Last month, ONB and its partners at Ignite Fredericton and the Pond-Deshpande Centre brought 12 New Brunswick companies to Boston and Portland as part of our New Exporters Mission. The three-day event gave New Brunswick businesses an opportunity to learn about entry into the New England market, participate in programming from Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England (CENE), and network with both Atlantic Canada and New England-based entrepreneurs and mentors.
Among the mission’s participants was Andrew Bedford, founder of Ginger, a Fredericton-based digital marketing agency. The mission was well-timed for Bedford, who kicks off his next entrepreneurial venture, a revival of a famed New Brunswick footwear brand, this week.
We spoke to Andrew to learn more about his Boston experience with ONB, and to discuss the newly-relaunched Hartt Shoe Company, which begins taking its first orders today.
ONB: First, tell us about the Hartt Shoe Company and why you decided to relaunch the brand.
Bedford: The Hartt Shoe Company is a modern revival of the 119-year-old iconic Canadian men’s dress shoe brand. The Hartt Shoe name has long been held in high esteem by Canadians. It has served as a special point of pride for New Brunswickers; it’s a brand that is synonymous with high-quality. People in Fredericton obviously know that beautiful building, but there is so much to the brand’s heritage. In the early 1900s, Hartt was a company that made 2,000 pairs of the highest quality shoes each day, employed 500 staff, had retail stores nationally and had an excellent international reputation for craftsmanship. Our team is excited to bring this iconic heritage brand back to the world.
That begins today, with the official launch of sales via Hartt.ca. Will e-commerce be your primary focus?
It’s a focus. For the launch, it’s simply the fastest way to get product to market. We are already moving into retail for 2018. Robert Simmonds in Fredericton, for example, will have product in the coming weeks. Ultimately, we’ll move a lot of shoes via wholesale since that’s the nature of this industry; it just takes time to build that part of the business.
We’re slated to attend trade events across North America over the next year to build our wholesale market and then taking the brand international.
That’s where ONB’s Export Development activities come into play. Let’s discuss the New Exporters Mission; what were your key takeaways?
The most powerful aspect of these missions is getting to spend time with so many different people. That includes people from our local region too, just in a different atmosphere; I can’t stress how much it helps with relationship building. I had the chance to get to know the ONB team, the Ignite and PDC people, and the other entrepreneurs. It’s essential to spend time away from your normal day-to-day and the distractions that come with it. I hope other entrepreneurs recognize the value of that for their own business.
Then there’s the opportunity to meet people from outside our home region; it gives us an interesting vantage point with regards to market perception. How might our brand be received in this market? What hiccups can we expect? Without a mission like this, It’s much harder to travel to another market and gather a room full of entrepreneurs for that kind of real feedback.
It’s also vital to get that face-to-face contact with Trade Commissioners and the Consul General of Canada. Those are the people with boots on the ground in our target markets, they can help us make connections and move our product. There’s a big difference between spending an afternoon chatting with someone versus an email or even a phone call.
Absolutely, that’s why ONB devotes so much attention to trade missions and events. What are your thoughts on the province’s entrepreneurial support network?
Our relationship with ONB has really paid dividends. Your Export Development Team’s work with us has been instrumental in helping to validate our markets and multiplying our impact within those markets.
The business ecosystem in Fredericton, and in New Brunswick as a whole, has been incredibly supportive of both of my companies. Everyone from the Chamber to Ignite Fredericton and Planet Hatch, Pond-Deshpande, ONB, NBIF and the Wallace McCain Institute have been tremendous. I think we do a great job at supporting entrepreneurship in the province and that’s part of what makes me NB Proud.
Finally, what’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in New Brunswick?
Have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to try something bigger. Balance that all by validating your concepts with people who really know what they’re talking about. Look for people who aren’t afraid to give you advice that may make you uncomfortable and consider it carefully. Oftentimes it’s the thing you don’t want to hear that is most important. Next to that, stay humble. Some of the most successful New Brunswickers are some of the most humble people I have ever met.
Lastly, when you look after your community, your community looks after you. Never miss an opportunity to serve your community!
The Hartt Shoe Company is live now at Hartt.ca.
(Cover image via Hartt Shoe Company)
Written by Jason Boies