From hotel manager to fashion designer, Gary Berman is proof that you can do anything so long as you put your mind to it. We recently sat down with him to discuss the story behind his surf, skate and streetwear brand, Drøm, which he developed three years ago with his family on the NSW Central Coast of Australia. Gary talks to us about the challenges of running a small business, navigating the retail industry, and how he turned Drøm’s distinctive Ø logo into the coast’s own brand.
DR: When and how did the idea of Drøm come about?
GB: I used to be a hotel general manager and then I created an accommodation website which I eventually sold. I took photos as a young kid so I thought I might try photography. My wife and I opened a gallery in Avoca with photos and homewares. While I had the photography, I wanted to incorporate a t-shirt brand in my pictures. I put a brief out there on Design Crowd and I got a guy in Milan who designed some pretty cool stuff. I eventually wanted the logo to be on surf, skate and streetwear because obviously that’s this area. I realised there were the main players out there like Billabong and Rip Curl, plus some other new brands like Stüssy, but there was no new Australian brand. I wanted to create a new Australian brand local to the Central Coast, but first I had to think of a name.
DR: How did you come up with the brand name and distinctive logo?
GB: I started thinking of names and I wanted something like inspiration, aspiration, dreams or goals, so I went for normal names in English and they were all taken. I eventually came across the Danish word for dream- Drøm. Once I saw the word, I could see the Ø being used and the dream meaning fit with the brand, so I snapped that up.
DR: What were some of the challenges you faced in the early stages?
GB: When I started I really didn’t have any big plans, I was sort of testing the waters in a cheap shop with a 6-month lease. Initially the challenge was gaining acceptance and establishing the brand. I wanted to create a brand, not just a t-shirt with a picture on it. At that point finance wasn’t a problem because I hadn’t put much into it and we weren’t growing massively. I had a small loan that I’d borrowed from a relative of mine and we started it that way.
DR: What are some challenges that Drøm continues to face today as a pop-up retail store?
GB: The ongoing challenge with me and I think any small business is cash flow. It’s constant, you have massive weekends when you’re on a high, but then there are also lows. Like everyone else, once a month or once every two months you just want to pack it up and go run away somewhere. It’s also getting tougher with the banks. Staying positive is another a big challenge, which is why mental health of small business owners is a big issue. People don’t realise it’s a huge part of it all. It can be hard to stay motivated when things are down, but you learn to get through it and believe in what you’re doing. Another challenge we face is making sure that we stay fresh and ahead of the pack. We constantly have to keep up-to-date and change with our customers.
DR: How is pop-up retail working in general for you? Would you think about getting a permanent shop again?
GB: Whether we go back into a permanent shop later I don’t know, but I think at the moment while we’re growing pop-ups are perfect. It gives you exposure so not only are you selling stuff, but you’re also getting your name out there. The last thing you want is to lock yourself up in a long-term shopping centre lease. I think pop-ups combined with markets can work really well. It definitely takes work waking up at 5am to set up at markets and carrying kilograms of boxes, but luckily I still enjoy it. Markets are pretty sophisticated now, they’ve had a revival with the younger generation. They like them because they can find something fresh and unique, rather than going to a shopping centre where everyone is buying the same thing.
DR: From a customer experience point of view, what do you think some of the fundamentals are for delivering a great customer experience?
GB: We give exceptional customer service and people remember us for that, and that’s probably just as important as the product. A very important part for us is community. We’ve sponsored a couple of sporting teams, dance groups, musicians and skaters, and are always looking for other ways to get involved. You need to get involved with your customers. At the start we were aiming for 15-25 year olds, but then people wanted kids stuff. So then I went to size 10’s, and now I’m down to size 2’s and 1’s. We’re always getting families sending in pictures of the kids and the whole family dressed up in Drøm and it’s become a real community.
DR: What advice would you give to others who have an idea they’d like to turn into a business?
GB: Firstly, I’d say that you’re never too old. Second, I’d say test the product. Everyone always talks about passion. Passion is important, but it’s not going to pay the bills. If an idea isn’t working, know when to let it go and move on. The bottom line is that if you’ve got an idea go for it, but just do the research and do the costings first. I’d also say keep your costs down. You don’t need staff initially, you can hire contractors to do almost anything.
DR: Where do you see the business developing in a couple of years?
GB: We would love to work on the website, add to the range, and keep expanding into more areas. It would be great to get to Melbourne, the Gold Coast and go down South too. I’d love to travel with the product for 2-3 weeks at a time to base ourselves and sell in shopping centres or markets to spread the word. We’ve done Wollongong, Newcastle and Byron, and so far they’ve gone quite well. I would also like someone else on board, but it would have to be the right person. There’s no immediate plans at the moment, it will depend on how things go.
To find more about Drøm and their products, you can visit them on these platforms: