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2 November 2022

Why Authenticity & Passion Matters in Business with Nick Herbert (Shelflife founder)

Nick Herbert is the founder of Shelflife, South Africa’s biggest premium sneaker and streetwear store!

In this episode Nick sat down with Eitan, amidst the launch of their Nike x Shelflife Jordan 2 sneaker, to talk about running a business from passion and how, often, running a brand from a place of authenticity, can be the thing that leads to success.

It’s an inspiring chat with one of our country’s great entrepreneurs and the man at the centre of streetwear and apparel culture.

Take a listen.

 


Eitan Stern (00:01):

Oh, there we go. Nick Herbert is here. How’s it Nick? I’m here with Simon. We now. Hi, how’s it Nick <laugh>. We’re now a very professional recording studio, basically sitting in a closet. So have you managed to, to hook your phone up and start recording on your phone?

Nick Herbert (00:16):

Yep. I have. You can just tell me, I’ve started to record already, but I can stop and then restart.

Eitan Stern (00:21):

I think the number one rule of podcasting is ABC always be, Oh no, abr, <laugh>. I think that’s

Simon (00:30):

Six. That’s podcasting.

Eitan Stern (00:34):

Sorry, I’m sorry about that. foul language.

Eitan Stern (00:41):

Welcome to Leagalese’s Big Fish stories, the podcast where we showcase local South African entrepreneurs their stories and their big relevance to the world around them. As lawyers working with startups and established businesses in the tech and creative industries, we get front row seats to some incredible business adventure rides. The problem is that as lawyers, our work is confidential with big fish stories. We’re going inside the room with some proudly South African entrepreneurs to talk about their airy highs, lonely lows and creamy middles of the road to success as a country deepen economic development, there is massive potential for smart entrepreneurs to build something Great. Join us as we meet some of these big fish and find out how they’re looking to make their ponds even bigger. I’m your host managing director of Leagalese Eitan Stern. Yeah, I mean, let’s just kind of jump straight in. I didn’t actually end up sending you any of the, the questions that I had. I decided not to, I didn’t want you to get, uh, spooked by their Cause. I actually had a lot of, a lot to kind of ask you and it turns and some of my staff are, are real sneakerheads, so they all wanted to have their input on the questions.

Nick Herbert (01:44):

Catch me off guard.

Eitan Stern (01:45):

Hundred percent. Cool. Cool. I mean, in general, I’m keen to just jump straight in. So you, you are, what is your role? You are the creative director at Shelflife and do you wanna tell us what shelflife is?

Nick Herbert (01:57):

Yeah, that’s, uh, pretty much it. I was CEO up until May, um, and then I became creative director, which is amazing. Stepped away from like, the operations of the business.

Eitan Stern (02:06):

Yeah. People talking about climbing up the corporate ladder, but very few people talk about climbing down it and how rad that

Nick Herbert (02:12):

Is. It’s, it’s a great feeling. Yeah. Climbing up’s no fun. Yeah, it was the same role throughout from the moment that I started right up until I left, not being able to let other people handle certain things and, you know, yeah, that’s just the way that I, that I am. So it was extremely taxing, but uh, yeah, this new role is amazing.

Eitan Stern (02:30):

Awesome. I’m, I’m keen to kind of dial things back a little bit before we get to there. Sure. So, I mean, where, where are you from and, and what did you do before you started shelflife?

Nick Herbert (02:38):

So, I was born in Johannesburg. Um, I grew up majority of my life in Cape Town. I went to, uh, Westford and ended in Abbots Matric. Then I studied at AAA, um, advertising

Eitan Stern (02:53):

When I was at school. The kids that landed up in Abbots from the, from the private schools were like the naughty boys and girls that, uh, were Were you one of those? Yeah.

Nick Herbert (03:01):

I was failing hard at

Eitan Stern (03:02):

School

Nick Herbert (03:02):

Big time. Abbots completely saved me. I also had the same idea, you know, like, go to Abbots, it’s gonna be a joke. It’s gonna be so easy. And it was so difficult. It was like four times the amount of work that I ever expected, but it really got me going and I managed to pass everything. If I’d stayed at Westerford, I would’ve had major issues.

Eitan Stern (03:21):

So you, so you went and studied at aaa? Mm-hmm.

Nick Herbert (03:24):

<affirmative>. Yep. I studied art direction for

Eitan Stern (03:26):

Three years. And then, was shelf life your first gig or did you do something before that?

Nick Herbert (03:30):

Funnily enough, I didn’t internship for one month. Um, and I didn’t, I didn’t enjoy it all. Definitely wasn’t for me. And it was a taste of the advertising world. I liked the idea of advertising, but I didn’t really enjoy my time. Um, and then funnily enough, I started to make clothing, actually, specifically matric hoodies, which is, which is quite a funny avenue. But, uh, it was pretty good turnover and we kind of started like a small company just doing that. And then from there I started to sell like apparel and little bits of clothing. And then I started to import Montanas spray pants. And that was really the first step towards like, shelflife, I would say.

Eitan Stern (04:09):

So. And do, do you think you always wanted to be an entrepreneur or is this something that kind of surprised you? I mean, that story of like someone starting a business in school and selling Matric hoodies, it’s not the first time I’ve heard something like that. Like these entrepreneurial spirits, like if you look back with hindsight, you can see the, the, the clues all the way along. But for, for yourself, did you always know you wanted to work for yourself or, or was that a

Nick Herbert (04:32):

Surprise? Funny enough, it was a surprise. I think I always expected to work for someone. I expected to finish school and go into a job. Um, so I was kind of following the steps to work a nine to five. And then when I, you know, got the, the first month’s taste of it, I completely hated it. But I still thought that I’d work for someone. Um, and it just kind of took a natural life of its own, to be honest. It was a really good friend of mine, Dylan, who kind of pushed me to go into opening a store and to kind of doing my own thing, which was obviously a scary step cuz I didn’t expect it. But the entrepreneurial side, like you said, with the matric hoodies, I’ve always been into things like that. Even at school, I was importing markers and selling them and magazines to do with graffiti and, you know, I’ve always been like that buying and selling stuff and, and on the entrepreneurial hustle. Yeah.

