Marvin Menke Interview Hemel
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Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m basically a compulsive creative type. I find joy through the fusion of different creative disciplines like design, photography and marketing. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s outstanding Package Design program with its emphasis on brand analysis and ideation. So, it was a natural for me to develop my own unique brand. I created Hemel, a boutique men’s wristwatch brand which sits at the very beginning of the luxury market but with more approachable or more practical price points. It’s for the guy who’s ready to graduate from the fashion watch or the MVMT category but isn’t quite ready to pay four figures for a good watch. Hemel also attracts watch enthusiasts who have high end watches but want a good watch for mowing the lawn or whatever. I wear a lot of hats while running Hemel so it serves my hunger for constant engagement while giving me the perfect outlet to create.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I spent many years working in the field of branding, inventing, reinventing and extending my client’s brands. I decided to create a product of my own that I could brand and gift to my better clients around the holidays, birthdays or to mark the end of a big project. It had to also serve a second purpose as an extensive portfolio piece that could demonstrate the breadth of my skill set. I decided to create a wrist watch and watch brand. I was already passionate about watches having been a watch collector since my youth. Hemel was the name of my design consultancy, and I just put my company name on the dial. The more I shared my concept with friends and colleagues, the more they encouraged me to bring it to market. It was around this time that as a consumer I saw a white space opportunity in the watch market, so I positioned Hemel as an extreme value proposition; something that we discuss on some of the old online watch forums. I put the concept on Kickstarter to raise the seed capital for my first production run. The campaign was a modest success, a bit of a sleeper hit really, but the subsequent feedback we got from the watch enthusiast press and blogs is what really motivated Hemel to grow beyond field watches and design pilot watches which has been just enormous for the brand, and now a diver watch too.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
I’m always looking at watches. I have an ongoing library of inspiration on which I am always building. I think the best design is evolutionary; building on what we know works and refreshing it to make a new statement. Sometimes the best ideas come from outside the category, so I’m always on the lookout for a detail that I can borrow from somewhere unexpected. This is where the fun is. I love dial design because of my background in graphic design and it was the initial entryway for me into watch design. I spend a lot of time researching typefaces and laying out the numerals, the chapter rings, getting the dial nice and balanced and obsessing over kerning and negative space. My very first design foundation teacher taught me that if a design doesn’t work in black and white, then it’ll never work. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to military watches…because they all have white markers on black dials. This basic, fundamental execution lends to their timeless appeal sort of like how black and white photography is so everlasting. So I do different illustrations of the watch from different sides and give them to my 3D rendering designer. Once I have everything the way I see fit, I work with my factory and the engineers to convert the design into metal, ceramic and crystal parts. At this point the design may be adjusted based upon the materials and machining capabilities involved. This is a more collaborative process with my factory. The back-and-forth lets me see the project from a new perspective and contributes to the refinement and detail of the final design. I also get the benefit of some really sharp eyes and minds lending me their expertise. Once we’re all on the same page, I’ll have some prototypes made up. These are usually pretty much on point, and they give me an opportunity to make slight adjustments before production. Manufacturing takes a few months and it is during this time that I begin to craft my digital marketing assets. I have a few core layouts, but I also take advantage of the product launch opportunity to come up with all new graphics specific to each collection. By the time I have my new inventory, I’m ready to hit the ground running.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
I launched the online store in the middle of my Kickstarter campaign, so I was able to steer a lot of that traffic to my website right away. I still have links to it wherever I can. Blog reviews, social media posts, e-mail blasts. Facebook and Instagram now let you embed extensions of your store within their platforms so it’s that much easier to get sales conversions. Choosing an ecommerce partner was literally just comparing apples to apples and getting what I felt was the maximum value mixture of design, flexibility, customer service, cost and ease of use. My years in the creative field equipped me to be able to visually tailor the website so my visitors could instantly see that it was an extension of what I was doing on social media. The entire Hemel experience had to be seamless from initial discovery down to physical package in hand so I always worked toward that end goal.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Social media. It’s an area in which we’re winning, and we deserve to win because our messaging has been both consistent and persistent. The relationship starts first and foremost with good product, but it really has to be presented in a new and innovative way to the market. The space I’m in is crowded so it takes a disciplined, holistic and different approach to cut through all the noise that’s out there especially on social media. Because of all the market sameness, we crafted a bold visual identity using color, typography and photos to tell a different story and increase our signal to noise ratio. It’s clean and instantly identifiable and is one of the main ways we build
trust. I think it’s been working so well for us because it expresses what’s at the core of Hemel; we’re bold; we’re straightforward; we do things a little bit differently. This resonates with a confident consumer who we encourage to become brand ambassadors. The online space is so visual forward so that’s where it goes back to good product because folks are sharing pictures of your merchandise when they talk about it.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m doing fantastic, thanks for asking! Hemel has been doing the same thing it always has been but there just seems to be an increased appetite for it now. Our bestselling piece, the HFT20 is basically a new assertion of an old classic. And we did this so consumers can do what they otherwise could not; to capture nostalgia and vintage with modern and more reliable technology. It’s essentially a newer execution. There are so many different directions we can take the brand and product development, so I’m quite optimistic about the future.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
If you want to learn the most in as little time as possible, make a lot of mistakes and it might be better to make them early before you have too much money tied up in the business. No one cares about your failures as much as you do. Seriously, get over them quickly and turn them into learning opportunities. This is probably equal parts life lesson as it is business lesson so there you go, double the value for this advice.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We’re a digital first enterprise so Shopify, Paypal and Constant Contact have been with us since the beginning. We work within the Apple and Adobe Creative spheres which are both long time industry standards.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I get asked this question on a regular basis and my answer is always the same. You’ve really got to love what you’re doing. The time and effort that goes into starting a new business is so great and so demanding that at the end of the day, it’s your passion for the work that’s going to carry you through it all. And research. I cannot stress that enough. Research your market, the markets you want to be in, your price points, your competition, your customers, your customers’ lifestyles and the folks you will have to partner with to get your vision done. Create that business plan and be open minded enough to be able to revisit it and alter course when necessary because the business landscape is always changing.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always on the lookout for partners who can help us monetize the brand and distribute the product in fresh, engaging ways. We’re always looking to add to our cocktail of creativity here so the fresher the idea, the more attractive it’ll generally be.