Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Brad Munro and I am the founder of Boomerangz Interchangeable Thongs… or Flip-Flops or Sandals or Jandals or whatever you call them!
We have created the only thongs designed to help minimise blowouts (when the plug snaps off) and with patented interchangeable bases and straps so you can customise your colour combinations and strap styles with ease. Boomerangz Footwear also offers free replacement straps if they break, extending the life of the footwear so less pairs end up in land-fill.
We launched the interchangeable range through a crowdfunding site to see if the idea would resonate with people. We sold $10,000 worth of thongs in the first HOUR, $25,000 a week later, passed our funding goal with $36,000, received approximately $15,000 in direct orders and finished with close to $50,000 worth of sales.
Fast forward a few years and our Boomerangz Thongs are stocked in over 40 independent surf and streetwear stores around Australia plus some of Australia’s best known retail giants such as City Beach, and now Boomerangz Footwear is also available in the USA, Canada, The Caribbean, India and the U.K.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Way back before we started the business, I was travelling around Europe in 2006, while the Soccer World Cup was on. My friends and I had been dying to go to one of the beer halls in Germany only to suffer from “the dreaded thong blow-out” (when the plug snaps off the strap) within metres from the front entrance where I wasn’t allowed in because wearing only one thong (or flip flop, as they are also known) wasn’t considered appropriate footwear!
My friend and I sat out the front for a while trying some MacGyver-like solutions to my problem including trying to put the strap back together with a paperclip, we borrowed a cigarette lighter and tried melting the rubber together… all to no avail… My friend ended up going in and borrowed one of our other friend’s thongs to smuggle out so I could wear them in!
A year or so later, I met my soon-to-be business partner who was telling me of a similar experience he had wherein the space of two steps, BOTH of his thongs had blown out, making him trip over and leaving him stranded barefoot and needing to buy a new pair.
We got together, discovered that a lot of the thongs on the market were all the same and decided they could use some improvement so we started the business and set about solving this common problem.
Customisable, innovative products, as well as fashion and technology all, move forward over time. But it seems the humble thong got left behind. We wanted to develop a range of summer footwear that addressed the blowout issue and also allowed the straps and bases to be interchangeable while keeping the product affordable, comfortable and fashionable for the millions of users around the world.
I had recently graduated from university with a bachelor of Industrial/Product Design and became increasingly interested in small business and entrepreneurship. Looking back now, I knew absolutely nothing! It was a very steep learning curve and one you can’t understand unless you go through it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
A lot of research and development, factory sourcing, material sourcing, mold production, failures, more research, more development, etc occurred over a 1-2 year period. And by the following Summer, we had developed a range of thongs that didn’t use the normal ‘plug’ system that most other thongs use.
I’m a big believer in Marketing guru Seth’s Godin’s principles around being ‘remarkable’. Whatever you’re selling should be unique and solve a problem so people ‘remark’ about it.
Our original designs used different materials to what we have now, they were a little nicer and the straps were glued to the base and reinforced with another strong bracket glued around them. But over time we found that the same problem occurred and when the straps came apart from the base, and you embarrassingly bent over to pick up your thongs to continue walking, there was no putting them back in and no fixing the broken strap.
This was all after we’d spent countless hours on research, testing, marketing, trips to China and all sorts of time and money investments. The product was OK but it was missing something. Sales weren’t sky-rocketing and the retail game is pretty tough as it is.
We needed a product that was different, with unique selling points and did something that other thongs couldn’t do. There still seemed to be a niche here, a little gap in the market that we wanted to fill.
A lot of the first prototypes we received were terrible. Come to think of it, a lot of the first styles we released looked terrible too! There is a famous quote by the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman - If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
I’d love to show you some…. But I’m embarrassed!
We were approached by a couple of guys, about our age at the time (30), who had very early stages of development of some thongs that had interchangeable straps. But they were experiencing (as I can understand) a lot of manufacturing issues. Their design needed a lot of work and they both worked other jobs and we agreed we’d take over their initial idea and we further developed it to be pretty close to what the product is now. We conducted a small survey to find out from ‘summer footwear wearers’ what their biggest complaint was with this type of footwear. You guessed it - breakages and blowouts.