Eitan Stern (05:19):

That’s awesome. I mean, and you actually have never really had a job then <laugh> if you did a one month internship that started your own

Nick Herbert (05:26):

Business. So I’ve been employ I once I, I had a gap here in London and that’s probably the only time I was really employed. I worked in a pub and then I worked for John Lewis packing towels. That was probably my worst.

Eitan Stern (05:36):

Okay. Yeah, there we go. Yeah. And, and how did you get into sneakers and street wear and street culture? That’s as a general question. And then quite specifically, was there one specific shoe that lit the spark for you? Or, or how did that work?

Nick Herbert (05:48):

So, um, actually I moved to Canada with my family at the age of eight from South Africa. And that was the time of like Jordan, I think Jordan six, Jordan seven. But it was incredible time for sneakers. All the m maxes were coming out, all the brands were pushing boundaries like the Reebok pumps and like the, the Puma discs and all of these mad technologies that people were coming out with. And I stepped out of South Africa with like, uh, you know, tacky whites and canvas shoes, <laugh> to like this, this world of, uh, Nike’s addis. Pumas.

Eitan Stern (06:22):

What year is this roughly?

Nick Herbert (06:24):

Uh, that was in 90, I think it was around 94. Okay. 95. Uh, maybe even earlier, 93 around then.

Eitan Stern (06:33):

So was there a specific shoe for

Nick Herbert (06:34):

You at that time? There was a lot. My first pair of sneakers that I bought were Reebok pumps. Um, the technology for me just kind of blew my mind. But of course, Jordan,

Eitan Stern (06:43):

I remember them as a kid, pump them up. I remember being weird as well.

Nick Herbert (06:47):

Exactly. But the Jordan brand also was of course on fire. You know, everyone wanted to be able to jump like Mike and the springs and the souls and the air bubbles, and it was like this incredible moment, almost like a magical moment, you know? And everyone at school would just talk about them for hours and, but the price points were insane. Like even in today’s standard, you

Eitan Stern (07:06):

Know? In South Africa or in Canada?

Nick Herbert (07:08):

No, in Canada. It was just, my parents were like, You can forget about it. You know, they were just, they were

Eitan Stern (07:13):

Just like staying with your takkies. Yeah.

Nick Herbert (07:15):

You, you can have Reeboks, you know, they were about $50, um, in consideration to, like what Jordan was doing at the time was like $150 Canadian. And that was in that time, you know, which is now paying, like, it was a lot. It was probably like paying eight to 10 grand now.

Eitan Stern (07:29):

Crazy. Yeah. And so, so did you save up your money from selling those markers in first pay of shoes?

Nick Herbert (07:34):

It was the Reebok. I, I, I saved up for ages and ages and ages, so Cool. But that was the moment that kind of planted the seed, you know, that was my intro to like sneakers and footwear and it was a mad moment and that was always my interest, you know, so I’ve always been interested from that time on, even though we moved back to South Africa. Um, I was always interested. Yeah.

Eitan Stern (07:53):

So, so, so you started importing Montana paint, so that was actually the first thing that Shelf life did before, before it was doing sneakers. Maybe, maybe you can tell me a bit about the story. So you, you start importing paint and how does it go from there to opening up a shop?

Nick Herbert (08:06):

So I’ve obviously always been involved and interested in graffiti, in graffiti culture since, um, around 98 I started to paint in South Africa, especially in the southern suburbs. That was really the starting days, um, of graph, you know, it probably really started to kick off around the late nineties, early two thousands. Mm. Um, I got into that just from catching the train and, and from skating, um, and, and being involved in that way through street culture. And, uh, we had only localized cans, which were really terrible, you know, like the duco, the sprays, very limited color ranges, very poor quality. And, you know, I’d heard about Montana and I’d used one or two cans from people coming over and I just reached out to them and they’re based in Barcelona. They were the first, uh, graffiti brand in the world that actually made cans just for graffiti.

Nick Herbert (08:55):

And yeah, I sparked up the conversation and they were like, Yeah, we are super happy to distribute to you. There’s no one in Africa that’s actually doing it. Um, and you can start to sell the cans. And so that was the first steps. And I started to sell those literally from my garage at my parents’ house. Um, and then I started to do pretty well. I started to sell, and then it kind of got like a little bit outta control. People were coming all hours, would get calls from my parents saying like, This guy’s here to buy cans at like 11 at night. Can I sell them some paint? And you know, like, it was just

Eitan Stern (09:24):

So your parents are into it? No,

Nick Herbert (09:26):

Like, it’s cool, but it’s like, you know, these weirdo guys are hanging around here at like 11. Yeah. And they’re like, It’s not that cool. And they’re

Eitan Stern (09:31):

Like, Nick, what are you actually selling from our garage?

Nick Herbert (09:33):

Exactly, exactly. So I knew that I could sell the cans and I knew that they were doing well and I knew that there was a market for it. So I started to stock other stores. Uh, the first sort of, I would say art, um, and street store, um, in Cape Town was the bin run by.

Eitan Stern (09:54):

Yeah.

Nick Herbert (09:54):

And I started to stock him. And then I also started to stock a store called White Trash, which was like the clothing label. Uh, they were at the end of Long Street, and we started to sell really well, but to keep up with payments and to keep up with stocks, it was like an absolute nightmare, uh, was really difficult to keep cash.

