KLP Resident: BLUNT USA
What they do:
Company HQ: San Francisco
Mark Duffen : CEO of Northern America distribution
Favorite apps: Evernote, Uber, Yelp, Venmo
Favorite SF Nabe: Misson District
Tell us about BLUNT USA,what is your point of difference?
The initial concept was built in 1999 by design engineer, Greig Brebner. It is the patented technology of a BLUNT Umbrella that is a massive leap forward in umbrella design. The traditional umbrella frame has been completely re-designed to create a super tight tensioned canopy that handles wind extremely well. It is safer, it is more durable and it has its own aesthetically distinctive style.
The umbrella industry is quite boring , most of the brands are pretty ancient. In the US market, there are the low end umbrellas at US$5, and the premium umbrellas at extreme prices, but with the same traditional pattern. This has worked to our advantage as we fit well in the middle of the spectrum with a price range from US$50 – US$120, but with a new, better engineered product.
What is your role while being based in San Francisco?
We have already been based in San Francisco for three years, so my main focus is now on business development.
Do you still manufacture the umbrellas in China?
Yes we do, originally the founders looked at manufacturing in New Zealand but found its basically impossible. Around 85-80% of the worlds umbrellas are made in China, and there is already a Kiwi network in the industry.
How do you develop and expand the products to sustain the company?
We expand through developing the traditional design to suite specific markets. One of our latest is the Golf Umbrella that recently won The Netherland’s Red Dot Award, and Germany’s iF Design Award.
We have also developed smaller lightweight metro umbrellas for San Francisco, New York and Chicago. It’s all about analysing markets and customizing the products.
Who are your current retailers in San Francisco and who are you targeting in the future?
It shifts up and down according to season, but we have around 250 doors at the moment. REI is our largest retailer, and we are finalizing details for Bloomingdales and Nordstroms fall run.
Who are your main customers?
Our products fit well with the San Francisco startup tech-industry because of the technology imbedded in our product, so we did gather a following from that.
However, New York is our biggest market because of the climate, and wealth in the area.
What has been the most surprising thing about working and living in San Francisco?
One thing would be how fast paced the start up tech community is. Nothing stands still, technology that ran my life in 2011 has now been replaced with new, and improved innovation.
Another refreshing aspect of San Francisco is that everyone has a huge drive to solve problems and succeed. You can go to a coffee shop and be sitting next to an engineer coding, and the next thing you know he is being acquired by Facebook or Google. Its a unique place, there is a focused entrepreneurial vibe wherever you go, and I think cities like New York are learning off it.
What’s your main goal while based at KLP?
We are established now to a point where we can really focus on building partnerships, KLP is a great space for this, not only because of the other Kiwi startups we interact with day to day, but also the curated networks of people in the SoMa area.
Another thing that is great about KLP is that it gives us a chance to realign with the Kiwi brand. Although we are a New Zealand company, a lot of people still question where we come from. Being based at KLP allows us to reinforce our heritage without broadcasting the fact.
What advice or insights have you gained from being here in SF that could be useful to tech companies and entrepreneurs in NZ?
Take a chance and get over here– we left New Zealand with the mindset that if we failed, but at least broke even, that would be ok because we knew we would learn so much through our errors and successes, and that was dead right.
We are still here three years later- The big thing for us was not just making commitments, but following through with them quickly, you must keep up with the pace or slowly, but surely, you will die.