In a number of my workshops and presentations I’ve used the example of some research into the power of harnessing social norms to drive energy efficiency. And also how these same norms can have unexpected rebound effects. In preparation of a workshop I’m running in a few weeks’ time I came across Alex Laskey’s fantastic talk on the subject. Well worth a watch—he does a fantastic job of explaining how it all works and what they’ve found.
- Author: Grant
- Published: Jul 4th, 2013
- Category: Design, NGOs & Nonprofits, Presentations, Work
- Comments: Comments Off
This time last week I was deeply engrossed in the IDEA Summit, which was a gathering of people exploring what “indigenous digital excellence” means.
I was privileged to be one of the co-facilitators for the sessions, and had the opportunity to briefly present on the concept of “design thinking”. Hopefully I did the topic justice in such a short timeframe (15 mins)! My presentation is embedded below, or you can download a PDF of the presentation with my associated speaker notes (PDF 3.9MB).
The event, which ran over 2 days, was a really inspiring experience to participate in. The atmosphere was awesome, in no small part due to Rhianna Patrick’s “MC” role.
The event culminated in a presentation of 5 ideas explored by the participants to a broader audience of invited guests. The 5 ideas emerged from exploration of a number of key themes that emerged early in the Summit around self-determination, appropriate technology, sustainability (for communities to manage and continue initiatives beyond the initial “seed”), mobile, and cultural transmission.
Opportunities identified by participants related to mobile applications for collaboration and finding kin, to business concepts that protect indigenous knowledge, an indigenous-centric search engine, to an initiative providing some innovative twists on mobile phone recycling programs.
The output was inspiring, as was the process. It was amazing (on a personal level) to hear how the process employed—a co-design process in the design thinking/service design vein—had such an impact on participants, both in terms of the Summit itself, but beyond. A part of this was the valuable connections between individuals across the two days and the sense of solidarity behind the initiative.
An exciting development during the Summit was the announcement of substantial support from the Telstra Foundation to the NCIE to continue and develop the ideas that emerged through the Summit. I’ve been impressed with the Foundation’s openness to co-design methods, of which the Summit was a part, in terms of developing the “Indigenous Digital Excellence Agenda”. And from all reports the Summit has played a tremendously positive role in this regard.
Kudos to team at NCIE (especially Mickey and Maddie) for such an inspiring first step. Given the Summit’s success, I’m really looking forward to the momentum behind the “mini-movement” the Summit was intended to engender growing in the coming months and years.
P.S. some great photos of proceedings have been posted on Facebook. Seems all of the speakers like to use their hands to talk! And despite appearances to the contrary, I wasn’t angry in my talk… :\
I really admired Shai Agassi’s vision for this business, and have highlighted it as a great example of both social innovation/shared value (business with a social/environmental benefit at its heart) and design thinking (replicating the convenience/experience of a service station for the electric vehicle age) in presentations and workshops that I’ve facilitated. Naysayers will no doubt latch on to this event as reasoning for a) why social innovation/shared value doesn’t work and/or b) why electric vehicles are not going to succeed (case in point).
They externalised and amortised one of the key drivers of higher costs of electric cars (commentary I’ve seen puts the battery at about 20–30% of the cost of the vehicle). The model also presented real business incentives to improve longevity and management of battery technology waste due to the side-effects of product service systems. Batteries could be more easily rolled out to customers over time as well, as new technology came to market without modification to the vehicle.
I also admired the multi-faceted nature of the business—which proposed not only technology for battery swapping, but also more general charging infrastructure. I saw an interview with Agassi where he described A Better Place not as a charging or battery company, but as an energy company. They saw the potential for electric cars playing a significant role in smart grid infrastructure—a vision much broader than just cars.
The article linked at the outset of this post doesn’t go into a lot of detail, other than to suggest public uptake of electric vehicles was slower than anticipated, and gaining automotive supplier support was a key barrier.
It’s perhaps ironic that a company set up to remove one of the key barriers to electric vehicle sales—the “range anxiety” issue—was unable to get sufficient support from automotive manufactures, who report lower-than-expected uptake of electric vehicles as a reason not to invest more. Seems like a classic chicken and egg conundrum, that A Better Place was looking to solve and externalise for the manufacturers. Given only one vehicle manufacturer—Nissan Renault—got behind the initiative, it does beg the question just how serious car companies are about really advancing this market. That said, even leader Tesla Motors hadn’t gotten behind the approach, as far as I know, and they certainly can’t be accused of not promoting/supporting an electric vehicle future. (I would be especially interested in Tesla’s comment/take on A Better Place’s closure.)