Eitan Stern (10:09):

Everything was, everything was being imported to you.

Nick Herbert (10:12):

Exactly. And to run like the Montana business to import at a time, you need like at least 150,000 around just for the cans. Then you make small profit from that. You have to keep, keep it rolling over. And so it became very difficult and eventually, um, I decided like, why am I stocking these guys so that they can make the profit or, you know, extra profit. And if I just have a premises that’s not too expensive, um, at least just with the cans, I knew that I could pay the rent and make something. And that’s kind of when I started to think about it. And I knew just from the cans that I could do that. And then anything else that I added on

Eitan Stern (10:46):

Top. And were sneakers the obvious one for you? Or, or were there other things that you started with before sneakers? So

Nick Herbert (10:51):

I started the conversation with a guy, a guy from Germany, um, Style File Magazine. He’s a huge distributor in Germany and he’s always distributed, uh, big brands like of course Adidas, Nike. Um, at one stage he had I think an 8,000 square meter warehouse. He was the biggest seller of Adidas originals product in the whole of Germany. Um, and he was becoming a close friend of mine, and he was just like, You have to do something in South Africa. It’s absolutely ridiculous that there’s nothing here that sells like sneakers. There was only, of course, Billabong Surf shops, skate shops. There was nothing in terms of street wear. Um, and he really was like, You have to do this. It’s gonna do well. Like you have to, you know. So he really helped also in the beginning stages and kind of pushed me into like really starting to expand into the apparel side. Into the footwear side.

Eitan Stern (11:39):

Yeah. Uh, actually I had a conversation recently with one of the guys that was involved in bringing Billabong to the country and involved in those early brands and, and it’s, it’s kind of a similar story and they that nothing like it existed and then all it took is someone to light the match and start bringing in and the, and the audience was receptive. So I suppose my question for you is, is was shelflife an immediate success or did you find that you had to like, educate your audience or the market or consumers around the stuff that you were bringing in?

Nick Herbert (12:06):

So it wasn’t an instant success, Uh, to be honest, it was actually really difficult. Um, it, it, in fact, I got to a point after five years that I was ready to like throw in the tile completely. Okay. Um, I thought that we had maybe already missed the, missed the market.

Eitan Stern (12:19):

Were there other shops selling sneakers and paint and that sort of thing?

Nick Herbert (12:23):

So there were stores, there was obviously a store that were probably the leading store at the time that open up, like just kind of before us. Um, on Cliff Street, there was peep show in Johannesburg, uh, with Fat Jack, you know, they also did like an offering of footwear and some, some toys. But

Eitan Stern (12:37):

I remember a store, but I What year are you talking about with this? I mean, I remember hanging out at a, a store as like a teenager.

Nick Herbert (12:43):

So we started 2000, I started late 2006, I would say they were probably open, Yeah. Start 2006 or maybe even 2005.

Eitan Stern (12:53):

Okay. So, so you think you’ve missed the market five years in, you, you ready to throw in the towel?

Nick Herbert (12:57):

Yep. The other stores, like the sports scenes and the total sports, they, none of them were doing sneakers. It was all like performance based. Um, we were consistently launching, we were promoting, we were doing events. Um, at the time, Dr. Zulu, Gary was on board. We were getting marketing like collateral and budgets from these brands and like pushing events, but the sales were never there. You know, there was maybe really a handful, like 50 people who actually collected sneakers. And I just thought, this is never gonna come. You know, I knew what was happening in the States. I’d watch Just For Kicks, which was like an amazing documentary and was released also around 2006. Um, and I could see how big the cultures were, but I just thought in South Africa, you know, it’s just never gonna come. And then luckily I stood by it and I carried on. Uh, the first five years were extremely difficult. I was actually doing other jobs for cash. I wasn’t taking a salary at

Eitan Stern (13:52):

All. Crazy.

Nick Herbert (13:53):

I was paying back loans, I was trying to pay the rent. Um, obviously expanding the product ranges, everything was going straight back in. And then eventually it came, you know, and it came extremely quickly.

Eitan Stern (14:04):

So it was that that that hockey stick that they talk about, you work, work, work, and suddenly it just shoots upwards.

Nick Herbert (14:09):

It was crazy. It was like really within two, two to three months. And we were selling like online, like really crazy numbers.

Eitan Stern (14:16):

Do you remember the project? Was it a specific shoe or release or a specific thing that you think sparked it off? Or was it just like there was enough momentum and you had to put in enough work that suddenly it was just lit?

Nick Herbert (14:27):

So the first, the first shoe that really got us a line was the, the first Nike Yeezy

Eitan Stern (14:33):

I actually. Remember there was like lines around the block for some, uh, people to get

Nick Herbert (14:37):

It. So the first one, funnily enough, the first one there was only probably four or five people in the line, which now to think about since then. Um, I remember Zaid Osmond was one of the guys in the line. He really understood sneaker culture. People were still quite disconnected. Of course there was social media by then, you know, But yeah, people weren’t like, they, you couldn’t even really get social media on your phone, you know, It was like the world wasn’t that well connected, so you didn’t know, Okay, cool. In the states, this is really like going crazy unless you were like standing by, you know, your desktop and searching. And, you know, we weren’t, the world wasn’t that well connected. So what was happening in one place might have not been happening in another. So we were buying these Yeezys, um, and just selling them. I think at the time they were like 2000 Rand, those now are reselling for like 50, 60 k a pair.

Eitan Stern (15:24):

Wow. Yeah. Could every store in the world be a distributor over that? Or had you guys put in the groundwork in order to, to be able to sell that to?

Nick Herbert (15:32):

So it was super, super limited at the time globally, but Nike, South Africa had about 200 units, which was pretty interesting. Okay. I dunno how they got it considering. Um, I knew at the time London only released through Nike Town. I think they only got 12 units for the whole city.

