Nine years ago Marnie Goding was flexing her marketing and events skills in corporate level positions in Melbourne. The day I met her in July this year she had just finished shooting the SS13 range for her accessories brand; Elk. Her sea change wasn’t down to luck – more a passion captured and combined with some seriously savvy business acumen.
My afternoon spent exploring Elk’s Preston headquarters was a bit of a dream come true really. Being a long time fan of their natural jewellery, leather accessories, clothing and general aesthetic it was a revelation to see their brand culture stamped across every facet of the company. From their retail showroom, to their awesome offices and right through to the warehouse. But as always for me, the opportunity to pick the brains of a successful creative business owner was the highlight and Marnie was no exception.
Marnies prime exposure to jewellery was through her husband Adam, a successful fine jeweller and model maker for high end brands in Australia. Corporate life involved marketing and events for companies like the National Gallery and Melbourne Zoo but come home time, and with the tools readily available to experiment, it wasn’t long before Marnie herself started tinkering and making her own small silver pieces for fun. She got such a positive response when wearing them that with the encouragement of Adam she gained the confidence to present a range to stores…..and was met with huge enthusiasm! The uptake was solid and all too quickly she found herself at the end of a marketing contract and a transition to making jewellery full time.
The small business began to really get some grip, spurring Adam and Marnie to head off shore for some fresh inspiration. Their travels exposed them to a whole slew of new, beautiful materials and craftspeople. The trip also marked the beginning of long term creative collaborations with suppliers who they still work with today.
In 2004 they registered their brand Elk, hired staff, attended trade fairs and subsequently outgrew their premises. 2005 saw the introduction of leather bags and footwear to the range resulting in another surge of growth. By 2008 a difficult decision was looming and it was one they could simply no longer ignore. The couple were running two good businesses side by side but the demands of 100s of stockists, seasonal ranges, daily production and admin was becoming a dangerous juggle. With much soul searching Adam made the tough decision to wind up his business – and from that point they have never looked back!
It’s Marnie’s belief (and one I totally agree with!) that marketing and branding, in partnership with product, are the basis of business success. She has been unwavering in her value on this and always prioritised spending and time on this side of Elk, even when it may have felt like a stretch. While discussing the realities of bringing Elk to life and growing it to be a sustainable business she spoke of the importance in understanding their customer. A huge amount of time is spent nutting out exactly WHO they are marketing to, which of course has an impact on everything from advertising placement, branding and even the ranges themselves. She also talked about the conscious effort they made to be realistic and despite exciting milestones – not get too big for their boots. They have always kept Elk running at a manageable level aimed at being able to deliver orders without fail.
“Slow and steady wins the race”
By combining Marnie’s ethos with agencies that share common ideas and goals, Elk has began to see success in overseas markets. In 2010 they hooked up with a sales agency in Denmark. While it is virtually unheard of for a foreign brand selling products with a scandanavian aesthetic to have any kind of success in those countries – Elk has found an enthusiastic and demanding market!
2012 saw their maiden launch into the US. Initially sales were sluggish so Marnie and her team took a step back, had a fresh look at their presentation and the possible differences between their Australian customer vs an American one. Changes were made, the brand re launched and this time it is charging ahead.
Clattering back across Melbourne in the tram after my visit, I couldn’t help thinking what an inspiration Elk presented. Australia and New Zealand are teeming with exciting independant designers and brands working tirelessly to create product that they love. But what separates those that can make a living from their work and those that continue to struggle might be just plain old economics. Supply and demand. There is a balance to be found between being creative and producing work that is personally satisfying AND work that appeals to a receptive customer base.
I believe that Marnie, Adam and their extended Elk team have walked the line between creativity and savvy business in a near perfect way.
A small part of the large Elk Family!
WHAT I LEARNT FROM ELK:
Create a brand and identity that you are proud to live and breath everyday!