The talk of ByAlex (Alex Swain) captured by Gaby (Gabrielle).
Alex Swain has come to our college to give us a very exciting talk about how he managed to up his own business. If you expect a breath-taking story about a lot of hard work, sweat, late hours, no social life and emotional breakdowns, you are right (though who would share his personla insight with a bunch of 20-year-olds?). As surreal as it seems, acording to Alex the creation of a successful furniture company depends very much on branding, marketing and also… luck.
With his frustration of not being able to fit into a rented space he decided to design his own little table at which people renting out rooms could dine, as oppose to the frightening TV-dinners’ experience which was gaining popularity at that time.
Influenced by the London (drinking) culture which he has been experiencing since 2000 when he moved here, he designed a stool which reminded a pub-table (thank you for the inspiration, our beloved beer gardens!). It was a simply shaped stool with clear aesthetics and foldable! Simple, elegant, inspired by typography (and possible IKEA’s hacks on how to squeeze into the tiny British apartments), and made of plywood. Why plywood? Once again, thank the unpredictable flow of inspiration for that. Alex was once walking past the Fred Perry shop and saw their window display made of laser-cut plywood (below right). Then he visited the Tate Modern where “Global Cities” (below left) were taking place and the decision was made. Plywood is the solution to the frustration.
OK, (once upon a time) there was a stool. What came next? That was the thing, Alex was not quite sure about. He went to a UK-based workshop, who previously worked with Wolff Olins (The Olympics 2012 logo) and asked them to prototype his chair. No response. After multiple attempts they got back to him and after multiple talks and meetings in Bedford the first prototype came to life.
After having the final product (about a year later), he created a PDF presentation promoting his brand (read: name, packaging, business plan etc.), searched LinkedIn and reached out to as many suppliers as possible. And this is when the luck kicks in. A favourite British retailer replied to Alex and proposed him a deal. Without further hesitations, Alex flew off to Riga to find a factory to produce his first order. The success was on its way.
From then on, things have been moving fast. However, Alex highlights the fact, that not only is marketing much more important than the product itself, but also that keeping the company going for the first 5-10 years is probably the greatest struggle you can imagine. He realised in an early stage that a pure design and high-quality ingredients will not be enough. A customer needs a story, something that makes him/her feel special and in need of a certain product. A theory which many designers associate themselves with, such as James Moed, ex-IDEO designer, in his talk about design consultancy (blog post out next Wednesday!!!)
Answering the question why it is so important to sell a relatable vision rather than an object, Alex showed us a way of how to understand the success and failures of today’s companies (think Apple vs. BHS). Believing in strengths of a small team (7), Alex now oversees the whole business and works with the likes of various magazines and design bloggers (Design Hunter, A Place For Everything, and the Mad About the House, to name a few). He still captures ideas in his pocket notebook and hopes to bring these to life once a “strong platform” is built.
By acknowledging a frustration, identifying a problem and finding a solution, ByAlex became a success. The next step is to identify another frustration of ours.
inspiration & picture courtesy:
Featured Image, http://www.madaboutthehouse.com/desk-byalex/
Global Cities at Tate Modern, https://www.creativereview.co.uk/global-cities-at-tate-modern/
Fred Perry’s shop: http://www.onofficemagazine.com/people/item/846-profile-buckley-gray-yeoman