Eitan Stern (15:48):

I mean, expand from that. What was it like for you? So you, you essentially, you are working in this thing, which is a counterculture, I mean, to, to some extent, right? Like, there, there’s not that many people into it. It’s super cool. You’re following these trends in America, your parents are seeing you doing this and probably think that you’re selling, I don’t know what from your garage. And then suddenly, like we look at sneakers and street culture today, it, it’s quite mainstream. I mean, what was it like for you, so to, to watch that process? Did you feel like a success or was that a more of a threat that you saw to your business? Did you know other people had launch in it? What was it like to, to be intimately involved in this thing that went from a counterculture to a mainstream culture?

Nick Herbert (16:24):

It was quite hard to believe actually. Yeah. It was, it was almost like, this isn’t like the way that it grew. I thought it that it wasn’t sustainable. I had no idea the way that it would grow into what it is today. You know, I thought because it was reaching so much mainstream media and so many, like celebrities and so many people pushing product and, and things really just took on a life of their own. I thought that the longevity would be much, much shorter. You know, I thought that, um, it would kick off for like maybe two or three years and we’ve already hit the pinnacle. So for me, I was always worried like, what’s the next step? Like, how is this gonna, And I don’t think anyone could’ve like even fathom how big it would possibly go and to where it would get to today. And it’s still today. I’m like, how is this, It’s mad how it just continues to like surprise me, you know? Sure.

Eitan Stern (17:13):

Yeah.

Nick Herbert (17:14):

It was almost like, uh, hard to keep up and it was like kind of just all hands on decks and kind of like, just in a, you know, it was just selling, selling. And it was like we, we kind of like, not didn’t lose our way, but it was just like work, you know? And just selling and just madness, like for three years.

Eitan Stern (17:32):

So I, I mean, I want to kind of dig into that. I mean, this is, to a large extent, like a business focused podcast. And, and I think it’s an incredible business what you, what you’ve built. And I, I know that there’s this challenge with growing any business from a founder around business to a bigger business is this thing of keeping your authenticity and your passion alive in it. And, you know, for you, I guess once it goes from selling sneakers and, you know, finding these great sneakers online to working with sales fig figures and productivity reports, and like, I’m sure it gets tough and like, how did you manage that challenge as it’s grown? And, and if I look at shelflife today, it’s like an authentic, it’s like an authentic brand it seems today to still be the same store that it was when I was a, you know, an early 20 year old, you know, going off To Kloof Street and looking for sneakers. Like, like how did you manage to, how did you manage that process and as the business grew to keep your passion alive and keep the authenticity alive?

Nick Herbert (18:25):

I think, to be honest, I think it’s to do with personal taste, firstly, of what we were allowed to buy. You know, so the brands didn’t have any, you, you had a lot more freedom in those days to buy what you wanted. So we would never carry product lines. Well, I would never choose product lines for the stores that were like too commercial. So obviously it starts always with product, you know, what exactly you’re putting in your stores, how the stores look. Um, and that was majority personal taste and just not going like too commercial. And that was more of like a personal thing for me.

Eitan Stern (18:52):

So you weren’t gonna sell the stuff that you could get at, uh, at uh, um, Sports Unlimited or Sports scene

Nick Herbert (18:58):

Or, Exactly. And even, um, even at the time, you know, we were like, we could probably open 10, 20 doors and we could make it a huge success and we could solve, but it wasn’t like, it didn’t interest me and it was more personal, personal thing that I just didn’t want to become too commercial.

Eitan Stern (19:13):

Um, so that was something on your mind, like you at times chose selling well, doing less turnover and selling less product in order to keep that authenticity?

Nick Herbert (19:20):

Definitely. A hundred percent. We, we could have, we could have easily opened up 2, 3, 4, 5 doors. Like we could have got someone to back us. We had a really great business and business model, but it was a choice to not do that. Yeah. Specifically because it didn’t want to become too commercial. Um, we’ve always held that, you know, this really great authenticity, kind of like you mentioned, um, even though we were massively involved with sales and trying to keep up and, and staff started to grow and turnover started, like, it was very difficult. But we always told like a really great authenticity. Hold a authenticity and told an authentic story. I think we managed to maintain that. That was always a focus and came number one, and then everything else kind of came

Eitan Stern (19:59):

Second. So then as your company did grow, I know that, that you guys had a, I mean, you sold the business or part of the business to, to a bigger corporate entity. I’m, I’m curious about that story and, and how, how was that authentic message? Have it, was that a big part of the transition? Make sure that you keep that authenticity alive.

Nick Herbert (20:16):

Yeah, 100%. So, you know, there’s always stages in a business. Well, that’s what I found with Shelf Life was that, you know, we, I always took like another step. So the first step was opening up the store. The second step in, in our phase was to move to like a ground level floor. Cuz we were kind of tucked away, you know, we were on a first floor, Yes. We were like kind of dingy staircase and like, what’s up is, you know,

Eitan Stern (20:39):

I remember it was the best,

Nick Herbert (20:40):

Yeah, the best tucked away little secret. And it was great. And it had this amazing sort of like, you know, once you found it, it was almost like a treasure and people like didn’t even know this was here, you know? So the first big step was to move the, our building was being torn down. Um, and it got sold. So we had to find another premises and we found this amazing location where we are at right now. Um, which was completely different to anything we had done before the building itself. And the way that it looked was like quite ahead of its time. Um, which was super open plan. It was very white, like big windows, like amazing loud. And so we took that over and that was like the next big step where like we opened up slightly more to like more people and more people understanding and you know, that was like quite a key moment for us.

