Small Business Answers recently sat down to talk to headgear veteran Peter Walcott who is breathing new life into manufacturing in Australia. In this interview, we delve into Peters 40 year journey to decide to manufacture in Australia rather than importing for his new range of ooGee brand of hats.
ooGee comes from an aboriginal word for headdress.
Peter Walcott’s background?
Forty-three years ago, Peter was working in a Bottle shop when a friend of his dads was looking for someone to help in his hat business packing hats. Peter soon found he had a knack for sales, which led to a flair for ideas and design. He went on to run, then own that business that imported hats and haberdashery.
Covid arrived, and like so many, Peter started reassessing what would be next. He decided he wanted to give local manufacturing a go.
What was the problem/opportunity that drove a change?
Peter thought a new Australian-made hat would be “Fun to do and good to see”. This translates to his desire to reinvigorate local manufacturing and ensure the future of traditional hat-making in Australia.
Peter saw an opportunity to create a stylish hat that suited Australian conditions. One that would always be stylish can survive going for a swim, is cool to wear and can be packed in a bag.
The next stage was to develop something new that was not straw or felt that are easily damaged and hot to wear. His experimental journey took him to the concept of making a hat out of braid. Many prototypes and manufacturing experiments later, the ooGee hat was born with innovations. Such as Flexibraid, meaning the hat bounces back into shape and facilitates airflow, and Comfy-Fit ensures the perfect fit the hat does not blow off your head from a gust of wind.
Why manufacture locally? Can you compete?
Peter was seeing a backlash against products made in China. In addition, if he manufactured in China, he would have to commit to large order quantities. The hat being a fashion item meant that a style may be attractive to the designers but not the general public. Local manufacturing means Peter and his team can trial a new design with a short production run. Depending on how sales go, decide whether they will make any more.
Peter estimates he is paying a 20% premium in costs. Beyond flexibility to test the market, his product is Australian-made. It uses higher quality materials, including Australian cotton, recycled materials, and real leather on some models. This more than justifies the small price difference.
What challenges has OoGee faced?
Once Peter was ready to manufacture, his biggest challenge was finding locally skilled labour expertise. Covid played into his hands with a uniform company having to let staff go. Peter found a key person that led to others, ensuring he had the right team to produce his product.
His next challenge was distribution and finding retailers to sell his product. He was surprised that having a quality Australian-made product was selling itself. His Ogee brand can already be found in retailers and resorts all over the country.
Advice for Small Businesses wanting to manufacture in Australia
Peter’s advice is to be different from others, which will drive better margins. Peter says, “Do your sums! No margin means no profits, which means no business!”
Peter’s other advice is, “If you have the ideas, don’t partner in the ownership of the business. It leads to conflict, especially with friends.” However, Peter partners with other businesses to help drive his various brands, which have been very successful.