For many entrepreneurs, when they were younger they maybe had no idea where they were going to end up, but later on you can often chart the path right back to those early moments. (Hindsight is a beautiful thing.) For Noel Wendt of Norwood Clothing Co, those early years were a clear indication of where he was headed, as you'll read in the following interview:
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
NW: I'm Saskatchewan born and raised. Regina has been home for most of my life outside of a few years for high school in Moose Jaw. I started skateboarding in 1984 and it shaped many things in my future including my profession.
Before we get started, how do you take your tea/coffee?
NW: Typically black medium roast, tea usually green.
When did you know that you were going to take the jump and open your first store? Scary or thrilling?
NW: I was kind of eased into it actually. In high school it was hard to find pants that I wanted to wear. It was frustrating to the point where reverse engineering a pair of denim and teaching myself to make jeans made sense. After figuring that out I stumbled across a shop in Regina that was manufacturing clothing in house. They had industrial sewing machines, which I hadn't seen before, and I started probing them with questions. A month later I started making denim for that shop (World of Trout), a year later we started selling skateboards in a corner of the shop, and that blossomed to the point where it needed it's own identity. This was the birth of the Tiki Room in 1996 and it is still in operation. At one point I realized that most skateboarding clothing didn't really identify with my style anymore (though I still skate) and Regina was lacking a contemporary men's store. That's when the gears for Norwood were put in motion. This was around 2010.
Here's a full circle moment, somewhere around 1999 I had a line of skate apparel called 'album' that sold at the Tiki Room!
NW: Geez, I might even remember that! Fashion is a smaller world than people realize.
How long did it take you to plan and launch? Do you remember exactly when opening day was?
NW: Norwood was about a year between planning to completion. Our first day of business was September 8, 2011.
How did you choose the location? How do you like the area?
NW: The Tiki Room has been in downtown Regina since 1998, so we knew the area well and opened on the next block. Downtown Regina definitely has interesting moments, but it feels like home. Norwood's name actually came from our physical location. We hadn't decided on a name yet even though we were half way through the renovation of the space. I was waiting to cross the street one day outside and noticed a utility cap in the sidewalk that had the word NORWOOD on it. The name was thrown around in our camp and ended up sticking. The cap is still in the sidewalk outside and others can be found all over the city. The streets are advertising for us.
I love that - sometimes you can try so hard when really you just need to be listening. (I won't mention that I was also born in an area of Winnipeg called Norwood.) What’s one thing that you’ve learned, and that’s really surprised you since opening?
NW: Having been in retail for over two decades there are few surprises, but one that has really stood out was the swift adoption of online retailing. The accessibility to literally any product a consumer wants is a reality that makes brick and mortar retail interesting.
Family: Is it challenging to balance entrepreneurship and family, or do they pair well?
NW: There is definitely a fine line with that mix. Everyone needs to be on board and there are definitely sacrifices that are made. There are also perks in being self employed. Like anything in life you have to take the bad with the good. It all depends on your outlook on the situation.
You’ve got such a great product mix, how do you decide what to carry?
NW: There are a few factors. The story, style and presence of a brand are crucial. Pricing is a factor. You can't carry lines beyond your customer base's budget. We focus on classics and try to provide things that you'll have in your closet for longer than one season. Canadian made products are always a bonus.
What are some of your favourite stores or operations out there?
NW: There are plenty of stores that come to mind. Within skateboarding: shops like Antisocial, Ninetimes, Green Apple and Blue Tile are some of my faves (there are too many to list). I like what retailers such as Livestock, Purr, Gravity Pope, Bon Vivant and Still Life are doing. There are many suppliers that we have great relationships with solely based on their employees as well - including Cursor & Thread!
The feeling is mutual - relationships are as important as ever in this industry. Retail is changing all the time, what would be your advice to someone who was thinking about opening a retail store from the beginning?
NW: In this day and age an online store and active social media are crucial. And be prepared to wear many hats, expand your skill set, and stay humble.