Nick Herbert (21:26):

Then the next big step after that was taking our online store, which was completely, I don’t even know what platform we were on or what we are using, but it was like terrible. And we went from a terrible online store and actually the first online footwear door in South Africa, we were before anyone else in the market, which is quite amazing to like a much more stable platform offering better payment gateways. I think we were one of the first in the country to offer PayPal, um, which was like a huge surprise to fnb and like some of the other, um, players getting that going. That was the next big step. And of course like kind of expanding through online. Those were like two huge moments. And which happened like relatively within the first, sorry, not the first, within a year or two of each other. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and then other pivotal moments of course was going to Johannesburg. That was a massive step for us. Huge, huge, huge step.

Eitan Stern (22:17):

Yeah. Is there, is there a bigger market in Joburg or did you always know there, there was a market in Joburg or, or was I suppose, was that always a plan? We

Nick Herbert (22:24):

Did, yeah. We knew that there was a market three times the size. That’s roughly what it’s estimated at, of Cape Town. But again, we just never had the right moment to do it. You know, we didn’t want it to be too commercial. We didn’t have the correct people. Only once we had the correct team in place, um, we, we managed to do that. But these moments kind of came along where we would take the next step and the next step. And then at one stage we were doing really well. The turnover was big. We had two stores in an online store. We had maybe 20 staff members, um, employed. And it was just me running this the store. Yeah. And an external accountant. And it was like, it almost just got outta control with the finances. Like, I had no clue what was going on. Sales figures, like we were just completely winging it. Mm. And I knew that that’s at that stage that I was just basically rolling the dice. I had no idea what was going on. I, I knew what we were doing in turnovers and stuff, cuz obviously we had a great system. But you know how it goes, like for planning for future?

Eitan Stern (23:23):

Yeah, it’s a bit, it’s a big cash animal. At some point something could go wrong and if you’re dealing with those sort of numbers

Nick Herbert (23:29):

Exactly. One of the brands maybe falls off or maybe sales start to dip. And, and I had no planning and no expertise, especially in the financial planning side. Everything that happened up until that point was me. I was doing the buying, the hiring, the firing, like everything. Oh.

Eitan Stern (23:43):

So I, I didn’t realize that. So until you, you, you sold, you were the entire management team of shelf

Nick Herbert (23:49):

Life. Yep. Everything completely.

Eitan Stern (23:50):

That’s insane.

Nick Herbert (23:51):

Yeah. And the buying, Wow. The buying, which was massively taxing. Really, really taxing. So, you know, trying to plan, trying to see like previous sales, trying to pull sales reports, trying to like, you know, and then deal with the finances and, and hiring the people and finding the correct people.

Eitan Stern (24:07):

Yeah. And still watching the trends to know what shoes to buy that then you’re not gonna be able to find it. And so anywhere else. Okay. So you get to that pivotal moment and then, so

Nick Herbert (24:14):

Yeah, and then it got to a point where I was like, how can, what’s the next step and, and what could make this more sustainable? And I actually wasn’t looking to sell at all. Um, and we were approached by Mosport, which is Sportsman’s Warehouse, um, after Warehouse. I mean, it was quite an interesting one and a really interesting meeting. And of course it was a non-com competitor, so it wasn’t someone who was already in our space. They were kind of in our space, but not really. And we just had an open conversation and they just said that they have no interest at all in running the stores or like, you know, running our brand or like choosing product or, you know, but they were like, the business is really great. We wanna see your financials, we wanna see everything. And then we just started to chat and they just said completely openly, like, we have no interest. We, we would know how to run this. Um, so it’s very important that you would stay on with this. And which of course I would’ve done. I would never have just left. And that’s how it

Eitan Stern (25:10):

Started. So I mean, you would never have left because you, it sounds like you still really love this business. It sounds like you still love what you

Nick Herbert (25:17):

Do. For sure. Yeah, for sure.

Eitan Stern (25:19):

This whole conversation you make, this whole thing seem quite effortless to be honest with you. I’m sure at moments it’s probably, it’s probably not been all that

Nick Herbert (25:28):

Effortless. I’ve gone through moments of literally like screaming, crying, like everything, like where it’s just got to a point where it’s like, you know, but that’s, that’s like, I speak about these phases, you know, where you realize like, I’m in way over my head. What’s the next logistical step to take that? You know, it wasn’t an easy transition, you know? Um, more sport have extremely stringent systems. They have very tight accounting, They’re really, really good at what they do. Um, whereas we were just like kind of winging it, you know, on the system and kind of like much more relaxed and like, Oh, you need to buy that. Cool. You know? So

Eitan Stern (26:01):

How has that out? I mean, like, if you play that out, So, so it’s clear that you are very committed to the vision, the brand unwilling to, to shift on that and in being part of a bigger entity with these systems. I mean, you hear nightmare stories about corporates taking over. I mean, I’ve watched the Office many times, so, and I’ve seen it in the work that we do. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s not always an easy transition when a, when a business, a small business or medium business gets born into by corporate. So it sounds to me like it’s been a success, but how and how has that allowed you to continue the vision and the values that you had for, for shelflife?

Nick Herbert (26:35):

So the beginning phases were extremely difficult. Um, it’s everything that everyone’s ever said, you know, stepping into a corporate world, um, having like a lot of the freedom kind of cut down, but the, the good definitely outweighed the bad. But it was mentally it was much harder to like wrap my head around and a very big adjustment for myself. But I learned like a lot. Like I would never, never not have done what I did. But it is difficult, you know, you go from being able to walk into work at any time, you know, Yeah. 10, 11 o’clock or work till like three or not, or, or work over a weekend and to having, okay, we have a meeting at this time, you really need to, you know, whereas before it was just like, just do whatever, you know.

