In yet another fascinating interview, I sit down with John Harris of FieldCandy, an exciting brand of designer tents created to add some stylish flair to camping as we talk starting up, challenges, investments and plans for the future.
Hi John, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, feeling great! Every day is exciting at FieldCandy and we have some fantastic things in the pipeline for 2014 which is definitely inspiring the FieldCandy Team.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am a perfectionist and have a great appreciation for well made, well designed products. A designer by heart, I also enjoy being involved in every aspect of business, watching it grow and learning new skills. I am lucky to have had a broad business experience throughout my working life, if ever there was an area I was not familiar with, I persevered to learn and develop my skills.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I was successful in my career of originally designing bespoke furniture for high income customers and decided to enjoy early retirement in beautiful rural Italy with my partner, Rhona.
We loved Italy; the culture, food and sights were spectacular but we both missed working and I especially missed the buzz of creativity that designing furniture had previously given me. It wasn’t long before we were searching for a new business idea, something totally new that we could get excited about.
How did the idea for FieldCandy come about?
Rhona and I attended an outdoors trade show in Germany, the FieldCandy idea was sparked as we walked amongst a sea of blue and green tents. The entire hall was crammed with hardcore wilderness tents, all masculine and no sense of design or creativity evident.
We just thought, how boring!? Surely something more exciting had been done before? It soon sparked an idea between the two of us to create a range of totally unexpected designer tents that would break the mould and ‘pop’ against the traditional norms of camping.
Traditionally the camping industry has been geared towards practicality and durability. The passionate camper enjoys the wholesome experience of being in the great outdoors and in touch with nature. However in recent years, as festivals, glamping and staycations became more popular, it became apparent that a certain pizazz was missing from the camping industry - that’s where we come in. We wanted to create something to revitalise the outdoors and delight others with something totally unique.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
In the early days, a lot of time was spent creating the concept that is FieldCandy. We spent almost two years researching, dreaming up some great designs and learning new skills.
The biggest challenge was learning how to develop a process for razor sharp digital printing on 100% waterproof fabric that is also fire retardant and UV fade resistant, so the beautiful flysheet design will not fade in the sun. This kind of technology didn’t exist in the Western world but we were committed to wanting to find a way that would also print great quality design.
What is FieldCandy? And what are you trying to solve with it?
FieldCandy is an exciting brand of designer tents created to add some stylish flair to camping. We love to excite people by offering a range of quirky designs that stand out from the crowd with colour and creativity.
Our tents are made to the high specification of an expedition tent built to withstand extreme weather conditions. Every tent is made in England with responsibly sourced, high quality materials.
We want to provide high quality, luxury products that inspire our customers to express their individuality. We want to target people who love designer gear, fashion conscious festival goers or even the die-hard explorer who wants to inject a bit of fun into their camping lifestyle.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
In the set up of the company we invested a substantial chunk of our personal savings. However, in 2012 FieldCandy won one of six places at Walpole Brand of Tomorrow (2012); Walpole bench mark British luxury and pegs up and coming brands with the potential to become global luxury leaders in their fields. This bought FieldCandy to the attention of a few financial backers and we now happily share thoughts and business direction with a few exclusive shareholders.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their startups?
If you believe enough in your idea, don’t be afraid to jump in with personal investment but make sure you do the research, which will also help when looking to convince other financial backers.
It doesn’t matter if it takes time to raise the funds, it will give you more time to think about your business plan - there is no need to rush perfection!
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It has to be some of the most exciting and nerve wrecking first few months of my life! In the first week, FieldCandy received 30,000 website hits and I cannot tell you about the hours Rhona and I spent on Google Analytics watching customers come on to the site, what products they were purchasing and what they were saying.
Even today, when meeting someone for the first time who has never seen FieldCandy, the expressions of delight from the public never cease to make me smile.
How did you initially get traction?
When we launched the product, FieldCandy was only sold online and so it was of the utmost importance to us that FieldCandy was seen as much as possible. As our products are so visually exciting, it made sense to utilise that aspect of the business. We pushed press releases, attended festival road shows and accepted collaborations with big name brands like Paul Smith and Sony.
We had a fantastic creative agency who produced some great photographs of the tents and even a video that we shared with FieldCandy fans.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
The biggest leap was deciding to manufacture our tents on site in England. It was important to both of us that our products be made in England, we wanted to ensure a high quality, durable product that we could keep an eye on as it left the factory doors.
This has enabled us to go from strength to strength and has given us the capacity to take on exclusive stockists like Harrods and Heals of London.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Definitely seeing and experiencing FieldCandy in places we never expected! Stocked in Harrods after only 2-3 years, seeing a huge FieldCandy advert on the side of a bus in Germany for a festival, meeting Rhianna and her asking if she could have a tent or even partnering with exclusive designers like Zandra Rhodes - fashion icon of the 80’s!
This post retirement project has grown so much bigger than either of us could have expected and we have loved every minute.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the FieldCandy team for 2014?
Oh big things! New products in the pipeline and some fantastic brand collaborations coming our way. Of course, summer is just round the corner, our favourite time of year and a string of shows and festivals to attend to meet new people and gain inspiring new ideas...
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Yes there will be hurdles, hurdles you haven’t expected and never think could pop up.
Don’t bat an eye lid, stick to your idea and believe in it - sometimes jump into the unexpected but enjoy it and always let your imagination roam free.