I suspect the biggest problem was simply trying to launch too early to support an immature industry. That is to say they were simply ahead of their time. Electric vehicle technology is in its relative infancy, and standards and technologies are evolving rapidly. I suspect it was difficult to get manufacturers to commit to a standard given the many different configurations and challenges related to A Better Place’s approach. Battery technology, in particular, is rapidly evolving.
And placement of batteries within a floor-pan is not as simple as finding a place for a petrol tank. For example, some manufacturers have layered them across the floor-pan. Others have placed them behind the seat. Others, still, have them placed in various locations across the vehicle to balance weight and driving dynamics.
I’ve not had a moment to review further commentary on the closure, so I’ll be interested to learn more in the coming weeks/months as more is written about A Better Place’s experience, as no doubt will happen. I’d love to read comment from those close to the project, with the benefit of a little distance in time, what lessons were learned.
I have said in the past I don’t think hydrogen fuel cells are coming any time soon (I see this as a bit of a red herring—a future that will perpetually “just around the corner” to give manufacturers and excuse for not backing alternatives). And while battery technology is improving at a rapid clip, it will be some time before charge times reduce to minutes, instead of hours. Short of a miracle breakthrough (which is a potential, but still not something we can “bank” on). Will charge time become a non-issue as range increases? I don’t think it will—certainly not in the public’s perception.
So something like A Better Place will be needed if electric vehicles are to achieve widespread up-take in a non-urban/fleet environment, even in the short term. Given A Better Place’s experience, I’m wondering what new venture/approach will step up to take its place?
- Author: Grant
- Published: May 22nd, 2013
- Category: Social media & networking, Work
- Comments: Comments Off
This is a cross-post from the Indigenous Digital Excellence site, part of the ongoing conversation in the lead up to the IDEA Summit.
I’m feeling really excited to have been invited to co-facilitate one of the groups at the up-coming IDEA Summit. I feel it’s a real privilege to be part of this process.
As I’ve been preparing for the Summit, I’ve been giving some thought to “What does Indigenous Digital Excellence mean?”. My first stab at an answer (from my personal perspective) is on the IDEA website:
The highly personal and “always available” nature of digital technologies, including social media, present significant promise in supporting positive personal and social change in a wide variety of contexts. To me, “Indigenous Digital Excellence” means empowering and supporting young Indigenous people to find their own creative solutions to their distinct challenges, using digital technologies as a foundation. I believe that these solutions will be far more powerful and creative than anything I could/would come up with.
Prompted by Summit co-facilitator Leanne Townsend, I started to think about this question in my own sphere. That is, as a (largely) digitally-based professional, what do I consider “digital excellence” to mean? That is to say, if I was to look around at my peers in my own personal network and ask “what does digital excellence look like?”, I’d suggest the following (probably incomplete) list:
- Has pragmatic familiarity with a wide variety of digital devices, software tools, and spaces.
- Actively participates in online social networks, professionally and/or personally.
- Leverages digital technologies effectively in achieving their own personal goals.
- Is able to make informed judgements about what tools are right for their particular requirements/circumstance.
- Has confidence in getting up to speed with (evaluating, understanding and adapting to) new digital technologies quickly as needed.
- Is not overwhelmed by it all.
- Maintains a healthy relationship to digital technologies so that they are appropriately integrated into real-life interactions—i.e. not addicted to checking emails at every available moment. Chooses when “going dark” is appropriate and needed to maintain personal space and balance.
- Is aware of, and has sufficient confidence and support in mitigating, the various risks and dangers inherent in online interactions—such as personal security, handling bullying, what’s appropriate in public vs. private vs. professional contexts.
- Is aware of the broader socio-technical and socio-economic implications of digital technologies. That is, the broader impacts and influence these technologies are having on society at large.
I’ve just written that list off the top of my head, but it’s interesting to note that only a couple are related to the technology themselves. Most are personal attributes in how someone approaches technology. This, I think, is important.
Extending from this then, I’m very interested in whether or not Indigenous Digital Excellence is different from the above? Are there unique challenges within the Indigenous community that would influence this list? I’m personally not sure, but I’m very interested in hearing from others about their thoughts…
- Author: Grant
- Published: May 16th, 2013
- Category: Business 2.0, Sustainability
- Comments: Comments Off
I’ve been a fan of Nau clothing since their launch and have watched closely as they went through closure, were bought out, and have started to rise again.
