Focus ruthlessly on the core like Orlebar Brown

I came across an interesting interview with the founder and CEO of swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, Adam Brown, in The Times this weekend. Adam’s brand is a great example of how to focus on the core to drive growth. Since Adam started the business 10 years ago, Orlebar Brown has grown into a global enterprise with 18 standalone stores, a huge online business, dozens of retail partners and 100 employees. Below are some of the learnings from the brand’s success.

1. Solve a problem you care about

Adam’s story is another example of an entrepreneur solving a personal problem he or she cares about. The idea for Orelabar Brown came to him back in 2007, while he was sunbathing. “Why, he wondered, looking across the beach, do most men look terrible in their swimwear?” the article reports. At the time, the choice for men was mainly between ‘budgie smugglers’ (tight fitting ‘Speedo’-type trunks) and baggy board shorts. Adam’s idea was for “a flattering, tailored swim short that would look just as good when you were sitting on top of a bar stool as it would under the water.

As the article rightly points out, a key part of the story is that Adam actually got off his arse and did something about the idea. Many people have great ideas for a business. What is more rare is someone with the courage, conviction and stamina to make it into reality.

2. Create a ‘hero product’

Adam seems to agree with our view that a successful brand is built on a strong core and, more specifically, a ‘hero product’. In the case of Orelebar Brown, this hero product is the tailored Bulldog short with side fasteners and visually impactful graphics. The product is carefully designed and complex to manufacture. “There are 55 elements that go into the making of every swim short — it’s not just a front and a back panel with a bit of net,” observes Adam. I can personally vouch that the shorts fit very well, having finally forked out the £100+ it costs to buy a pair!

Orelebar Brown is a great example of a brand combining product ‘sausage’ with emotional ‘sizzle’. Yes, Adam and his team have created an aspirational, cool brand with lots of appealing lifestyle values. But, the brand is built on a well designed and manufactured product, with quality high enough to bring with it a five year guarantee.

3. Renovate the core

Orlebar Brown constantly renovate the core swim short range with new styles. This includes limited edition shorts created in collaboration with designers, such as this season’s collection with Croatia-based artist Sanda Anderlo, here. In addition, the brand has harnessed digital technology with the ‘Design Your Own’ service. In four short steps you can turn your own photo into a pair of shorts in the length and size of your choice.

4. Stretch from the core

The highlight of the article for me was how Adam described his approach to brand stretching. “The most difficult thing is staying focused on your core offering, and not being distracted by the ‘opportunities’ that people offer you all the time, many of which can lead you down the wrong path,” Adam says. He clearly sees focusing on the core a key part of his leadership role: “I test-drive every piece that we produce and make sure that it always fits comfortably into the Orlebar Brown world.” This brand world has ‘swim’ at the centre of it: if a product can’t be worn around a pool or on a beach, then Adam and his team will question why they’re doing it. Stretching from the core in this way means the brand has been able expand its offer beyond swim shorts to a broad lifestyle offering, whilst maintaining distinctiveness.

In conclusion, Orlebar Brown is an excellent example of an entrepreneur solving a personal problem by creating a great product brought to life with emotional sizzle and then staying ruthlessly focused on the core brand and business.