The year 2020 is a year not many of us will forget (even though we will try our best). It was a year unlike any other where we were cooped up at home for long periods of time, not being able to go out for drinks or dinner. This inspired people to start making their own cocktails, creating the most amazing meals and where possible have dinner parties for a small group of friends or family.
Demand for kitchenware and homewares increased significantly in 2020, especially during lockdown, and retailers reported strong growth. However, with the ongoing uncertainty, restrictions and border closures, many businesses have put their plans for 202/21 on hold, while other are going full steam ahead, such as UK brand Joseph Joseph, which opened its first subsidiary in Sydney in February 2021.
The brand was previously available through Australian distributor Independence Studios (IS) and Richard Joseph, co-founder and CEO of Joseph Joseph, says the time had come to go it alone.
“We met IS 14 years ago and the company has done a great job,” Richard explains. “Australia is one of the first overseas markets we started selling and IS really got behind the brand. Our design philosophies are aligned and they understood what we were trying to achieve. It was a great partnership.
“The wonderful thing about Australia is its sensitivity to design and functional products. If a product was successful in the UK we knew it would be successful in Australia. If a product resonated because it solved a problem, it would do the same in Australia, so there is a great alignment between the two markets,” says Richard.
Export has always been a big part of Joseph Joseph’s strategy―it makes up about 80 per cent of the business. International markets are very important and there are a number of countries where it has gone direct in the market, opened an office, have a team in marketing and a warehouse. Now one of the world’s leading housewares brands, it has a global presence spanning over 100 countries
“It just made a lot of sense for us to open an Australian company and employ an Australian team to develop Joseph Joseph within the market. We feel there is a real opportunity here.”
While Richard iterates that IS did a great job for them for 14 years, the distributor had many other brands it represented.
“A Joseph Joseph branch means we can have 100 per cent focus on our customers. Not taking away from IS because they have been a great partner, but at the end of the day they have a number of brands they look after and there are only so many hours in the day.
“Having your own team, the sales relationship and distribution relationship with retailers is totally focused, so we can build a bigger and better business with them. We can execute new product launches better and establish the brand. We can really drive the brand forward within the market by doing that.
“We have ambitions for Joseph Joseph to become a well-established housewares brand within the Australian market, so the natural progression is to have a dedicated team so you get that focus. We already enjoying great momentum with the brand and the distributor has done a great job for us, so we have this launchpad to continue the momentum, we are definitely not starting from scratch.”
He admits the challenge is working with and managing a team on the other side of the world.
“We have to grow our business to a certain size to be able to put a team into the market, to be able to open a warehouse and all the rest of it, but also get it to a size so it can run independently from the main business, just because of the practicalities of working with a team on the other side of the world on a day to day basis.
“So despite Covid and all the challenges, we opened a business on the other side of the world and no one of the London office has visited the market,” he laughs. “Setting up a new business remotely is a first for us, but really exciting.”
The quirky kitchen brand was launched by twin brothers Richard and Anthony in 2003 in the UK. They started with producing glass chopping boards from the family’s factory in Birmingham and expanded into other product categories focusing on problem solving around the home.
Both brothers are product designers by training and Richard worked for Dyson as a design engineer at the start of his career before launching Joseph Joseph. While Anthony is now more involved in the design process and Richard takes care of the commercial side of the business, they are super passionate about inventing products.
“The DNA of the business is in product design,” Richard enthuses.
“The design process is always about identifying a problem through research or user testing. Then we try to either make a product work better or solve the problem. We apply a strong aesthetic where we can, but it always revolves around function―the problem solving bit is the hardest to work out.”
Each products takes about 18 months from conception to market and of every 100 ideas about five products will make it to the end stage.
“There is a clear process which involves design concepts, development stages, engineering and extensive testing and eventually we’ll launch our five final products,” he says.
Joseph Joseph launches two collections each year, one in spring and one in autumn and this year it is introducing its largest collection to date.
“Covid might have delayed the launch slightly, but spring in Europe (autumn in Australia) is typically the time we launch our largest new collections. You've got the Christmas peak months out of the way, going into sort of a quieter period where we then launch our new products, so that's why it is a good time to do it. It’s also great timing with the launch of the new Australian business.”
Joseph Joseph products are made to have a long and durable life so they can be used daily for at least five years without falling apart or breaking.
“We very much select materials that make the products well and are appropriate for the task. They need to have a long usable life, so you get away from the disposable, gimmicky and fad products. You make the product once but you do it well.”
This ties in with the current sustainable movement by consumers and Richard says that sustainability is about long, usable life but also about using renewables. “We have a big development program at the moment about how we can use renewable materials moving forward.”
Joseph Joseph DUO launched in 2017, a collection of essential, everyday products within key homeware categories and includes new innovations plus re-imagined Joseph Joseph best-sellers.
DUO comes with a distinctive colour palette and an impactful range identity and is aspirational, solution-focused and quality conscious.
“We wanted to widen the distribution of the brand with mass premium retailers like Big W, so we introduced DUO. It shares the same design philosophy but features different products at a different price point. We also have a separate design team for this range. So far DUO has been performing very well.”
As Zoom has replaced face to face meetings, for the time being at least, Joseph Joseph also had to change its digital focus like so many other companies during the Covid fallout.
“Joseph Joseph had a big presence at trade fairs, they are very important for our brand, such as Maison&Objet, Ambiente and the Inspired Home Show in Chicago. However, this has changed significantly with all the cancellations. No one at our company is traveling at the moment and we used to have our people traveling all over the world.
“Covid has pushed the shift to online. It has changed our emphasis internally and we had to make a permanent shift within team structures and within the business. We well directly to consumers online, this segment has grown exponentially.
“It’s the luck of the draw really. We are in sectors that are actually selling because of lockdown. Dedicated homewares retailers had a record year. I have friends that have amazing successful businesses that are now just dying; it's sad and has set them back 12 to 15 years. We are very lucky.”
Richard adds that the brand will also be introducing two new categories this year, moving into new areas they haven’t explored before. “We have been working on this for the last three years and we are really excited to get these products launched and see how we get on. We’ve got really high hopes they will do well in Australia.”