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How I Started a Wallet Brand: An Interview with the Founder of Axess Wallets
Posted on by Fredrik Gronkvist
Finding the right product and then having it manufactured in Asia, is what we are all about. While we tend to share stories from an insiders perspective, we thought it was about time to let you see things from the eyes of a successful Entrepreneur, selling products made in Asia.
The person in question is Tomas Ericsson, found of Axess, a fashion end wallet brand. In this article, he explains why he picked wallets as his product, the challenges of finding the right manufacturer – and how everything took off after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Tomas, please tell us a bit about yourself and what you did before you started Axess Wallets
Before starting my e-commerce business I was working as a marketing mana
ger for a Swedish sourcing consultancy firm in Shanghai, helping companies find and vet suppliers in China.
I came to China in 2012 when I was finished with my university studies, and it has been a lot of fun to live and work in Shanghai.
You have lived in China for many years, and worked with product sourcing. How did that help you to start your business?
Shanghai is a very entrepreneurial environment, at least among the expats living here.
Everyone has some kind of business idea, it seems, and in general, people who come here seem to have a more can-do attitude than what is usually encountered back home in Sweden, so that creates a feeling of possibility.
That helped motivate me to go through the steps to build a business. Anything is possible in Shanghai, it seems. Once one has taken the rather big step to actually move here, anything following that doesn’t seem so difficult to imagine or follow through with.
I know Sweden has a big startup-scene and such entrepreneurial spirit exists there as well to some extent, but speaking from a personal experience I did not encounter such an atmosphere where I lived back in Sweden.
We can help you manufacture products in China, Vietnam & India?
I was very eager to start a business some years back, and tried a lot of ideas.
But I had little knowledge on how to start a brand and what constitutes a good business idea versus a bad one, so most of it was wasted effort.
I read some business books, notably all of Al Ries books on marketing (for example, 22 immutable laws of marketing), and really got inspired by his notions of being highly specialized, and building a brand around a niche product and trying to own one specific attribute (and to dominate the category), the importance of a brand name, and so on.
I felt empowered to start something great!
Did you try out other niche products before you created Axess?
Previously I had dabbled with developing Ipad-covers, but came to the conclusion that a high end front pocket wallet was more specialized and that it might just work.
There was enough search traffic for the keywords for front pocket wallet, and my theory was that a brand focusing on only that could etch out enough space in that market to be profitable.
Once you had decided to launch your brand, how did you get started?
But, I was a bit disappointed in regards to the quality of the leather and our communication so I decided to find a manufacturer in India, as I just knew in general that they have a long tradition of making handmade goods.
After using Elance.com (currently Upwork.com) and finding an Indian sourcing agent, I found a good wallet maker in Kolkata that I have used ever since and have a very good working relationship with.
I always try to develop new models and designs, so it helps tremendously to have a manufacturer who is helpful and more like a long term business partner: a lot of our work is trial and error trying out new designs, and that requires a lot of patience at the manufacturer’s part.
How did you source the right material?
To source leather I visited one of the world’s largest leather and material fairs in Hong Kong and met with leather tanneries from across the world, and gathered a lot of business cards and received samples, knowing very little about leather in general and what to look for.
However, the quality of their leather was kind of etched in my memory – it was special, but I had no way of getting funds enough to afford it, as I needed about 100 000 CNY (Around US$14,500) to buy the leather and had hardly a tenth of that in the bank.
How did you finance your first batch?
That’s where Kickstarter came into play, That year Kickstarter made Sweden part of their network of countries eligible to launch campaigns.
So I made some samples in India, and after having procured some small pieces of leather from the tannery, I made a short video and launched a Kickstarter campaign, which to my surprise raised about 350 000 SEK – so I could go ahead and buy the Italian leather and launch my business.
The ‘Wallet market’ is relatively crowded. How do you set your product apart?
As I hinted at earlier, I followed some marketing theories that I read, and tried to be highly specialized in a niche market, and I didn’t see a really strong competitor doing only high end front pocket wallets, so I thought there was some room there for a brand focusing on just that.
Now I realized that the market is a bit diluted as there are many terms used for the same product (minimalist wallets, slim wallets), etc., but I still follow the basic theory to stock in depth in one specific category and want to build a remarkable brand not only based on the superior leather from Tuscany but to have more variations of front pocket wallets than anyone else.
This is only possible due to being highly specialized.
What sales channel do you use?
I’m currently selling on Etsy, Amazon and my own online store. Most of my sales go through the main online store.
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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