How one man turned a failing shoe factory into an international success
We have been making one-of-a-kind leather items for the last 15 years, travelling the world far and wide to source top-quality leather for each and every handcrafted wallet, travel bag, briefcase, backpack and fashion item. GQ chatted to our very own man behind the brand Bernard Bultemeier, to learn more about what it takes to build such a successful company.
GQ: How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
BB: After completing a diploma in Marketing and Sales at the Witwatersrand Technikon, Johannesburg, I began working as a salesman before a friend gave me an opportunity to buy a shoe factory. Six months later, I was miserable and dissatisfied.
GQ: How did you turn it all around?
BB: The business was barely reaching its overheads because we were selling shoes at such low prices. I noticed that the people who sold leather jackets across us at one of our stands at Rand show used to sell one leather jacket for R800, for every shoe we sold. So I realised that leather jackets had a better return and that that was the business I should be in.
GQ: Since then, you haven’t looked back. Jekyll and Hide has gone from strength to strength, even branching out internationally to London. Tell us how you got to the name 'Jekyll & Hide'?
BB: I was sitting at home struggling to think of a name that wasn’t some lame Italian cliché. I thought ‘Jekyll and Hide’ was original and a good fit, but it actually has no reference to the play as we’ve changed the fonts and spelling [laughs].
GQ: So, has Jekyll and Hide accomplished everything you set out to achieve?
BB: No. It has achieved more. I started the business with the idea of offering small leather items, and never once thought that one day we’d be supplying some of the best-known retailers and chain stores in South Africa.
GQ: As a businessman with over 30 years of experience, what are some of the most important things you’ve learned?
- Persevere. Running a business is tough, but if you put in the work, it will always be worth it.
- Don’t be scared to try something new; the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
- Give your customer what they pay for, they’ve worked hard for their money so make sure you give them value for that money.
- Never compromise on quality.
GQ: How involved are you in the day-to-day manufacturing and new collection sign-offs?
BB: Very. Which is sometimes tough because I’m only one person, I can't do everything, so I have to trust that my workforce can do their jobs properly. That’s the secret, being able to delegate and having a strong team behind me.
GQ: As a fashion brand, how much attention to you pay to current trends?
BB: We focus less on what everyone else is doing and more on how trends change our consumers’ lives. For example, I wouldn’t have considered making a business backpacks 10 years ago, but nowadays, professionals commute, travel and work out of office all the time, which means they need the convenience and ease of a backpack, which is why we’ve added them to our range.