Eitan Stern (27:16):

And if you think about shelflife itself, like, I mean for what you’ve achieved at Shelflife, has being part of this bigger entity, do you think you could have got to, to, where do you think you could have achieved this without the, the, the, the corporate

Nick Herbert (27:29):

Buyout? No, that was like one of the moments that I knew that like something had to change, that we had to build a platform, like a very stable, solid platform. And even though it was difficult in the beginning, it took quite a while, took like probably two years to become completely stable, to iron out all of our systems to get our accountings up to scratch. There’s so much work done by Moresport and some of the key members of Moresport to basically build a platform for us to take the next growth. Um, if that makes sense. Yeah.

Eitan Stern (27:57):

And, and what is that, I mean, in your mind, like, like where does shelf life go from here? So you’ve got stores in Cape on Joburg got this online store, like what is the vision from the shelflife founder of where shelflife could go?

Nick Herbert (28:09):

So quite interestingly, um, in saying all of this, um, besides just focusing on like kind of turnover in sales, of course that’s important to keep the business running and to keep, you know, everybody employed, you know, sales are of course the most important part. But in saying all of this, um, we, we also realized that we had kind of like lost touch of where we started, which was always about community and kind of like about team members and team players. And we’ve always been super close with our community. Whenever we do launches, we, we’ve always used kind of the same acts. We’ve always used like graffiti artists to paint, We’ve always done jobs with graffiti artists, we’ve sponsored events. We’ve always like, kind of had this very tight community. And so a focus for this year, which is really, really great, is actually to refocus everything back onto the community and to the guys that work with us. So actually speaking about focus is that actually at the moment is our focus. That’s

Eitan Stern (29:04):

Incredible.

Nick Herbert (29:05):

And our growth is actually to grow within the company, and we are trying to elevate like within our company team members to like different positions and eventually possibly have some program not just for us, but externally to, you know,

Eitan Stern (29:17):

Yeah. It’s, it’s incredible. I mean, and maybe that’s it, right? Like the thing which separates a business with values and authenticity from a kind of corporate machine is that there is some sort of a greater purpose in it and passionate it outside of just, you know, retail figures and numbers. Like, it sounds like the story of shelflife is very connected to the story of street culture in South Africa, and that doesn’t seem to be to be wavering.

Nick Herbert (29:39):

Yep. 100%. That’s, we kind of realized that we were like, you know, there’s certain people with different roles in the business and it kind of just grew into this thing, you know? And I think a lot of businesses get to that point where they become so big and, and moving so fast that they don’t even know what other people are doing within the company, you know?

Eitan Stern (29:56):

And, and do you, and was that intentional for you? I mean, as you grew, was there consciousness like, I gotta keep the values and authenticity alive, or was that, or or do you think it was, I mean, just that it came from this authentic place, like yeah, I’m curious if that was part of your strategy or if that was just Nick. No,

Nick Herbert (30:13):

I think that was kind of always in the back of my mind, but it was definitely not a focus. You know, once it becomes a focus, then it becomes much easier. So when we rewrote the strategy for this year, and like we kind of looked at our core values and what we actually like trying to do, we, we realized like there’s a big disconnection between like, for example, a merch team and like a, a store sales person and like, who’s buying products and a marketing team versus like somebody else in accounts or, you know, Yeah. So we started to realize like within our own company, if we can’t speak together and work together, like really tightly and communicate like what are we, what are we doing? How are we gonna communicate to the rest of our audience, and how are we gonna continue to grow? So we relooked at all of that this year, uh, which was a huge amount of work, and we actually created our own brand book, which is amazing. Which basically lays out our core values, and it’s almost like a training manual for new people entering the company so that they can take that away, that it can understand our history, where we came from, our previous collaborations, who we’ve worked with, what’s important to us, you

Eitan Stern (31:13):

Know? Yeah. We’re, we’re, we’re actually did onboarding for us new staff member today. And, and, and that session of going through the values and the company’s story is so core and we’ve also just only added, just added a tile onboarding. It’s, it’s really important to connect people with it. Yep.

Nick Herbert (31:28):

It’s really important if someone comes into the store and says, Hey man, you know, I loved in 2010 that Puma. And they’re like, What are you talking about? You know? And this is someone who works for you and represents your brand, you know, and is part of your team, and they don’t even know about something that you created in the past. Like,

Eitan Stern (31:45):

And I, and I suppose it guides decision making, right? It’s like, it’s like when when you’re not CEO anymore, you’re now in a different position. You might not be doing buying for the store, but if you focus on that core value, the buyer is gonna, if you go back to that decision you made years, years ago of like, don’t do this line of shoes because you can get that at, at Sportsman’s warehouse like that, if that’s part of your values, other people are gonna be able to, to kind of continue that culture.

Nick Herbert (32:08):

Yep. That’s 100%. Everybody knows where they are and what page they’re

Eitan Stern (32:11):

On. And I suppose also being part of a bigger entity means you’ve got time to build a brand book as opposed to, to <laugh> doing hiring and, uh,

Nick Herbert (32:19):

Unpacking boxes. And

Eitan Stern (32:20):

I got asked, I know that you, that you’re working on a really interesting project at the moment as a really special project that you’re telling me about, uh, something with Nike. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Nick Herbert (32:30):

Yeah, so that will be coming out. Um, we, we are gonna release that globally on the 21st of this month, 21st of October. We just just dropped our tease video yesterday to Jordan two, um, and we did an official Jordan collaboration, which is amazing. Um, it’s probably the biggest moment for me personally and of course for shelflife and something that I’ve always dreamed about since I was like

Eitan Stern (32:54):

Seven years

Nick Herbert (32:55):

Old. Exactly. Yeah. And, um, when I got the call, I couldn’t actually believe it. Like I really, I thought this will never happen. And yeah, slowly but truly it did. I managed to work with some really talented designers directly from Jordan. We were on the whole team talk with like 30 members. Like it was an incredible, incredible story. And we’ve basically designed, um, Jordan two footwear and we have designed seven different apparel pieces, uh, that will all be dropping at the end of this month

Eitan Stern (33:23):

That’s gonna have the shelflife. Uh, it’s shelflife collab.