Nau make stylish active wear. It’s not hard to notice that more recently they have made cycling culture a focus. Their latest email newsletter is one example.
I think this approach is really smart. They have a clear niche they’re focusing on, but that niche has much wider-spread appeal to the urban fashion set. That is to say, there are many folks that aren’t part of cycling culture that still admire and appreciate the “hipsters on fixies” as part of their guide to style and fashion.
When thinking about social innovation and sustainable business (which Nau is—they follow the cradle-to-cradle principles of “waste = food”) this is very important. To not target only on the sustainability minded, but to find a strong niche that is aligned with those sustainability values. This is part of the advice from our case study on Haul—that it was the uniqueness of the product that was the (primary) selling point, not sustainability features.
In any case, I’m excited by Nau’s prospects and direction, and am even more excited by my recent discovery that they now ship internationally :) Just a matter of time before one of these ends up in my wardrobe…
Having been involved in the development/management of a few brands, when I saw this quote from Michael Hendrix from IDEO, I just had to share:
Hendrix put the challenge to me metaphorically, with the firm represented by a person with a wardrobe full of outfits. “There’s you, the person, and you have your full identity in yourself,” he says. “But you know contextually when to wear certain things. You might wear one thing to a funeral, you might wear one thing for a Saturday night. You understand those contexts. And those never change your identity, so to speak, but they do start to communicate some kind of intent. And that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now. How do you create some kind of contextual mirror to create intent.”
This is so fitting (’scuse the pun) and deeply reflects my thinking and approach to branding. A brand is not just about the visual identity. It’s a system of values that are applied in a variety of contexts. This applies to tone of voice for copy as well, just as strongly (which, of course, is also a reflection of the brand). It’s great to have such a nice succinct analogy to call upon in explaining the concept…
I also love this idea of a “responsive identity”:
Imagine it’s 15 years in the future, and you’re wearing Google Glass 3.0. The spectacles have matured far beyond their awkward picture-in-picture beginnings, now offering something much closer to true augmented reality. It’s a strange new hybrid world. You glance at a subway station and see an overlay of how long until the next train arrives. You look at a dog, wonder what type it is, and a voice in your ear identifies it as a Thai Ridgeback. Of course, commerce has kept apace. A window display at Macy’s comes to life when you look in its direction; a virtual billboard on top of the Starbucks facade rotates through a half dozen drink specials.
This future, or one like it, isn’t hard to fathom. But here’s something that’s a bit harder to pin down: What does the logo on that Starbucks look like?
That’s one of the things Hendrix hopes this project will get his designers to start considering. “We haven’t had to think about responsive identities,” he says. “We haven’t had to think about time or space. And I think those will all become more important dimensions.”
I’ve often spoken about the benefits of iterative design, and in particular agile management approaches, such as Scrum. Most of my experience with Scrum is as a software development approach (e.g. building web applications), but I’ve always seen the value in the methodology outside of this sphere, just rarely had the opportunity to work with it in this way (due to the nature of our engagement with clients).
Bruce Feiler does a terrific job of explaining the basics and benefits of a scrum approach outside the traditional software realm in Agile programming – for your family:
I love this “life hacking” idea—and love the anecdotes relating to the benefits that Bruce highlights in his talk. I’ve recently started to use this approach to manage a non-software team, and we have already started to see benefits. Multiple members of the team have commented how the extra visibility is really valuable. I’m also seeing benefits (as team leader) in terms of visibility, but especially collaborative prioritisation.
More about Scrum
If you’re interested in finding out more about Scrum as a methodology, I have found Softhouse’s Scrum in 5 minutes primer a very helpful introductory guide (HT @missnae) It’s a slightly annoying download process, but one of the better guides that literally takes 5 mins to get through.
The Interaction Consortium and Zumio adapted this diagram from Boehm, Barry, and Richard Turner (2005. Management challenges to implementing agile processes in traditional development organizations. IEEE Software 22 (5 (September/October 2005)) to visually explain the basic gist of Scrum.
