What started with an idyllic evening of brainstorming around the campfire grew into a first real collection about five years ago, and now the ‘brand with the hook’ is available at more than 160 retailers in the Netherlands and abroad. We speak to Maarten Rijnders in ‘De Werkplaats’, an industrial location that gives exactly the right feeling for the brand. About hard work, corporate responsibility, laying the foundation, and growing under the right conditions.
Where retail and wholesale come together
Bob and Maarten Rijnders are no strangers to the fashion world. Bob has many years of retail experience with his own store Best of Brands, and as a consultant for beautiful brands. As an advisor to Denham Jeans, his abstract ideas have long earned him the nickname Butcher. The idea for Butcher of Blue was born in his store and out of his love for the product. Maarten has a long career in wholesale with G-Star and Patagonia. During an evening by the campfire, the cousins decide to bring their retail and wholesale expertise together and take the leap of faith.
“We both come from an entrepreneurial family, but I had never done anything outside the framework of a large organization. When we talked about the Butcher together, we decided this was our chance. We’ve got one shot and we’ll give it four years; if it works, we’ll keep doing it. And so the ball started rolling very slowly. We did everything together in the first year and a half, from collection development to delivery and orders. Fortunately, there were not as many as now. But the approach was always: standing down to earth and hands-on. And first, make sure you have your affairs in order and only then hire people. And now, five years later, we work full-time with ten people and a flexible layer around it.”
Take-aways from years of wholesale experience
With 15 years of experience at G-Star, first as a sales representative and then as Director Direct to Consumer (D2C), Maarten brings the necessary experience. What are his most important lessons learned?
“They are endless of course. At G-Star I learned how you can achieve a lot by working hard. How you can grow by listening, both to your customers and to your organization. In the last five years I’ve had a kind of crash course in retail, with almost 600 G-Star stores worldwide.”
Maarten had been a fan of the American outdoor brand Patagonia for 25 years when he got the chance to work there as an interim retail manager. There he received surprising insights that helped him set up Butcher of Blue.
“Patagonia is of course the pinnacle in sustainability, but what I learned there is corporate culture. I went from a hard organization to a very people-oriented organization. And that has given a lot of context into how we want to cooperate with our people. Also on the shop floor and in the factories. This mainly has to do with corporate responsibility. We focus on a high-quality product, because if your clothes last longer, it is sustainable. But on the other hand, that also means working very closely with your suppliers. And remain critical about the conditions in which you let people do their work. We consciously produce far away. This is also because we have built up a relationship with TEB, a Bangladeshi manufacturer. They wanted to establish the new Bangladeshi standard with better working conditions in all facets, following the Bangladesh agreement. But also make a qualitative improvement by producing less for fast fashion brands. We are very proud of that.”
Ode to the retailer
In addition to finding the right suppliers, a lot of attention was immediately paid to building a high-quality dealer network.
“One of the decisions we made, in the beginning, was to find a partnership with our supply chain. That also made it possible to grow quickly. We have gone from 16 retailers in our first season to 160 retailers in five years. And we very consciously put the brakes on that. We look carefully at who suits us and we want to grow together with those retailers. Especially at a time when almost all brands are going Direct to Consumer, we believe that we should get closer to the dealer network. And above all, it must remain a B2B brand.”
A clear choice to invest in the relationship with their retailers.
“You notice that retailers are less and less happy to work with big brands because they are being asked more and more requirements. And if you have a problem, nothing can be done. We believe that this relationship with the retailer brings us a lot. They are our signboard, but also our sounding board, and we use them every day. We continuously gauge what is being sold well and what is not and what is needed. Do you have inspiration for us? Even on that level. We are working very actively on this with a small club of retailers.”
Laying the foundation
With suppliers and the supply chain as important building blocks for setting up their brand, the men immediately start looking for a solution to provide insight into their entire back office.
“We actually started doing business the other way around. We have started laying the foundation. And I think that is something many startups in our industry forget about, because what happens if you have to invoice your bulk order in one go? Or if you don’t know where that one order from a supplier has gone? Or if it is on the sidewalk in one go? These were all issues that we carefully considered beforehand. And which we wanted to organize in such a way that it is scalable and grows with the organization.”
Partners who grow with you
In the search for a suitable ERP package, they choose Itsperfect, which immediately stands out due to its relatively low investment, modernity and user-friendliness. And with whom they have been working together for five years now.
“Itsperfect has helped us grow by laying the foundation. Most importantly, we had a tool to easily see what the status quo was in our company. And Itsperfect was the right partner for that at that time, because we could get in with a small subscription and get a relatively large amount of data from it. And at the same time a future-proof solution. We started out of love for the product, but with a very healthy ambition. And that ambition is far from being fulfilled. And the nice thing about this club is that they grow with our ambition.”
In this way, Maarten and Bob make conscious choices in all pillars of their organization for parties that can grow with them. From their ERP and logistics operation, which they manage entirely in-house, to their production partners where they can now increase the capacity on some styles from 100 pieces to 10,000.
