The wonderful Amy Poehler once suggested, ‘As you navigate through your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own.’ While she may not have been directing these thoughts at small business, it’s perhaps the greatest sector in which we’re witnessing collaborations come to life. From product design through to in-store fit-outs, event marketing through to Facebook Lives, collaboration has become a part of many brands’ business-as-usual marketing.
‘We’ve always dabbled with collaborations,’ starts Kate Gordon, Head of Design at Robert Gordon Australia – the iconic Aussie ceramics brand that creates more than 150,000 individual products per year across tableware, kitchenware and other ceramics, and boasts more than 3,000 stockists across the globe. Created by Kate’s parents, Robert and Barbara, in a tin shed in their Gembrook backyard in 1979, the ceramics brand quickly expanded from selling at market stalls through to its purpose-built headquarters in Pakenham (where they remain today).
For Robert Gordon, collaboration part of the business since the 1990s. ‘In the early 90s Mum and Dad collaborated on work with a famous English ceramic designer, Robert Turner, and we also worked with Christopher Vine during the 90s’ Kate says.
Overall though, Robert Gordon are very selective with the collaborations they commit to. Part of the reason for this, Kate says, is financial. ‘For our brand, it works best that we limit the number of collaborations that we do – one or two a year, max. Ceramics is a costly venture. To even make a new shape, using our production methods, can start at a cost of around $5,000. That’s just the moulding fees.’ Not surprisingly, Kate and the family run business – which employs more than 30 local people at its Pakenham premises – need to ‘tread carefully into each collaboration. We don’t take them lightly.’
As one of the country’s most recognised and respected brands, the brand is regularly invited to collaborate. But given the resources involved, what do they look for when assessing each invitation? ‘For us, there are many reasons for doing a collaboration’ says Kate, ‘The choice depends on whether or not that person or brand fills a particular need for our business at the time.’ Kate suggests sometimes it’s about the marketing opportunity that is presented, touting their recent collaboration with Gourmet Traveller as an example. Other times, it’s about the brand being able to create items not currently within their standard collections. ‘The recent Little Louli collaboration filled a gap that we are missing in our story, which is a fun kids product’.
Then, sometimes, admits Kate, there are collaborations that just feel like ‘an absolute gift’. Discussing their collaborations with The Design Files, Kate says: ‘Creating collaborations with Lucy for The Design Files has opened so many doors for us, and has meant that we have more brand recognition. Her collaborations and the products she designs are so unique that they also help showcase our capabilities’. Adding to this, says Kate, is the fact Lucy ‘comes with a very clear sense of what she wants and is also incredibly respectful of the process – in particular, the cost involved in making in Australia.’
Regardless of whom they collaborate with, Kate says the team is always looking to increase brand recognition. ‘Sometimes you can note tangible things like a jump in numbers to the website after a collaboration, but what you really want is more brand recognition — more calls about custom jobs, more people visiting our factory and even interest from larger clients who may not have previously known about us. The world is so small now that sometimes a collaboration can gain international attention for us, which is fantastic.’
For those brands considering collaborating, Kate suggests you make sure you ‘respect your brand – ask yourself, does the collaboration work in favour of that’. Also, beware of costs blowing out, ‘Honestly, not all collaborations work. They can be super costly and when there are too many people involved or too many “mouths to feed” (as Dad would say!) it’s hard to justify’.
Overall, says Kate, collaborations have helped the business when they are considered and in line with the vision for Robert Gordon Australia – a vision she says is an exciting one. ‘The past five years have seen us consolidate our manufacturing plant in Pakenham. We have also moved our imported product to a managed warehouse so that our Pakenham business is now only focused on producing pottery — largely for the hospitality market. We have also updated our Factory Outlet and are currently opening a restaurant on the premises. Our markets have shifted. Designs have changed and we are more than excited about the future.’ Finally says Kate, ‘we are working on something beyond exciting at the moment! It’s still in the early stages, but all we can say is architects in Australia will be very happy!’
Shop Robert Gordon Australia online or visit the Robert Gordon Factory Outlet at 114 Mulcahy Road, in Pakenham Victoria.