Next order of business, once we settled on the final design, was to file patents – our new business associates had already started this process but we needed to file a patent for the design in many countries around the world individually (as you simply can’t file a ‘world-wide’ patent). We also patented a few other similar shapes that do the same thing. Anyone who has just started this process knows how costly and time consuming it is.
We didn’t realise it at the time but as we developed the idea, we found that the interchangeability of the bases and straps is also the same thing that helps the plugs fold over and pull through instead of snapping off, helping the blowout issue – the boomerang-shaped plugs.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The only way to see if our new development would work and that is actually a product people wanted to buy, was to try and sell it.
So we launched the new range through the crowdfunding platform website Indiegogo.com. We raised $10,000 in the first hour, $25,000 a week later, reached our goal of $30,000 and received some direct orders from retailers and finished with close to $50,000 worth of sales in about 6 weeks.
Astonishingly, we had confirmed that the product was something that people wanted and our customers were willing to part with their cash to get their feet in a pair of our thongs.
My crowdfunding advice
Spend a lot of time preparing your campaign to launch with a bang! Build a database of potential customers, friends, family, work colleagues, business associates, your dog walker etc and give them all the info BEFORE your campaign goes live. Tell them the date and time you’re going live and that you want to kick it off with a heap of momentum and that you’ll love them forever if they jump on and contribute. Have a special deal for early contributors (a discount for example) to get the ball rolling. Momentum breeds momentum!
You can even go so far as to have a ‘Launch Party’. Invite 20 friends over (explain to them what is happening beforehand and what your goal is), give them some free booze, launch the campaign and get around to each of them with your laptop and take their orders. If they all spend $50, you’ve got $1,000 worth of orders in the first few hours to build momentum.
Like any foray into the business world, we needed some cash to invest into the business. My two business partners and I got our parents to guarantee a loan from the bank that we split 3 ways. Thankfully we no longer have that loan as it is all paid back
but it's worth noting that we wasted a lot of money in the early days. We spent too much on pretty much everything. Sourcing, samples, materials, office space, product, shipping, advertising, “product launch” (different to crowdfunding launch party) which I'd probably not bother doing if I had my time over again. Stuff like that just doesn’t matter and we didn’t seem to have any clear direction.
After the crowdfunding campaign, it was time to get to work and manufacture the product and send out to customers as we had promised. It wasn’t easy and involved a lot of hard work but everything was going well… or so we thought…
The samples we received from the factory were excellent. Everything was on track and we wanted to get the product to our customers as soon as possible. Sadly, when we received the main shipment, we discovered that the material our thongs / flip flops were made out of was completely different to the samples we had received months earlier.
They were a much softer, cheaper, low-quality rubber that we wanted to avoid at all costs… “WTF!?!” How could this happen? We double and triple checked everything. I don’t think the factory would do this on purpose and rip us off… would they? Someone, somewhere hadn’t done their job properly and ultimately that was my responsibility.
Our newly launched product was of poor quality and wore out in no time at all. Not exactly what we planned! We contacted our suppliers who actually quite understanding about the whole thing and offered to re-make the product to our specifications. This was a huge relief but we still had a bunch of customers waiting for their pre-ordered products and Summer was just around the corner.
At the time, I didn’t realise it, but this next decision would shape our business as we continued forward, if we were even able to continue. We decided that complete transparency with our customers was the best option and it proved to be one of the best decisions that we made.
We decided to send them the crappy pairs anyway but they would also get the new pairs when they arrived a few months later. We told them all about what had happened with the failed production and to my surprise, people were very supportive. Some people even wrote to us received the crappy pairs and said they didn’t wear out that quick and there was nothing really wrong with them. They were stoked as they got double what they had ordered. Still, it wasn’t the quality of product that we had promised our customers during the crowdfunding campaign.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I’m a big believer in Marketing guru Seth’s Godin’s principles around being ‘remarkable’. Whatever you’re selling should be unique and solve a problem so people ‘remark’ about it. You need to help convey that message to your audience. But first you need to know your audience and you need to connect with them. What do they do? How do they feel? What will make their life just that little bit easier?
