How Incy Interiors is building the right brand collaborations

Founder of Australian children's furniture maker shares how she works out which brands to partner with

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. But when it comes to building a brand, sharing that problem with the wrong partner can have serious negative consequences.

History is littered with stories of questionable brand collaborations, such as Accenture’s unfortunate match-up with Tiger Woods. But get it right, and the results can propel both brands forward with added momentum.

For Australian children’s furniture maker, Incy Interiors, partnership requests have become a regular occurrence. The company now operates in 10 markets, including the UK and the US, where it has secured space in prominent department stores, and has hit $9 million in annual revenue.

For founder, Kristy Withers, a former marketing chief for eBay Australia, diligence is critical when deciding who she will extend her company’s brand to. And a recent partnership with rocking chair maker, Hobbe, has proven a perfect match.

“It is never going to make us a fortune, but it is a beautiful product people are really loving,” she says.

Withers met Hobbe founder, Samantha Hobbelen, some years earlier, and it was over dinner that they hit on the idea of Hobbe collaborating on a nursing chair specifically for Incy Interiors.

“Images you see on Instagram have an Incy cot and a Hobbe rocking chair, so it kind of was a no brainer,” Withers says.

After exchanging ideas online, Withers took Hobbleden to meet her manufacturer in Singapore, and after three rounds of sampling settled on the final design. The result is the Incy Interiors x Hobbe Nursing Chair.

The partnership with Hobbe is the third time Withers has shared her brand with another company, and not all have worked, including one outing with contemporary Australian linen maker, Kip & Co.

“It was the product design,” Withers says. “The learning we took out of it was people are OK to have crazy linen, but they are not ok to have crazy furniture.”

Another collaboration with stylist, Megan Morton, for a four-poster bed fared more favourably, and sold well. These experiences have taught Withers a lot about what to look for in a potential partner.

“We do get asked by lots of people to collaborate with them, and we say no more than we say yes,” Withers says. “That is based on brand fit for starters.

“The next thing you should look at is what’s in it for you. You have to make sure in every collaboration that there is something in for both parties. It doesn’t have to be monetary. It might open you up to a different audience, or it might elevate your brand to a different level. It just depends on what you are after with the collaboration.”

Withers says it is essential to have a strong understanding of how the other brand operates, including its philosophies, ethics, and what they believe in.

“That sounds fluffy, but there are going to be things that come up during the collaboration that you hadn’t thought of in the beginning, so you need to be able to work with that company to overcome that or to take advantage of it if it is a good thing,” she says.

“We have gotten so much more out of being open and sharing with people than we would have ever have gotten had we not shared. But it needs to be genuine. And if it is genuine, it is really fun.”

Withers got her start as a marketer at St George Bank, before spending five years in various marketing roles with eBay, including as manager of marketing and advertising. It was during a stint of maternity leave at eBay that she first came up with the idea for Incy.

“I could not find decent bedroom furniture for children,” Withers says. “I had a group of about 20 friends who were at a similar life stage to me, who were all having children, and I just kept asking questions. Everyone really bought into it, and gave me their advice and opinions. And it became apparent there really was a gap in the market.”

It was after she finished up at eBay that she had the chance to put her idea into action.

“I had a job offer at General Pants,” Withers says. “I was on holidays and I was still talking about the idea for Incy and how there was a gap in the market.

“I had subconsciously already started doing it, and just needed the push. And my husband said stop talking about it and do it.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu    

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