This post is part of a series outlining my learnings from interviews with a number of small and medium businesses exploring how they have benefited from a shared value approach. These case studies support a paper I wrote exploring strategic CSR (PDF 1.3MB). This case study is based on an interview undertaken in 2012 by Allison Heller, who at the time of publishing is Social Strategy Advisor for the City of Sydney.
The distinctive orange side mirrors of GoGet CarShare cars are an increasingly familiar sight across Sydney’s urban neighbourhoods, along with those in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.
Australians are notoriously wedded to their private vehicles. But attitudes to car ownership are shifting in inner city areas when good alternatives are available. A lack of private parking spaces in new developments, local government planning controls supporting reduction in private parking, and residents’ desire to not own a car are all driving this shift.
GoGet has both benefited from and actively supported this zeitgeist to establish and grow a highly successful car share business. The firm’s marketing is based on simple, common sense, rather than an overtly ‘green’ message. The appeal of the service is neatly captured in just a handful of paragraphs on the company’s website:
GoGet gives you all the benefits of a car—without the hassle and expense of owning one! As a member, you have access to a network of new cars parked locally which saves you time and money and lets you get more out of life…
GoGet is perfect for people who don’t need a car everyday or want to get rid of that second car. It’s also perfect for businesses or organisations that get the benefits of having a car fleet without the costs. 
GoGet CarShare is more convenient than car rental, cheaper than car ownership and a great way to help the environment. Just book any car online or over the phone, by the hour or by the day. Then, take a short walk to the car, unlock it using your smart card, jump in, drive and bring it back to the same spot when you’re done.
Each month you get an itemised invoice, much like a phone bill. What you don’t get are mechanical, insurance and registration costs, cleaning hassles and everything else that goes with owning a car. 
Census data for 2011 from City of Sydney, where the firm’s headquarters is based, shows a strong decline in household car ownership and declining figures for car-based journeys to work—a clear boon to GoGet’s business model. But it’s fair to say that GoGet co-founders Bruce Jeffreys and Nick Lowe were well ahead of the curve when established the company back in 2003.
Straight-talking Bruce, who hails from a marketing background, says the business model just made sense:
Aristotle talked about utility being from use, not from ownership. It’s about taking the surfboard out and gaining enjoyment value from surfing on the wave, not from owning and looking at the surfboard. It’s about being on the wave.
The strong demand for the firm’s product is growing exponentially, supported by property development trends and local government policies. Supporting City of Sydney Council’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 Strategy, for example, is a car sharing policy targeting uptake of car sharing to 10% of all households by 2016.
The firm had humble beginnings, grounded in the duo’s inner-western Sydney community ties. Starting with three cars in Newtown and 12 founding members, the business has grown organically to have 800 cars, 18,000 members and 22 employees in 2012. GoGet is now one of the largest car share companies in the world, according to Bruce, and the fastest growing in the English-speaking world.
This success is not only attributable to wider social and political trends, but to the firm’s common sense and ethical approach to business. In this sense, Bruce summarises GoGet’s brand differentiators as:
- Authentic: for example “if we take a marketing photo of a person for a brochure, it’s a real person, not a model from an agency”—early advertisements featured Jeffreys and his sister, for example, and
- Connected: internet/networked/engaged.
Starting small and growing organically has had advantages in developing GoGet’s market position. Bruce explains:
A large corporate is by nature global, superficial and disconnected. In terms of trust and values, these things are key. This is how we view our model, brand and success, from a brand differentiation point of view. It’s not rocket science.
It was a sustainable model from the start in relation to business finances. The business has grown organically without the need for external funding. We will continue to grow organically—in Sydney and Melbourne we are leading the market, and we’re interested in other Australian cities.
At the outset, the GoGet co-founders rooted their business decisions in market research. They saw the potential for car sharing through their community’s living patterns.
Our initial market research involved surveying 450 people in Newtown in one day, at the Newtown Festival. The survey was not about car sharing per se. We asked them about their transport patterns—Did they have a car they hardly used?
This was really important [to the foundation of the business]: the most important thing with any business is direct market research. You have to establish your first customers.
Now GoGet is going from strength to strength, Bruce provides a refreshingly straightforward take on the highlights so far.
There have been no real watershed moments. It’s about slogging away day by day. … The big highlight for me personally was the day that me and Nick [Lowe] didn’t have to be on call 24 hours [a day]—we could get a good night’s sleep. Also, putting in the place management team—one that we can trust, that’s delivering.
