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Growth Herschel brothers look to partnerships to expand their empire

Brothers Lyndon and Jamie Cormack, founders of Herschel Supply Co. Ltd., know they have one shot to make a good impression in China.

“If you do a mediocre job at it, your business can be mediocre for a long time,” says Lyndon.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

And Herschel is far from a mediocre operation: Since its inception in 2009, the Vancouver-based company has grown to more than 70 employees and expanded to 60 countries. With sales soaring 86 per cent last year and 135 per cent the year before, Herschel has quickly made a name for itself as the go-to brand for the lifestyle bag.

But rather than rush into the Chinese market, Lyndon and Jamie are patiently holding out for the right partner, which requires first building relationships with wholesalers, department stores and third-party brands. That way, when space opens up in the big malls, they can make their entrance with a leg up.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

“We want to make sure that when good opportunities come up in the top malls throughout China that we have the best partner to secure a space because everybody’s fighting for the same square footage,” Lyndon says.

Forging key partnerships is a strategy that’s worked well for Herschel. Since its beginnings, the company has collaborated to produce exclusive lines with a growing list of high-profile brands including Apple, Stussy, New Balance and J. Crew Kids – all while keeping its own creative vision intact.

“What we look for in a collaboration is more truly a partnership – how do we continue to tell our story for a few seasons, rather than just come up with one product,” says Lyndon.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

Other business relationships of Herschel include Barney’s New York, Urban Outfitters and Japanese tastemakers United Arrows and Beams. And coming up this year, Herschel has teamed up with the shoe company Clark’s for the 65th anniversary of its desert boot, and the brothers have a new collaboration – a “big one” that’s still under wraps – coming down the pipe for fall 2016.

But perhaps the truest testament to the Herschel brothers’ collaborative nature is not in the company’s acumen to source big-name partners, but in Lyndon and Jamie’s simultaneous drive to cultivate a small-scale retail presence. The brand-building duo have teamed up with a local shop owner in the beachside neighbourhood of Deep Cove in North Vancouver, B.C., to start two small businesses – A’hoy, a clothing and accessory store, and Sunnyside, which sells tea and housewares.

They’ve taken that same entrepreneurial spirit that launched Herschel to the streets of their own community – another partnership on a smaller scale.

“What we try to do is curate a selection of products that really cater to that community,” says Lyndon.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

A’hoy came about when, after years of buying birthday and Valentine’s Day gifts at Megan Curren’s shop in Deep Cove, the brothers saw an opportunity to join forces when a storefront next door came up for rent.

“It was a really creative process. A’hoy came from basically nothing,” Lyndon says. “We all love retail and it’s a real collaboration.”

Ms. Curren manages the stores’ day to day operations, while Jamie and Lyndon do product design, brand strategy and marketing. Ms. Curren’s husband, Rich, designs the logos.

“We’re pretty great at understanding each person’s strength,” Lyndon says.

Despite Herschel’s global reach, Jamie and Lyndon are no strangers to the small-town consumer. The brothers grew up in Calgary, but they often visited their grandparents in the remote community of Herschel, Sask., where the population totals 30 residents. Today, they both reside in Deep Cove, snugly situated at the bottom of Mount Seymour ski resort on Vancouver’s North Shore.

Unsurprisingly, their latest entrepreneurial ambitions have a local feel.

“We’re not trying to bring a high-fashion shop to a place it doesn’t belong. We sell things like Vans and Birkenstocks and Patagonia and A’hoy t-shirts, which is what Deep Cove is,” says Lyndon.

Step into A’hoy and you’ll find a thoughtful selection of Levis, Converse and Ray Ban merchandise – and, of course, a wall of Herschel bags. There is no sign or indication, however, that the Cormacks own 50 per cent of the business. Sunnyside, located across the street, doesn’t even carry Herschel products.

However, the retail experiments could have an impact on Herschel down the road. If they were just looking to make money, they’d do more Herschel Supply, Lyndon points out. This is about refining their retail chops – and perhaps testing the waters for something bigger in the future.

“I think we can do more in relation to retail,” Lyndon says. “If there’s an opportunity that comes up for lease in Deep Cove, I’m definitely interested in doing it ourselves.”

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