If you think you can sell the same crap that everyone else is selling but with your fancy new logo attached – you’re wrong! It will fizzle out faster than you can say “but I’m the uber of my industry – aren’t I?”
One of the strategies that helps us retain customers is to not only have the best product but to go above and beyond what they expect. An example of this is our “no blowout guarantee” of our thongs. This isn’t to say they will never blow out and that they are indestructible.
Due to the very nature of the product they can break over time after being exposed to the elements, but instead of that customer having to buy a new pair and throw that busted pair in the bin. We simply send them a new pair of straps, free of charge and free of postage costs.
We then go a step above and don't put a time limit on it. Most companies will have a 6 month or 12 month warranty. If you own a pair of Boomerangz thongs and the strap breaks after 3 years, let us know and we’ll replace them for you. We then go a step above again and let the customer choose whatever colour they want. It's likely that the customer will then ‘remark’ about that to a friend and the ‘remarkable marketing’ wheel keeps turning.
The online space is so competitive now that you need a unique product or service to stand out. Amazon is an ecommerce behemoth in the US and although the uptake seems slow here in Australia to begin with, I'm sure it will continue to grow and be a powerhouse here too.
Amazon is a great example of a customer-focused business. Everything is based around the best possible experience and service for the end user. Great for customers, but the problem for large and small businesses and entrepreneurs selling other people's products is that it results in a price war.
Businesses selling the same products and hoping to make sales by lowering the price. If you have a unique, patented product you can flip this and work it to your advantage as you are the only one selling that product so there is no need to lower your prices with no competition.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The biggest challenge we face in our business is that we are a seasonal product. Sales, marketing and income is all based around the summer season or the warmer 6 months of the year. This is not to say that there is nothing to do in the colder months. Quite the opposite, which includes a lot of planning, development and production processes which means a lot of money spent and not much money coming in.
To rectify this, we have started exploring international markets sooner than we originally planned. We have managed to garner a lot of positive interest through potential international distributors due to the uniqueness of our product. It is also a timely and costly exercise but one that we deem necessary for the long-term success of our business.
Our Boomerangz thongs can currently be found in Australia, USA, Canada, The Caribbean, India, the UK and interest coming from South Africa and Japan too. The Chinese market is one we’d like to explore. It’s interesting how the world has opened up in terms of the online shopping space since we started a few years ago.
With the e-commerce space continuing to expand, it’s important for businesses like ours to consistently adapt and offer your customers something special. Consumers now have unlimited choice in products from all over the world. Ask yourself - “Why will they choose my product?”
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I could write a book on the business mistakes I’ve made (actually I will - stay tuned).
A lot of the mistakes come from inexperience and are things you learn over time. I think it’s how you respond to and learn from mistakes and hard times that shapes who you are and your business outcome.
Most, if not all of them you can’t see coming (otherwise you’d do something to stop it, right?!).
There are times when you trust someone to do a job for you and they let you down. We experienced this when we used a ‘middle-man’ sourcing company in the early days before we knew what we were doing and we didn’t have any manufacturing contacts.. He was taking a percentage of our spend on the orders with the manufacturers, yet he was only forwarding on our emails and didn’t take responsibility of doing the actual work of quality control of the materials and the other manufacturing processes. Hence we ended up with poor quality product. It needed to be re-made and cost us a lot of money.
For me personally, in the early days I found it hard to not do everything myself. I would micro manage, or get someone to do something and then re-do it the way I wanted it done or the way I thought it should be done. Took me a bit of time to let go and trust the process. If you put the correct processes in place, you can delegate and get much more done than doing everything yourself.
Another lesson I learned (and I’m not sure where I heard this); “Nothing is as good as it seems and nothing is as bad as it seems”. Those massive wins you have that you think will propel your business into stardom?… yeah, not so much!
And those HUGE problems that will kill your business overnight? You wake up the next day and go about solving them.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Upwork - for outsourcing tasks to people who will do a better job than me.
