When lifelong inventor, entrepreneur and amateur musician Randy Fenton launched BOLDFACE in late 2013, he knew he had created a home run product. What he didn’t realize was the path he would follow over a very short period of time that would take his company from serving a $100 million niche market to a broader $2 billion market.
“Over the years I have managed to make a decent living inventing some pretty cool stuff. Since I was a kid hanging out in my dad’s garage, I was always looking for ways to solve my family’s and friend’s problems. Some kids had soccer and baseball. I had tinkering and inventing,” said Fenton during a visit to BOLDFACE in Redondo Beach, California.
So Randy’s wife was far from shocked when he announced the filing of a patent on a customizable guitar (“gig”) bag. “Randy loves playing with his guitars. He’ll play for the family to have fun. Sometimes he walks around the house playing the guitar while he thinks about his next great invention,” said Fenton’s wife Emie. “Randy is also really into aesthetics. He’s the only engineer I know for whom form is as important as function.”
Fenton, a UCLA graduate with a BS in Electrical Engineering, filed a full utility patent for the process that creates customized “faces” for any premium bag. Using Fenton’s process musicians are able to upload digital images through BOLDFACEGear.com and create gig bags featuring their band’s logo, photos or any other non-copyrighted digital designs. In addition, each face is interchangeable, giving musicians the ability to create multiple faces for different occasions. “This allows musicians to essentially create a whole new gig bag for the cost of a face,” says Fenton.
“The BOLDFACE gig bag was a hit from the moment we went live. The music media loved writing stories about our bag. We felt like rockstars at music industry events,” expressed Fenton. “And as an entrepreneur the best part was the size of the market – $100 million.”
About a year after the launch of the BOLDFACE gig bag Randy’s oldest daughter had to begin carrying around a backpack at school. Unimpressed with the selection of generic looking backpacks, Randy’s mind began it’s problem solving routine.
“I could not get over how boring and dull the backpacks were. My daughter is high energy and creative. She did not see any she liked,” stated Fenton. “After hours of running around from store to store we were unable to find a backpack that fit her personality. While it was incredibly frustrating, it was also a major BOLDFACE ‘aha’ moment.”
That week Fenton wondered how quickly he could create a backpack that could be customized using his gig bag technology. Returning to the very same stores he had visited in frustration, Fenton examined other backpacks for functionality, design and quality. He then began work on the BOLDFACE customizable backpack. By spring 2015 the prototyping and testing was complete and the final backpack design with interchangeable faces was in production.
While Fenton worked hard on the prototyping of the gig bag, having school-aged children made backpack testing easier. “I had a built-in focus group in my kids and their friends and parents. I sent out several prototypes and received incredibly valuable feedback such as the design of the straps, water pouch and notebook computer sleeve.”
As a final test of marketability, Fenton conducted a fundraiser at his daughter’s school. Fenton produced a small run of the backpacks and provided the school with a percentage of every backpack and face sold. According to Fenton, “The fundraiser was so successful we ran out of test product. The kids all went crazy uploading pictures of their pets, little league teams and families. The kids raised money for the school and along the way created customized backpacks featuring images that showed their personalities.”
Fenton saw an opportunity to create backpacks that not only provide utility, but that also provide an experience. Fenton refers to BOLDFACE as an experiential apparel company, stating that backpacks are no longer strictly utilitarian, but are now also about the look and feel and about making a statement.
While Fenton described the pivot to backpacks as the “aha” moment, a bigger aha moment came when he realized that the U.S. backpack market is a $2 billion market.
“When I started down the path of solving my daughter’s pain point I wasn’t aware of the size of the backpack market. I was just being me and finding a fix for a problem. Now that we know the size of the backpack market and the dearth of available options, we have adjusted our strategic plan and have reallocated internal resources to maximize ROI. We still make the gig bags. And they are as awesome as ever. We just don’t call ourselves a gig bag company any longer. We’re BOLDFACE, an experiential apparel company.”
Randy can be reached at Randy@BOLDFACEGear.com.