ISB spoke recently to Brad Munro, CEO of Willi Footwear, a company that revolutionised the traditional Aussie thong and that has recently rebranded as Boomerangz as it expands into global markets.
ISB: When and how did the idea for Willi Footwear come about?
BM: My business partner and I shared a similar experience, suffering from the dreaded thong blow-out (when the plug snaps off the strap). We discovered that a lot of the thongs (or flip-flops) on the market were the same and they could use some improvement. So we set on solving this problem.
ISB: How did you address that “thong blowout” issue?
BM: We asked a lot of questions to customers, friends, shop owners, and anyone who would talk to us. We tried a few different options; the Boomerang option was just the perfect fit. Straps can break, due to the nature of the material and how people treat them. Being able to replace the straps means that you don’t need to wear-in a new pair, they last longer and, importantly, fewer pairs end up in landfill.
We also realised that our new design allowed the straps and bases to become interchangeable, making our thongs fully customisable to mix and match any colours you like.
ISB: You ran a crowdfunding campaign, how did you go about that and how successful was it?
BM: The idea behind the campaign was to not only raise money for production but also to see if people would buy our product. Crowdfunding was very new in Australia at that time so one of the greatest challenges we had was schooling people on what “crowdfunding” actually was. I spent about three months putting the campaign together, including the production and filming of the video, getting samples made, and annoying friends and family. We reached our goal of $30,000 and finished with close to $50,000 worth of sales.
ISB: Was there any apprehension about your recent rebrand?
BM: There was a hint of apprehension simply because of the work and costs involved. We have built a following of loyal supporters who we never want to upset, as they helped build the brand from the ground up.
But the new interchangeable range is all based on the “boomerang” plugs so changing to the name Boomerangz was a bit of a no-brainer. The thong is seen as an Australian icon, as is the boomerang. Merging the two icons together works well and it helps people understand our main point of difference.
ISB: How is the expansion overseas going and what have you learned in the process?
BM: When we began exploring international markets, it soon became apparent that we couldn’t just replicate what we do here and expect it to take off right away. International expansion is a time-consuming and expensive exercise. We realised that we needed to test the market in each area first before committing. It allowed us to amend our original strategies and learn new ones.
ISB: What insights have you gained that have helped you innovate in your operations?
BM: Being able to outsource some of the work to experts in their fields. You don’t need to go and hire a full-time staff member to undertake a short-term project.
ISB: And what lessons have you learned on your journey that you could pass on to others who have a business idea?
BM: Firstly, everyone who has an “idea” should know that without execution and perseverance, that idea means nothing.
And secondly, entrepreneurship is always an uphill battle. If you are not unique and solving a problem, that battle will be much harder. You need to go deeper. Make your product or service different to that of your competition and, above all else, ensure it solves a problem.