The story of Rob and Paul Forkan's journey from tragedy in Sri Lanka when the 2004 Asian Tsunami claimed their parents' lives to the triumph of starting their hugely popular brand Gandys in 2012, is well known. Less written about is the phenomenal growth the business has undergone in recent years. Here, Rob and Paul explain how they've scaled Gandys
Rob Forkan (RF): "Our plan was always to grow. Some of our profit goes to help underprivileged children and we've already opened our first children's home in Sri Lanka. We want to open more homes and growing the business should enable that. We're very ambitious."
Paul Forkan (PF): "We haven't tried to grow too much too soon. Your business must be ready for scaling up, otherwise things can go wrong. We've improved our branding significantly over the last two years, to better reflect our values and our professionalism. We've also done brand collaborations with The Rolling Stones, Liberty and a few others."
"We hired a web agency to improve our website. We believe that the customer's online experience is just as important as the one they get in store, so we provide good content and imagery, as well as fantastic products and services, too. We want them to feel part of Gandys."
RF: "You must protect your original principles, regardless of how much you grow. We say 'no' to many things for that reason. We don't want to 'sell-out' and lose our customers and fans. They have just as strong a sense of what Gandys stands for as we do. We don't want that to change."
PF: "In 2016 we did a pop-up shop in Brixton to raise our brand profile. We wanted to return to Brixton, in particular, because it's where Gandys was born."
RF: "We opened our first three high street stores in 2016, in Fowey [Cornwall], Spitalfields [London] and Tunbridge Wells [Kent]. We now have four stores in London and one in Tunbridge Wells. As well as increasing sales, they're a great way to raise brand awareness. People from all over the world are visiting and buying our products. It's fantastic to think that someone might be wearing one of our jumpers in an office in Germany or a Gandys urban parka in New York."
PF: "Each store has a slightly different identity. Our Tunbridge Wells store is quite Scandinavian and minimalist, while Spitalfields is more vintage and travel-based. We chose Spitalfields because it's a hotspot for tourists and we have a large fan base in Kent. We plan to open further UK stores. Ultimately, we'd love to have stores around the world."
Staff and funding
RF: "About 20 people now work for us. We have a well-balanced team of people of varying ages. They understand and support what we stand for. We also listen to advice we're offered by experienced external people. One of the important things we've learned is to think more about the long term and plan for it."
PF: "We started up with a few thousand pounds of our own money. I slept on Rob's sofa to save money on rent. Thankfully, we attracted investment reasonably early on, which helped us to grow, but at that time 50 independent shops were already stocking our flip-flops."
RF: "At first, we sold just flip-flops, although we continually extended our range of colours and designs. More recently, we've diversified, but we've done it gradually, introducing swimming shorts, then beach towels and sunglasses, before shirts, shorts, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, jackets, coats and hats. Doing it gradually is less risky. You can learn and improve before you try new things."
PF: "We haven't diversified too much, because everything we sell is linked to travel and the Gandys brand. We're close to our customers and were confident they'd respond well to our products - and they have."
RF: "When we're travelling, we still get a buzz from seeing people wearing our products. Recently, in Sri Lanka we saw someone wearing our flip-flops and asked if we could take their picture. The same thing has happened elsewhere. It's great - we want to create a global brand."
PF: "Growing the business has involved working mostly seven-day weeks for years. But it hasn't been stressful - it's been enjoyable and hugely rewarding. We're very proud of our brand and what we've achieved – it doesn't feel like hard work, because we genuinely love what we do."
Rob and Paul's three key pieces of advice on scaling
- "Make sure your business has solid foundations before you attempt to grow it."
- "Build a good team - you won't grow without good people. And seek advice from external people with relevant knowledge and experience."
- "Try to limit risks as far as you can. In particular, avoid overstretching your resources."