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On the fifth episode of Producing with Purpose, I catch up with Nick Pearce, the co-founder and CEO of the Social Enterprise streetwear brand, Homie.
There is no doubt that Homie does incredible work for young people experiencing Homelessness, and first off, I encourage you all to read about their great programs in more detail, here on the Homie site.
However, today, I really wanted to focus my conversation with Nick on the work that happens in the back office of Homie - from creating the first Facebook page to tell stories of young people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne, all the way through to opening a retail experience in the heart of Fitzroy.
With that in mind, we kick things off with a dive straight into some of the highlights and challenges that 2021 has already presented in just the first few weeks.
It’s all about the people
With a strong focus on the team that surrounds him, Nick explains how the people that comprise the workforce of Homie are a true highlight and are really falling into place, ready for a big 201.
But of course, especially with 2020 still a looming presence in the rearview mirror, the challenges remain.
“It’s a competitive landscape, so the challenge remains for us to stay relevant, to stay viable”
Nick talks us through the changes that come as a result of building a bigger team, where the weight of the business no longer feels entirely on your shoulders and you can be part of something bigger than yourself.
Expanding on the process of constructing a team around the founders, I ask Nick to think back to the first member of staff that was brought in to Homie, to fill in the knowledge gaps and take the business to the next level.
It’s clear to see how within a business like Homie, many team members have grown into their roles as the business has evolved and new opportunities have formed, reinforcing that it’s the hands-on experience in a growing team that really holds value over time.
With an initial strategic hire for someone who could fill the gap of grant writing and securing funding, we see how Homie has a unique position where they can expand their startup runway by leveraging their not for profit status for funding, whilst still building a retail based business in parallel.
The truth of retail
A key part of this conversation for me as we develop the 2021 roadmap for Noskin was to hear more about the process of starting a retail store and the unforeseen costs and challenges that come along the way.
With a rapidly evolving digital landscape, it was key for Homie to not isolate their efforts to their physical retail space, and ensure that equal attention, if not more, is given to the online marketing aspects of the business.
“A little bit of an oversight for us initially was that we opened a store. We were more focussed on getting fixtures and fittings than the online realm where we know there are so many opportunities.”
“We were initially 80 / 20% split of brick and mortar to online. It’s almost now 60 / 40 in terms of the online store”
All of the numbers aside, Nick reinforces that the core purpose of the Homie store is the opportunities and programmes they provide to encourage young people experiencing homelessness to have the chance to gain work experience and build their confidence, and we move on to discuss the possibility of transitioning this ethos to back office and ecommerce roles in the future.
The origins at Homie
We recap on the early stages of the Homie journey, starting with a ‘Humans of New York’ inspired Facebook page, sharing the stories of young people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Melbourne.
“I’m a big believer that a lot of good ideas are adaptations of old ones”
This leads onto a discussion that’s been more and more prevalent in my thinking lately, about the size and importance of local markets. When we’re presented with so many opportunities via technology to go global, or have a worldwide audience, we can overlook the size and potential that resides within local markets, where the stories, the products and the journeys can resonate with the most impact. It was exactly this that Nick and his team capitalised on in the early days of Homie.
Nick reveals the secret sauce in the days of building the Facebook page audience, where they would ask friends if they could log into their Facebook accounts and invite all of their friends to like the Homie page, gradually building an organic following, through the painstaking process.
Making profit for the greater good - is there a difference?
With Homie redirecting all profits back into the business to support the social enterprise aspect, I ask Nick if he feels the day to day looks any different to a for profit retail business. With the same challenges, overheads and processes, the profit creates impact, but the decisions become more challenging. Deciding whether to inject cash into business growth, or directly into programmes, as the CEO, Nick is tasked with making some challenging financial decisions.
As the business grows, Homie begins to notice the challenges that occur with increased production, needing to maintain the quality not only in their production processes, but also in the opportunities that they offer their community.
With the introduction of partnerships with brands such as Champion, Nike and Bonds, Nick talks about his process of ‘outsourcing impact’
“That’s one technique we’ve employed - outsourcing impact”
A CEO or a professional problem solver
In a company that has experienced such natural and organic growth, we talk about how Nick found himself at a young age becoming the CEO. As with the other co-founders, or the team members within Homie, it’s evident that it has been an environment for people to find their feet and grow into their roles, from Creative Director, all the way to CEO, with Nick classing himself more as a ‘Professional problem solver’, who is able to build good relationships.
We talk about some of the unforeseen challenges that comes with running a retail business, that most people wouldn’t expect on the surface.
With customers of course being the core of a surviving business, Nick covers the challenges of refining customer engagement, the relationships and bringing them on the journey.
In an era where authenticity is key, but customer data is currency, we consider the paradox that occurs between serving the customer, telling the story, whilst driving the business growth through analysis of those who are engaged with the brand.
Nick finishes up by outlining the next twelve months for Homie, featuring collaborations with Champion, and a secret partnership to be announced later in the year, so be sure to follow Homie on Instagram to hear more about this throughout the year.
And of course, if you’re local to Melbourne, head into the Homie store and support the brand, along with many of the team members who are young people experiencing homelessness.
“We’re a business with purpose, but we’re a purpose lead business” - Nick Pearce, Homie