here thanks to the America's Cup, The Lord of the Rings and Air New Zealand so it's good to distinguish ourselves."

Scott Kington, MadeBlunt's New Zealand-based co-founder, is pleased with the company's success in the US, something he'd love to one day match in the UK, a market the Blunt continues to struggle in.

MadeBlunt made its first profit last year, and Kingston partly credits that to the success of its distribution model.

"The biggest business lesson we have learned is how to identify a good distributor," said Kington.

"It needs someone who is prepared to put a bit of skin in the game for a start.

"If they are holding a fair amount of stock, they will ultimately be trying to push it out there, they need to invest in a bit of risk."

Keeping communication lines open with his distribution team is critical. "You do have to keep on with your people overseas," said Kington.

"We sit here in the office and we talk about our products all day, every day, and we feed off that enthusiasm, but you have to realise your people out there are their own little island. They don't have as many people to bounce that enthusiasm off.

"You have to be pretty open to chatting to them. I'm on Skype all the time having chats at midnight. And then the product starts having its own momentum."