“It has been very important for us from the start to make sure that all parties could grow with us. With Itsperfect we have laid the foundation to funnel our creativity. I think that was important to us. That we have outlined the framework within which we can express ourselves creatively. And that gives a lot of freedom. Because as long as we know that we operate within that framework, and we know that through a good ERP system, we can do anything we want. And that is the best thing about running your own business: doing what you want!”
When it comes to working with Itsperfect, it sounds like a real partnership.
“The most valuable thing about Itsperfect is the personal relationship. And that sounds a bit strange, because you have a system and data just goes in and data comes out. And that works. But I do know that the people who answer the phone, if there’s something, know what it’s about and that they can switch in a sincere way and think along with us. And that is becoming increasingly rare.”
Marketing strategy: The search for perfection
Butcher of Blue also has a great story in terms of marketing, which is very nicely implemented in all facets. What is the secret behind their strategy?
“The campaign story is actually the thing that started it all. We no longer believe in a stationary campaign. It is very traditional to shoot a campaign every season, while sometimes your product sells all year round. And every part of your collection needs a different story. We call it ‘the search for perfection’. And that is something we take very seriously, because for us this brand is a continuous search for perfection. Being the perfect partner to our customers, offering the perfect collection, searching for the perfect fabric. And therefore, also that perfect marketing, in which we find it important that our communication remains authentic.”
They also look for that authenticity through ‘hookups’ with brands or people they click with. Once started with their own bottle of Tomasu to give something nice to their customers. A lot of beautiful collabs have now been added.
“With two-star chef Syrco Bakker of Pure C from Cadzand, we made a variant of Hierbas de las Dunas, a Dutch take on the Spanish herbal liqueur that we have become a fan of. We have customized modern clogs with Weltevree and together with Brekr we have designed a version of their electric moped. With hookups we actually celebrate their expertise and together make our take on their product.”
As marketing channels they often opt for social, but also for a very physical marketing approach. From making beautiful shop windows at their retail partners, to sponsoring the local football club and visibility on television.
“We now have real fans of our brand. And that creates a lot of exposure. We are on television at least once or twice a week. And we’re slowly seeing a correlation between someone who’s been on TV and sales. We are growing little by little, you can see that people know how to find us.”
Butcher’s promise: We’ve got you covered
The target group of the brand is therefore broad, with the common denominator that they find clothing and wearing a brand important, but it is not a high priority in all their daily activities. And that’s exactly what Butcher is good at.
“Go out for a nice meal with your partner, go to the pub with your friends, do some sports at the weekend, go out with your kids, do what you think is important in life, because clothes are not important. We’ve got you covered. We make beautiful and high-quality clothes that are timeless and last a long time. And of course we vary in that, because that’s our profession, we have to make sure you don’t look like a dick. You have to feel comfortable in our clothes, but people also become fans of fabric quality. Take the army tee, with a 300 grams organic cotton quality, once you’ve worn it, you’ll never want another t-shirt again.”
Sleepless nights and growing consciously
“We don’t have a never-out-of-stock yet, but never-out-of-style. As a small organization, we simply cannot switch as quickly as the major competitors. Sometimes we are out of stock due to the success of an item or because we are not yet able to handle physical production. And that is of course a luxury position, because we have only been around for five years and we are sold out of items that we would like to keep in stock at all times. And what we think we have bought a lot of. It’s a very big risk, sleepless nights. Still, and it will only get worse, because the scale is getting much bigger, but of course, that also makes it fun.”
Careful consideration has also been given to growth and investment. For example, very conscious actions are taken according to the growth plan and with a keen eye on finances.
“And without an investment company, because we don’t want outside interference. We want to have good partners, and of course, money is important. But our motivation is that we build a brand that people can become a fan of. We are building our fanbase and that is something we cherish.”
With retailers in Belgium and Norway, sales via Marketplaces in Germany and an office in Munich from this fall, the team is cautiously taking steps abroad. There is therefore plenty of ambition to continue to grow in the coming years.
“Our greatest wish is to further expand the brand. Both in the Dutch and the pan-European market. We have a fantastic network of people who have knowledge and skills in this area and who are also very enthusiastic about this expansion. But much more important is that we will soon have an even better presence within our current dealer network. And further expand our women’s collection, which is now in stores for the third season. Just like the men’s collection, we deliberately started very small and slowly expanded it with items that we are fond of ourselves. There is also an ambition to grow there.”
Room for creativity with data
It sounds like a cool project, which with a mentality of hard work, making beautiful things, creating fans, staying close to the retailers and creating the right conditions will slowly become a success story, which we will hear a lot about. A final tip from Maarten to other brands in this phase:
“Get started with data! The more insight into data, the better you can steer and keep your customer satisfied. People continue to see data as a kind of neglected child, because it is of course not fun by definition. Numbers, ones and zeros, are all very boring. But if you have set that up properly, you will actually achieve something very beautiful and you will have a lot of room for the development of your company and your creativity.”