Like many small business owners, Bruce sees authenticity in relationships with suppliers is critical:
We look for straight-talking, ethical suppliers. Essentially, people we like dealing with.
Sustainability for GoGet is integral to our approach. It’s integral to how we do things; not an add-on. So if a supplier has sustainability as an add-on, it has no value for us. We are only interested in those that do it and get it. We’re just not interested in, for example, a supplier with a green standard as a mask.
The question is: do they fit? We need to discern that, for example, by looking at how a supplier approaches you. You want to have an honest and straightforward relationship with someone who can communicate well. So that when you need to have a discussion, for example, about whether something is too expensive, you’re not dealing with a defensive attitude.
He stresses that sustainability must be a fundamental value for a successful business today—but one that is inherent, beyond the promotional:
A business promoting itself as ‘sustainable’ is a bit like a business saying ‘I believe in world peace,’ when what they do is make pizzas.
It’s about embedding sustainability in what you do on a day-to-day basis, rather than a culture of window dressing. Resilience comes from aligning your values with what you do. And if you aren’t already doing it [i.e. sustainability practices] then what’s stopping you?
Well a lot of [shared value] is quite common sense. For example, GoGet is about wanting to lessen our impact on the ground, and you can’t do that unless these values are enshrined in local communities.
There is a lot of talk among large corporates of localisation and shared value etc. But it has to be in [the firm’s] DNA.
Bruce is keen to stress that GoGet’s fundamental business model and drivers, along with the day-to-day challenges it faces, are really no different to any other business.
It’s about marketing—to communicate simply what we do; communication; delivery of a seamless service that uses a lot of technology. For GoGet, there is incredible complexity to the system that operates in the background. In the foreground, we have to deliver on the promise of a seamless service. We take on the pressure of the systems; we take care of things so that members just have the driving experience.
It’s about process; systematising; training; feedback mechanisms. There is no special formula. We’re very focused on our market segment. We aim to continuously improve and refine production. We never stand still.
Technology has facilitated a growth in collaborative consumption, which Bruce notes is in itself not a new concept:
The internet is a major enabler of sharing, of cars for example—this market was ready to be opened up, and it’s an exciting time. … [Collaborative consumption] has always been there. Historically, we’re currently going through a whacky period, when Chinese-made things are so cheap, we’ve filled our workplaces and homes with stuff we rarely use.
Collaborative consumption to me never went away, but often there was no alternative to owning things. Now you have a choice about owning things, [alternatives to] buying something … expensive that you don’t use much, or buying a cheap thing that you will throw out.
Examining GoGet’s path to success demonstrates a reconception of products and services, applying what Vargo and Lusch term as “service dominant logic” (more on S-D logic: 1, 2) to deliver the utility value of a product with a radical reduction in the drawbacks—social, economic and environmental—of the traditional ownership model.
GoGet represents a Product Service System, a concept pioneered by Oksana Mont among others and highlighted by Rachel Botsman in What’s mine is yours: The rise of collaborative consumption. Such systems place a greater emphasis on the longevity and servicability of the products being produced and provided to users, and rely on and encourage stronger relationships with suppliers. They also enable the recouping of higher production costs of goods such as electric vehicles through greater operational efficiency.
The close community ties highlighted by Bruce in our interview extend to working closely with local governance bodies (such as councils) to provide car share spots and other infrastructure. This in turn helps strengthen local clusters where such shared services are highly valued in attracting talent. All in all, GoGet provides a terrific example of the three pillars of shared value as outlined by Porter and Kramer working synergistically to create business and societal prosperity.
I was recently chatting with my friend Lopa about a variety of things social innovation-y, and the topic turned to prototyping.
One of the things that came up is that it can be easy to think that prototypes need to be a lot more than they actually need to be. That is, it can be just as valuable to prototype small pieces of the puzzle as you go, rather than thinking that you have to prototype an entire service, or complex parts of a web application etc.
As I was thinking about this on the train, I caught up on some episodes of Kevin Rose’s excellent Foundation series. In her interview, the founder of Smitten Ice Cream Robyn Sue Fisher talks about prototyping a number of times in the interview (especially in relation to her core product). But what interested me most was how she used a food cart to get her service up and running (at about 28 mins and 45 secs in):
I’ve benefited from this principle as I work through the Seasonal Saturday concept. It seems like quite a simple thing “a seasonal meal once a month”. While I’ve got a lot of thoughts about what we could do with the initiative, I felt it was important just to start doing it, as I knew things would pop up. So we bootstrapped a simple blog and invited a bunch of people to submit their recipes (one per month).