Nick Herbert (33:26):

Yeah. Full collaboration. Yeah.

Eitan Stern (33:28):

That’s incredible. I mean, what does that feel like for you? Like, like you started off, I mean, your business is running a sneaker co uh, uh, well, a street apparel and sneaker store in South Africa, and suddenly this is like global relevance. What does that feel like for you?

Nick Herbert (33:41):

Crazy. When that, like I said, when I got the call, I was like, this is so far, far from what I ever expected that it was quite hard to imagine that it would even come to like, to light. It was almost too good to be true, you know? So the further I got down the line and the, the moment I got the first sample in my hand, I was like, this is crazy. This is actually happening, you know?

Eitan Stern (34:00):

Yeah.

Nick Herbert (34:01):

Um, and it’s just such a big moment from Jordan to like, reach out their hand and be like, We want you to do a, you know, a footwear.

Eitan Stern (34:08):

Incredible. You don’t get a bigger nod in, uh, in the streetwear culture.

Nick Herbert (34:11):

No, there’s, there’s, uh, other footwear doors that are massive that have been around for 30 years that wouldn’t even have this opportunity. So it’s huge, huge, huge for us. Like, it’s, it’s really, it’s

Eitan Stern (34:21):

Crazy and I assume it’s super limited as well.

Nick Herbert (34:24):

Yeah. Um, we got quite decent numbers, but we putting a lot of energy into the launch. Um, we’ve been shooting and planning this now for the, the past month solidly. We dropped our teaser video yesterday, which is incredible. And the whole pack actually revolves around our team, which is great. That’s the concept. Very cool. Inside the shoes, it says Team only, and we actually got all of our staff to sign the inner souls of the shoes. Like, that’s the graphic for the Inner Souls.

Eitan Stern (34:48):

That’s so cool. It’s really speaking. I mean, it’s everything. Your sales, your marketing, the product is all just speaking straight back into that message of this unique, uh, and authentic vision and values. It’s, it’s really amazing. Um, Nick, two, two more questions. I I, I gotta ask you otherwise, uh, Lauren from my office wouldn’t, wouldn’t forgive me. Um, you’ve been doing these projects with older, like nineties and eighties brands like Chappies and grasshoppers, like how did those come about and how did those fit into your vision of like bringing back these nostalgic South African brands?

Nick Herbert (35:18):

Um, so funny in enough, the South African brands are pretty tricky to work with Chappy’s. Like you would, you wouldn’t think so, but Chappy’s was really difficult for us to get across Chappy’s originally. Uh, Dr. Zulu, Gary thought of that was his concept all the way back in 2008 to do a collaborative range. And we went really far down the line with, um, themselves in Reebok, South Africa at the time. Um, so much so that we even produced our own, uh, footwear. We were doing full apparel ranges, and then because Reebok licensing changed at the time, we had like a bit of an issue and we had to pull the plug. Then since 2008, we’ve always spoken about it and we’re like, how does not, you know, it took me almost two and a half years, uh, again before we dropped the product to go to the big holding company now, which is Moli and really like pushed them and luckily, Okay. Um, we had a guy, uh, on the inside who was the brand manager, and eventually he kind of got it

Eitan Stern (36:16):

Across. But, but why, what, why, why was it so important to you to do it? I mean, it’s a lot of work to, to, to, to do with the chap, with the Chewing gum brand. Like

Nick Herbert (36:23):

Why Yeah.

Eitan Stern (36:24):

Why, why were you pushing this so hard?

Nick Herbert (36:25):

Um, so I think in terms of South Africa, you know, we’ve listed as many iconic brands as we possibly can. I think Chappies, for me, is one of the most iconic growing up ever. It’s incredible. Chappy is selling, I think still to this day. They sell 6 million pieces a day, credible, which is quite mad to think about every single day, seven days a week. And it’s just one of the most iconic brands. And, um, we always try and do something localized. You know, it’s amazing to work with international brands, but if we can tell the story at home and, and be the first to ever tell the story, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing. You know, and Chappy’s is such a great brand. There, there aren’t actually a lot of them, if you really think about it, there’s maybe, yeah, a handful of brands that are like as iconic or amazing as Chappy’s, for example.

Eitan Stern (37:07):

Totally hard. The truth is, I, I haven’t thought about it before, but you have, I suppose that’s why, that’s why you’re running Shop <laugh> running legally easily.

Nick Herbert (37:15):

If you think of any more brands then write to us

Eitan Stern (37:18):

Will be, I’ll let you know. I mean, I, I mean, the truth is, I know everyone’s gonna say this, but, but I’ve been wearing Crocs for years and, and I’ve been laughed at by, I mean, and laughed at by some of your, your close staff as well for years. I’m not mentioning names, but your, your marketing managers laughed at me a fair, but to now I see everyone, everyone’s rocking Crocs around, so

Nick Herbert (37:35):

Yeah, things come and go, you know, that’s, uh, yeah, I think the whole, uh, the whole slide and um, thing was obviously Driven by Easy, which did an amazing job of pushing these incredible, like really strange, uh, clogs. Um, and I think that that’s kind of folded down to everybody else who’s ever done, you know?

Eitan Stern (37:55):

That’s interesting. I mean, things that, things, yeah. It’s fashion, It all come and all go in in waves.

Nick Herbert (37:59):

Yeah. Chappy’s is the one, and then the other one Grasshopper, um, yeah, was also a really great one. You know, the, the style of Grasshopper shoes, everybody since school days have worn, I remember my school days and that company is incredible. If you check out our YouTube channel, the videos that we’ve done with them and that we did recently, they’ve been around for 130

Eitan Stern (38:20):

Years. Amazing.

