Brian Smith, the founder of UGG Australia, is a perfect example of someone building a brand in the most effective way possible. With only $500 of money for start-up expenses, Brian managed to grow the brand recognition of UGGs to stratospheric levels. His goal was to bring Ugg sheepskin shoes to America through an import business. After seventeen years as head of this company, and with $15 million in sales, he sold the business to Deckers Outdoor Corporation. Since then, Ugg footwear has continued to be a popular brand and style, and international sales have reached over $1 billion more than once.
Today, Brian Smith is a passionate speaker and teacher, who is committed to teaching entrepreneurs how to build the brand and grow the brand. He is often asked to be the guest speaker at meetings, conventions, and corporate retreats. What he has to say about building and growing the brand is something any business owner can benefit from, because he knows how to do it better than almost anyone in the world.
Brian is always eager to tell his story. He says that when he graduated from accounting school, he also quit accounting. He knew he wanted to start his own business in a different profession. So, he did. Jumping in with both feet, he built his brand from the ground up.
The first thing he did was to take notice of how many cool new fashions and trends in retail were coming out of California. Since that is where the action was, that is where he went. Going there personally, he went looking for the next big retail trend that he could bring back to Australia and make it insanely popular there.
He spent three months in California looking for that magic “something.” It was only when he saw an ad for sheepskin boots in a surfing magazine that he knew he’d found the thing that was going to make him a success. There was a huge open market for sheepskin shoes in America. They were already common in Australia, but the market for America was ripe for the picking.
Instead of bringing a trend back to Australia, he would be bringing an Australian trend to America with only 28 sales in America. His sales picked up after that, but only averaged around $30K each year for the next three years. Then, some surfers pointed out to him that the models in his ads he was running were not surfers. So, he changed his advertising strategy. He began running ads that featured well-known pro surfers wearing the boots, knew differently. Many surfers in California were veterans of surfing trips to Australia, and already knew the benefits of sheepskin boots. They were bringing them back for their friends, and their friends were loving them. There was Brian’s market right there.
He began to offer his boots to surfing shops in the United States. The first year was slow, and making Americans love it.
He started out by importing six pairs of boots as a test and registered UGG as a trademark brand name. It wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Shoe manufacturers and retailers rejected the boots, believing they would be too uncomfortable and easy to damage in wet weather. However, the surfing crowd knew differently. Many surfers in California were veterans of surfing trips to Australia, and already knew the benefits of sheepskin boots. They were bringing them back for their friends, and their friends were loving them. There was Brian’s market right there.
He began to offer his boots to surfing shops in the United States. The first year was slow with only 28 sales in America. His sales picked up after that, but only averaged around $30K each year for the next three years. Then, some surfers pointed out to him that the models in his ads he was running were not surfers. So, he changed his advertising strategy. He began running ads that featured well-known pro surfers wearing the boots, and sales increased to $400K that season. UGGs were finally becoming well-known among the surfing crowd in America.
While changing his advertising strategy was important to getting the momentum he needed for success, Brian also knew he had to really work on branding the UGG name. He did some market research and discovered that lots of women read magazines about celebrities and paid attention to what the celebrities were wearing, how they did their hair and makeup, and how they accessorized their outfits. Knowing celebrity cred would help his business, he sent Hollywood stylists offers for a free pair of the boots.
The stylists took him up on the offer and began putting their celebrities in Uggs. Before long, Uggs were appearing on American TV shows, and even in nationally published photos of celebrities walking down the street in the tabloid magazines. Uggs were suddenly a household name in America and a must-have clothing item for everyone who wanted to be seen as “cool.”
Brian admits he had no roadmap when he started out in building the brand for UGG. He says he would do things differently now, and recognizes his need for more start-up capital to have really been able to make a more dramatic impact on the market when he first began. However, he also says there is a certain beauty to being ignorant when one goes into business for one’s self, because the knowledge of mistakes that the experts tell you that you are making are actually holding you back from reaching your full creative potential.
“Had I known about all these barriers and roadblocks, I would have given up,” Brian says. “But the ignorance is what made it happen. If I didn’t have that ignorance, you wouldn’t know about Ugg today.”
While he can look back with hindsight and see how he could have come to success more quickly, Brian has no regrets about how he started his business. He never wavered in his belief in himself and his brand, and just kept trying new things to get the UGG name out there until he found something that worked. When he found it, it worked like magic.
Because of this, Brian is a firm believer that people who are creative and can think outside of the box to come up with their own unique solutions to business problems are the ones who will be the most successful, because they aren’t concerned with taking risks. They are just concerned with building and growing their brand however they can devise ways to do it.
Finally, Brian believes that to truly succeed as an entrepreneur and build one’s brand successfully, a person needs to be passionate and inspired about what they do. They also need to find that special thing they can do better than anyone else and stick with it. That is almost a guaranteed method of success.