This prototype is a long way from what we’re aiming for, but prototyping early has already helped a lot in working out the logistics and some of the barriers and challenges participants might face. Like, what information do we need to include with a recipe? Are there specific attributes to recipes that we need to consider? What happens if I want to participate, but can’t do that recipe (i.e. I don’t have a slow cooker)? These may seem trivial, but as we are hoping to encourage/enable behaviour change, understanding (and addressing) these barriers where possible is important.
As a tutor in the Design Research Training unit at UWS I also saw the power of prototyping first hand. Students often came up with grand ideas and some couldn’t see, at first, how they could prototype it because they were jumping ahead to their bigger vision. Others were able to break their project down into smaller parts which they then prototyped. These students tended to do better overall with their projects, and all of them learnt a lot from this process.
It’s important, of course, to recognise the limitations and changed context of a smaller prototype. But following the lean/agile approach of prototyping early and often is a great way to help ensure that a project has the greatest chance of success.
This post is part of a series outlining my learnings from interviews with a number of small and medium businesses exploring how they have benefited from a shared value approach. These case studies support a paper I wrote exploring strategic CSR (PDF 1.3MB).
The interview upon which this case study is based was undertaken with Haul’s founder, Scott Kilmartin, in April of last year—nearly 12 months ago (yes, it’s taken me that long!). A quick visit to the Haul website will show that Haul is no longer in operation, having closed their doors earlier this month. In his blog post announcing the closure, Scott cites a variety of personal and business reasons for winding down the business.
When I heard this news I was firstly saddened to see one of my favourite companies calling last drinks. But I also considered whether I should publish this case study, given that the business was no longer operating. Upon reflection I felt that there were many valuable lessons in what Scott shared with me in our interview that I felt the broader business community might benefit from. And I also think that Haul remains an exemplar of a shared value approach that is worthy of consideration and examination.
Perhaps, then, this post can be considered a homage to Haul and the inspiration Scott and the team provided me (and I’m sure many others) over the last 14 years. I’ve left the case study as it was originally written (in the present tense, as though Haul is a going concern).
Haul describes itself as an “independent design brand”. Based out of Fitzroy, an urban destination on the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria, Haul produce bags, laptop cases and sleeves, photo albums, and other accessories from waste materials such as discarded advertising billboards, number plates, inner tubes and rubber printing mats. Haul diverts wastes that would otherwise end up in landfill and “up-cycles” them into high value products. In the words of company founder Scott Kilmartin:
we’re not melting it down and turning it into the padding that goes into speed bumps or children’s playgrounds. That’s recycling. We take a low value, no value item and turn it into something of significant value.
Haul was started in 1998, with Scott converting old number plates into wallets and photo albums, after seeing similar products during some time spent in the USA. Initially the products were sold at Salamanca markets in Tasmania (Scott’s father continued to sell the products there until early 2012) but the business quickly grew to include a combined retail outlet and production facility in Fitzroy.
Indicative of Haul’s success, five years ago Haul converted 36 tonnes of materials into products. In the financial year 2010–11 that number has grown to 85 tonnes—a 236% increase in that time—with that quantity projected to double in the financial year 2012–13. A majority of Haul’s business is from customers within Australia, with overseas internet sales, predominantly from New Zealand, the USA, UK and Japan, accounting for approximately 7.5% of sales.
Inherent in Haul’s business is a positive sustainability outcome. Scott estimating around 75% of the sourced material being utilised in Haul’s products, a further 10% being distributed to secondary markets such as theatre companies and local schools.
While an integral part of the brand, the sustainable attributes of Haul’s products have proven to be less important to the business’s success. Instead, the individual nature of each product has been a stronger selling point: due to Haul’s production process every piece is unique. Haul established itself as a retail brand, initially positioning itself in the “eco” or “green” category. However, a shift in strategy that saw the business framed as an “art-house” design brand, emphasising the uniqueness of the product, was rewarded, as Scott explains:
I got it wrong in the beginning, I thought we were a green business playing in the fashion space. We’re not. We’re a fashion business using green materials. And the difference in that is not just semantics, it’s we sell on a look and a feel and a story. …
And the biggest story that I can sell is “if you buy this Macbook case here, no-one else on the planet’s going to have it.” Walk down the street in Sydney, Stockholm, Shanghai, that’s the only one like that. And that’s a claim that very few products can make. Whether you’re a super premium brand like a Hermès or a Prada, there’s still 20,000 others exactly the same handbags that you made. … And that was the perception where the value in this wasn’t that it was a recycled material, it was the fact that it’s a one-off kind of art piece.
