As more people have become involved with Huffer, there’s been a need to make sure the expanding team is aligned with Huffer’s values. Huffer now has 25 people at head office and 100 staff in total. Dunstan says the company’s values are about being “aspirational but inclusive,” and recognising the value of community.
“Community is so important to us. We’re lucky we started in the pre-digital era so we’re experienced in building real communities.”
However, reflecting back, Dunstan says it’s clear that sticking with the tribal culture of skate and snowboarders held Huffer back from growth for a time by limiting its diversity of thought.
“You can’t just hire skate-heads,” he says.
He explains that the brand “started as a bunch of dirty-ass skateboarders living the dream” who shared a particular mentality. This mentality allowed it to scale to a certain level before its growth flattened out through 2005-2010.
The introduction of own-brand retail stores in September 2011 was the tipping point at which new ideas entered the mix, Dunstan says: “From that point to now, the growth has been phenomenal.” Huffer is now four times the size it was in 2010.
In addition to its 11 retail stores, Huffer wholesales into more than 150 outlets across New Zealand and Australia. The relationship between retail and wholesale is mutually reinforcing in a satisfying way, Dunstan says, but a network that emphasises retail over wholesale is not what the brand wants to achieve.
“Retail works off the wholesale plan, not the other way around,” Dunstan says. “Wholesale has scaleability.”
Internationally, Huffer is focused on continuing its expansions in the Australian market, and also has its sights on wholesaling into Japan, China – where most of Huffer’s product is made - and Korea. A planned entry into the US market has been shelved, Dunstan says, as the brand wasn’t ready and the timing was wrong.
Huffer has eight retail stores in New Zealand and three in Australia. Any retail expansion into new territories overseas would require more working capital than Dunstan is willing to commit, but he agrees the local stores have been essential to building a sense of a Huffer community.
“It’s almost a responsibility. We develop real, tactile experiences and outside of product, we can have real conversations.”
Dunstan encourages Huffer’s retail staff to approach customers in a relaxed way, prioritising friendly interaction over sales: “If they just want to come in and have a talk, you can have a talk.”
He’s deliberately not invested in a coffee machine at home because he values the social interaction of visiting cafes, and he feels in-store shopping has the same kind of appeal as being in a hospitality space. There’s also the experiential factor: “You can come and see the brand, touch it and feel it and talk to it.”
Huffer is using New Zealand Fashion Week this year to launch a new charity partnership with the Mental Health Foundation. It’s created a limited-edition beanie and tote bags which will be sold in-store, with all proceeds going to the Foundation, and its monthly Free Coffee Fridays initiative at the Britomart store will move to a donation basis with all money raised being donated.
“The Huffer brand celebrates inclusiveness and bringing people together from all walks of life, and as a result we have a very strong, loyal and socially-aware community,” says Dunstan. “As a brand, Huffer identify with the Mental Health Foundation’s key objectives and to summarise them, we came up with the phrase ‘People presence’, which is the idea of being present to support one another and ourselves throughout life; something our Huffer community is in the perfect position to do. By partnering with the Foundation, we hope to help improve the wellbeing of the many who are suffering silently.”