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Bobux shoes' founder reflects on successful start-up 30 years' on

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

It’s been three decades since Chris Bennett and his wife Colleen launched their "side-business" Bobux out of a garage in Auckland - with the popular kids shoe quickly becoming an international success. But Chris is the first to admit it was a lot easier to launch a business overseas back in those days compared to in today’s Covid environment.

In 1991, Chris went searching for soft-soled shoes for his young daughter - that actually stayed on, but struggled to find any, which led to him realising a gap in the market. The shoes were sold at Auckland’s Victoria Park Markets, often selling out due to word of mouth marketing. Very quickly Chris saw the potential beyond a small business opportunity and took the shoe designs over to Australia and beyond.

"One of the key learnings that I pass on to others starting out is that getting overseas and building relationships is fundamental to growth and future success of the product," says Chris. "Obviously I would easily hop on a plane back in those days and meet with prospective distributers face-to-face, which is not easy for budding New Zealand entrepreneurs right now - and that’s really tough."

Chris is currently working with three start-ups, all in the footwear industry and he is well aware of the challenges of growing a business during a pandemic. "I encourage them to get creative over Zoom and try their best to build relationships there. Unfortunately nothing can replace in-person meetings when it comes to building trusted and ongoing business relationships. This is a big reason the business community is so eager for the border to open as quickly as possible, it just has to in order for Kiwi businesses to avoid getting cut off from the rest of the world."

Other key learnings from Chris include the importance of a strong brand story, not just a great product. "We had a story of this lazy father who was sick of tying his kids shoe laces and went searching for a better option - it resonated with other parents who could relate to the narrative we had created.

"It’s also really important to think big, get outside of the New Zealand market as quickly as possible as we are limited by the small number of people here. We went with the name Bobux because we knew it would appeal across languages," he says.

Five years ago Chris stepped out from the leadership role at Bobux, hiring a CEO and introducing a board. Chris says this was a great decision, but a difficult one. "Many founders don’t know when it’s time to step out - but it can be the best decision for everyone in the business to bring in a CEO who can take the business further than you can. It’s important to know your limits."

In recent times, Bobux has undergone a significant digital transformation, evolved its product and distribution offering to a rapidly changing consumer landscape and navigated a global pandemic, coming out stronger than when the company went in.

Bobux is a true family business, with Chris still on the board and involved in the business alongside his ex-wife Colleen (the couple separated ten years ago and have managed to maintain a working business relationship ever since). Their oldest daughter Chloe worked in customer service for 10 years, and is now mother of two children. Their second daughter Hannah works in the e-commerce side of the business and their son Sam spent some time working in design and in the warehouse.

An award-winning business, Bobux are future focused and are constantly evolving to ensure the company is still trading in 100 years. Chris and Colleen, together with their team of more than 30 staff, managed to bounce back after Covid-19 impacted their business in 2020, investing into ecommerce and the brand’s digital presence, with 40 percent of sales now online.

Using the most innovative methods and consumer feedback, Bobux is designing shoe solutions to meet the needs of growing feet of the next generation around the globe.

Beyond New Zealand and Australia, Bobux's markets include more than 40 countries, with a major focus on the UK and western Europe, including Italy.

Bobux shoes are podiatrist approved and are one of few brands on the market especially made to support developing feet. Bobux shoes are made from quality materials that are also soft, breathable and comfortable - yet provide durability, resulting in beautiful shoes that parents are proud of and kids love to wear.

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