So we pulled out of a whole bunch of kind of green and eco stores and went to design and fashion stores. Instantly things changed overnight.
The strength of the retail brand resulted in Haul receiving inquiries from corporates wanting to create unique and memorable merchandise. Companies like Shell, RMIT, Seek and McGrath Real Estate are engaging Haul to transform the wastes from their own advertising activities into merchandise for their organisations. For example: shopping bags made from sales signage; iPad cases for sales reps; merchandise for students or conferences. Products made from a company’s own marketing materials result in personalised products that reflect the company’s brand (e.g. colours and logos). Other businesses are also looking to Haul to whitelabel Haul’s retail products.
In contrast to Haul’s early experience with the retail market, corporate customers have a greater emphasis on sustainability criteria:
With the corporate business it’s completely the reverse, the first questions you [get asked] is how it’s made, what are the recycle credentials, … what have we been audited on? … So they absolutely love the design and the uniqueness, but ultimately the first part is what can we say, what are the eco-credentials of this thing? And so … [while] we’re effectively making the same product, they’re purchased for quite different reasons.
The strength of Haul’s product, its uniqueness, also proved to be a significant challenge in meeting the demands of corporate clients. The larger quantities required to supporting such customers presented significant challenges in scaling up operations. Firstly, there are limited economies of scale in Haul’s production process—the cost to manufacture one item is virtually the same as when manufacturing one thousand. Scott sees cutting as Haul’s “core business”, noting that “what ends up on the front of each product has a big impact on whether it sells or not.” Each billboard or other raw material needs to be evaluated individually and cut to ensure that the most interesting elements are featured—ultimately a design decision that requires experience and skill.
Additionally, scuff marks, crinkles and fold marks, and other imperfections in the raw materials need to also be taken into consideration. This means that multiple panels, even of the same billboard design, can’t be cut to the same template, ruling out automation of processes that would more commonly enable reduction of costs at scale. This has resulted in Haul establishing close and trusting ties with overseas manufacturers to deliver at a competitive price point, with specialised training programs to support staff in these companies.
Strong supplier relationships closer to home have also been critical to Haul’s success, with the cluster of businesses supporting the textiles, clothing and footwear sector has been beneficial. Haul ensure favourable terms for local sewers and suppliers, in some cases providing specialised equipment such as heavy duty machines typically used by saddleries or sail makers, to outworkers. This commitment has resulted in suppliers going ‘above and beyond’ to find new methods of manufacture and supporting new product development.
The development of strong customer relationships, especially through the creative use of social media tools such as Twitter, have also been critical to Haul’s success to date. Scott credits early engagement with Twitter in particular as playing a significant role. Social media is a natural fit for Haul’s story-based approach to marketing:
…we’re a business that’s a story telling business and we’ve got a story behind us. It’s not just “this jacket comes in three sizes and three colours” … For us it’s “this used to be a billboard, you may have thought billboards were paper, they’re actually vinyl and this is what happens when they come down. This is how we made it, we individually cut it. It’s made by this guy here. You know, we’ve got this dog [@GusTheBoxer on Twitter] in the store.”
Scott acknowledges that “we wouldn’t exist if the community that we both work with and, for want of a better term sell to, didn’t help us along.” Haul have also successfully engaged customers in helping develop new products and customers have also provided important word-of-mouth referrals.
Haul’s story illustrates a number of benefits to taking a shared value approach. Firstly, reconceiving products and services using a sustainability lense created a product with unique selling potential that clearly differentiates Haul in the crowded accessories market. The story behind the products has enabled opportunities for authentic dialogue in social media channels. This engagement with customers has also helped to both differentiate the brand and generate significant referrals and word of mouth marketing. The sustainability benefits also opened up new market opportunities in the corporate sector, where sustainability criteria have a greater influence in purchasing decisions. Secondly, Haul’s connection and support of their supply chain partners, strengthening the local cluster of textiles producers, has reaped dividends in creating new products and high quality of service and products. These deeply embedded practices have set the stage for strong continued growth as Haul’s corporate offering expands.