Q&A WITH ROBBIE SANDS – DESIGNER AND FOUNDER
What inspired you to start your business? How did you go about it?
I'd spent the last seven years working in Japan developing user interfaces for web and mobile applications. The work was fast-paced and exciting, but the resulting products lacked any tangibility. I wanted to design and produce useful products that could be owned and enjoyed. I moved back to Melbourne and started out by producing a very simple product – a wooden cooking stick for mixing and stirring food, similar to a spatula. I called it Stix for Cooks. The product was simple but attractive, durable and well packaged. I contacted retailers around Melbourne to gauge interest, which led to sales and most importantly re-orders and feedback. At this stage, I'd settled on timber as my main production medium. The long lifespan and unique qualities of each piece of timber made it the best choice for making products that could be treasured. Expanding the range and improving quality has been my main goals ever since my first release.
Was there a turning point when you knew you were onto a good thing?
The clearest turning point was when my production couldn't keep up with demand. Admittedly my production capacity at the time was very low, but it was reassuring to know that there was a demand for well-made timber homewares. Many of the turning points during the business' development immediately threw up new challenges; it's great to have more sales than our production could manage, but how was I going to meet the demand? We finished producing a batch of great looking new products, but how was I going to sell them all? Throughout the life of the business it's been important to focus on the good and take the stream of challenges one step at a time.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your business?
Without a doubt, it's when a customer comes back after several years and says: "I love my Sands Made product and use it every day". The original goal was to make items that would last and be treasured. Constant feedback is an essential part of knowing we're on the right track.
What sort of person buys your products?
The range spreads over quite a few price points and products now, so the typical customer could be anyone from a wedding planner to a commercial food stylist to a young couple looking to equip their kitchen with objects they won't have to replace. Despite the varied demographic their attitudes are often similar; the product’s form is minimal and usually attracts the eye of someone who likes simplicity.
What makes your product different? Why do you think it has succeeded?
Timber homeware design and production is largely dominated by international brands whose products are often a race to the bottom in terms of quality, price and environmental sustainability. I think my product is a unique blend of high production quality and materials with a realistic, accessible price point. Matching this with a consistent minimal design approach has been what sets my product apart in the market.
Have you identified any design and/or business trends you have had to address in the last year?
I'm probably not the right person to ask about design trends. When manufacturing with timber, the production lead time from a new product idea to a packaged product on the shelf is sometimes upwards of six months – which makes it hard to respond to new trends. The products I'm aiming to design and produce should be timeless. Ideally, any given item in our range should fit old and new alike.