Being able to outsource some of the work to experts in their fields helps with the operations of any small business. You don’t need to go and hire a full-time staff member to undertake a short-term project. Over the last few years, the development of business apps and marketing programs has made it easier for small businesses to know where to put their marketing dollars to get a good return on their investment.
Being able to track clicks to your website, cart abandonment and other social media engagement means you can see if something is working or not and adjust when it is necessary. Business communication apps that allow you and other members of your team to access the necessary files from anywhere in the world and communicate effectively with each other is also a must! Examples of this include; Google Docs, Asana, Slack etc.
Workflowy- It is an app I use on my phone as a highly organised ‘brain dump / to-do list’. It allows you to organise the list under headings and sub-headings and cross tasks off as you complete them (while still have them visible to refer to). As the name suggests, it is great for work-flow.
Entrepreneurs usually have so many things going on in all aspects of their business. Quite often I’ll have ideas or hear suggestions on business strategies or tasks and I will just write them down (brain dump) in the ‘workflowy’ app and then later decide if it’s worth pursuing, put them under the correct sub-heading – marketing, social media, online, distribution, production, business development etc and further develop the step by step process that needs to be undertaken to achieve that particular goal.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The One Thing (Gary Keller, Jay Papasan) - Teaches you to action that one most important, mountain moving business task each day.
The 80/20 Principle (Richard Koch) - 80% of results come from 20% of the causes. Find the 20%.
Masters of Scale (Reid Hoffman) - Quality information and interviews about scaling your business.
How I Built This (Guy Raz - NPR) - Interviews successful well-known business owners about their journey of building the company. Remember; someone has done it before you… there are clues to be found and lessons to be learned.
Startup School (Seth Godin) - Listen and learn as Seth guides entrepreneurs through marketing and the business world.
People - Find people that have the skills and expertise you need. Get to know them, hangout with them, interview them and learn from them.
- You need more sales - talk to the best salesperson you know in any industry. What are their strategies?
- You need to build your brand - look at other brands and find who’s behind them doing the marketing and how they achieve what they do.
- You need a bigger and better social media presence - who has one? What do they do? Do they spend up big on ads? Do they run prize giveaways? Do they argue with people in the comment feed?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
One thing I have learned that everyone who has an “idea” should know is; “Ideas are nothing without execution!” You can have the best idea, the best product, the best service but without the will of execution and perseverance, your idea means nothing.
And the best piece of advice is to; be Unique – Solve a problem!
If you think you can sell the same crap that everyone else is selling but with your fancy new logo attached – you’re wrong! It will fizzle out faster than you can say “but I’m the uber of my industry – aren’t I?”. Small Business and Entrepreneurship is always an up-hill battle. If you are not unique and solving a problem, you will be facing a much harder up-hill battle. You need to go deeper. Be different to your competition and above all else solve a problem.
One mistake I think a lot of first time entrepreneurs make is that they think it is a glamorous or easier lifestyle to work for yourself. Or it’s cool to get on social media and show you’re “hustling”... OK sure, so maybe get off social media and do the work.
1 - Have a clear direction!
Otherwise you’ll get distracted by everything that comes along. Your direction may change but make sure you stay on track.
2 - Read, read, read! Learn, learn, learn!
It’s unlikely that you’re the first person to do whatever it is you’re doing. Your product or service might be new, but many businesses that have been before you, both within and outside of your industry have left some clues, they have a story to tell and a lesson for you to learn.
3 - Take action!
The only person that is going to make things happen for you, is you! Pick up the phone, send the email, take that flight, schedule a meeting. Whatever it takes to get you closer to your goal - do it! I think ‘Nike’ are onto something with their slogan - Just do it!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
On a large scale, we’re always on the look-out for global distribution companies. Someone with the ability to get our product out there in the mainstream marketplace with sales agents and retail connections.
On a smaller scale we’re always looking for content creators. We do this a bit with our customers who love our product. We offer them free pairs for a few happy snaps for our social media.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Australian Website - https://www.boomerangzthongs.com.au/
- USA Website - https://www.boomerangzflipflops.com/
- Canada Website - https://www.boomerangzflipflops.ca/
- Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/BoomerangzFootwear/
- Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/boomerangz_thongs/
- E-mail - [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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