Nick Herbert (38:21):

Yeah. And they’ve employed people within their, um, their town, um, of <inaudible> for, you know, 130 years. And almost everyone in that town is, is supported by this one factory, this massively sustainable factory who pump out 3000 thousand 500 pairs per day of Grasshopper.

Eitan Stern (38:37):

And so, again, that, that’s your idea, approaching Grasshopper to do something, they’re not coming to shelflife and saying, Listen, we want to enter the mainstream.

Nick Herbert (38:44):

That’s exactly it. And they’re these amazing brands and these amazing moments within South Africa. You don’t have to always go into national to find them. They might be hard to get and they might be like a little bit difficult to work with at the start, but there are amazing moments, you know, within South Africa that should be getting told, you know, it doesn’t have to be about international, International and keeping up with other trends. There’s some really great stories just around the corner.

Eitan Stern (39:07):

I love that. And I suppose that, that, that’s, that’s my last question that I want to end on. Uh, in general, where, where do you see South Africa, African Street and sneaker culture? Are we, are we, I remember when growing up it was like, Oh, oh, that’s big in America. We’ll get that in five years time. Like where are we sitting with this? Are we on trend? Are we trendsetting, are we sitting behind the time still? Like, and then what do you think is the future for the sneaker culture in street culture in South Africa?

Nick Herbert (39:30):

It’s come, uh, leaps and bounds. It’s crazy. You know, we, you know, when we first think about some of the brands that are around like the Amma Kip Kips and like the, you know, when we first started, um, to where we are now, to having these super cool brands that are on trend with the rest of the world and that like are blowing up within South Africa, um, footwear brands that are being created and doing extremely well within South Africa, it’s really great to see. And it’s also cool to see people pushing boundaries within South Africa with a South African style and not just an Americanized or Westernized sort of style, you know? Um, it’s also great to see these artists and these local designers actually being recognized for it, doing big ranges with like, you know, Adidas for example.

Eitan Stern (40:11):

So that’s happening. You’re seeing that happening.

Nick Herbert (40:13):

Yeah, for sure. The Richmond You Range is huge. Yeah, it is massive. You know, I dunno how many pieces that was, but it was big 36 pieces or something like that. The Ta Bear range, the same incredible story. Um, we had Kim f Furan who did the New Balance, um, and we went out to Barcelona to lectured her story, which is also great. So it’s amazing to see these people getting recognition finally, you know, from the rest of the world. The African continent itself, there’s, you know, globally is not recognized at all. And it’s, for me, it’s like, it’s about time. It’s been super, super long in the making. Um, so for us also to get the note from Jordan and to be able to put on the map and tell our story is incredible, you know? Yeah. It’s go, it’s gonna be interesting to see in the next couple of years where it goes, you know, I hope that our industry can grow through street wear. Um, yeah. It’s also something that we want to, we, we really want to get involved with. You know, our, our apparel industry in South Africa is nowhere at the moment. People are struggling to even get basic materials. Yeah. And I think as things grow within South Africa, like, you know, that’s a big focus for us to like, continue to push our own brand, to bring people on board to collaborate, to like, continue to like drive this culture. You know, that’s also a big, big, big focus for

Eitan Stern (41:24):

Us. And, and then on the manufacturer side, I mean, is it, is it important to you where you manufactured? Is, is manufacturing local important or possible even

Nick Herbert (41:33):

We manufacture everything, uh, locally. Um, the reason that we do that is we still not big enough to be able to do minimums, uh, for example, in China and to import those minimums, you know, with the duties of 45%. Yeah. Um, on apparel. So we still produce everything within South Africa. It’s extremely difficult. It’s, it’s really super tough, you know, people think it’s like you just go and brief someone, but it’s not like that. There’s so many different suppliers for each garment. Got you. There’s so many issues. There’s always product issues

Eitan Stern (42:06):

And then they have to get their material from somewhere. There’s supply issues, I’m sure.

Nick Herbert (42:09):

Exactly. Then there’s supply issues and they run out of this material, then it’s not the same. And then this one maybe starts to shrink and, you know, so. Got

Eitan Stern (42:17):

You.

Nick Herbert (42:17):

Yeah, it’s not this incredible, um, industry, um, that it was, I know that it was, you know, in the seventies and eighties we had an amazing textile industry. We had some amazing knit mills, we had some like really great, um, things. And I’m just hoping that with the pressure of 45% and the Rand kind of weakening that we can get this going again within South Africa.

Eitan Stern (42:37):

Yeah. It’s funny. Everyone I know and all our clients that do clothing, it’s like, it’s like it, they always say it, it’s a lot harder than it looks like. I can’t exactly tell you why, but it’s, it’s ex it’s just a lot

Nick Herbert (42:49):

Harder. So much. People ask me like, uh, hey, I just wanna do like a heavyweight t-shirt for my company and I wanna do like a hundred, Like, can you gimme a supplier? And I’m like, There isn’t one. And they’re like, Oh, you’re just being secretive. You’re such, you know, you’re such a dick. Just, just gimme the contact. And I’m like, Dude, if there was such an easy turn on for us to do heavyweight t-shirts like that easily, we would also do them. You know, go

Eitan Stern (43:11):

Start that business and then I’ll come to you

Nick Herbert (43:13):

Literally that, you know, So

Eitan Stern (43:15):

It’s amazing. Yeah. Nick, well done. And, and, and a massive thank you as well for you and your, your company doing this great work shot. I appreciate you joining us today. This podcast is recorded by Simon Atwell. The intro music is by PHFat. I’m your host Eitan Stern. For more information about legalese, catch us on legalese.co.za Or on the socials.