Today, I’m happy to introduce you to yet another funky brand. My interviewee number 27 is Gerwin Hoogendoorn, CEO of Senz° umbrellas from the Netherlands. Senz° is a great example to appear in the Funky Brand Interview series because it ticks both of the main elements of funky brands: it owes its success to astonishing design, as well as smart brand strategy. In this interview, Gerwin reveals how his student graduation project at Delft University of Technology turned into a successful business, and a funky brand.
Olga Slavkina: Gerwin, how did you come up with the idea of re-designing the traditional umbrella as part of your graduation project 6 years ago?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was a rainy winter, and my umbrellas kept breaking in the wind. I kept buying more and more umbrellas, but none of them could handle the wind, rain and snow -- the typical attributes of Dutch weather. At some point, I got very frustrated about it, and decided to redesign the umbrella. Can you imagine, after so many technological achievements -- we humans have been to the Moon -- nobody has tried to improve the traditional umbrella which had not changed for 3000 years! Also, I’ve always found myself to be very fascinated with the wind. I’ve done windsurfing since I was eight. Designing the umbrella which could resist storms felt like a natural thing to do.
Olga Slavkina. How long did it take you to create the new umbrella?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I had a year to complete my project as part of the Industrial Design program, so there was plenty of time to create something really good, and test it in order to ensure good product performance. I was also lucky to have project guidance from a professor of Aerospace Engineering, so the umbrella came out very resistant to strong storms.
Olga Slavkina: I think the fact that the umbrella was designed in Delft adds some powerful associations to your brand. Delft is a university town in the Netherlands, known for its academic programs in engineering, technology and design. Do you think that Delft, which has a brand of its own, enhances the brand of Senz° umbrellas?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: Yes, absolutely. Being in Delft certainly provided good inspiration to design good quality products, and I am happy that senz° was born there.
Olga Slavkina: Did you design and launch other products during your studies, apart from the Senz° umbrella?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I did. I also tried to commercialize them by presenting my projects to various companies, but somehow they didn’t come to fruition, even though I myself believed in their market success. That’s why, when I had the Senz° umbrella ready, I thought it made sense to bring it to the market on my own. It was a big challenge, as at that time I didn’t have any business experience.
Olga Slavkina: How did you go about tackling this challenge?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I was lucky to have two co-founders (Philip Hess and Gerard Kool), who shared my passion and wanted to take an active role in making Senz° a market success. We wrote a business plan, rented an office at a start-up incubator in Delft, and got some good coaching from the Dutch startup support organization newventure.nl. We were extremely lucky from the very beginning, as one of our business coaches was VP Consumer Products at Mexx. Knowing this person gave us an excellent opportunity to launch the Senz° umbrellas by selling them in Mexx’s stores. We had a distribution network in place at the time of the launch, and it made a big difference for the success of Senz.
We had to learn a lot of new things about setting up a business, manufacturing, marketing, logistics -- you name it. When we didn’t know how to do something well, we asked for expert help and outsourced. Now, there are 20 people working at Senz°, and we’re growing our business day by day.
Olga Slavkina: Senz° has received numerous design awards, a sure way to raise awareness about a brand. When did you begin to participate in design competitions?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was a couple of months after we’d launched Senz in 2006. My business partner Philip Hess thought that our product had a very good chance to participate, and win, top design awards around the world. Taking part in design competitions has been an important part of our brand strategy. It helped the product to be known internationally. We’re proud to have won design awards on every continent.
Olga Slavkina: Which was the first design award that Senz° won?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was the prestigious Red Dot award in Germany. Winning this award gave us great motivation to participate in other design competitions.
Olga Slavkina: What’s your vision for Senz°? What are the next steps in your brand strategy?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: (smiling) I just want Senz° to be a good weather enjoyment brand. I want it to replace the 3000-old umbrella which is still the standard for most of us. In fact, I want Senz° to become the mainstream umbrella, with which even rainy and windy weather could not only be tolerated, but actually, enjoyed!
We also have some plans of collaborating with fabrics designers and producers, and making our umbrellas even more funky.
Olga Slavkina: Do you consider Senz° a funky brand?
Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I surely do. If I wasn’t into funky branding, I would probably be producing some boring, standard products, like the old umbrella.
All photos in this article are courtesy of Senz°. © 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com