LOS ANGELES, October 9, 2016—When we last checked in with entrepreneur and music producer Benjamen Janey, he had launched his HD-LV clothing line at a kiosk in the South Los Angeles’ Westfield Culver City mall and was looking toward expanding this retail arm.
The year 2014 brought the unexpected for Benjamen and for HD-LV. In September of that year, he was the recipient of The World Networks’ 2014 Entrepreneur Award. “It was over 350 L.A. business owners and entrepreneurs—heavy competition!” Benjamin explained.
This marked the apex of a year marked by rapid change and serendipitous opportunities. Benjamen was also working with Wyclef Jean on his new album. “I’ve been sending hooks sort of back and forth through email. I’ve never met him. It’s interesting to be writing with someone that you don’t have a face-to-face with. This guy you’ve idolized your whole life, and I get a demo from him. So, it’s kind of weird.”
But the most substantial changes of all turned HD-LV in an entirely new direction. The kiosk at the mall is gone, and HD-LV’s online platform is now the main hub of commerce for the enterprise.
“Kiosks are more regulated than the stores in the mall,” notes Benjamen, “restricted by standardization, which prevents modification in order to drive sales. If you have a dead space and it’s not generating money, you’re losing. And for them it’s only a revenue generator. It’s very easy for them to throw somebody else out there.”
With the increased demand for his product outside of Los Angeles, Benjamen chose not to renew his lease and instead, moved his clothing label to strictly online and wholesale distribution.
“The web store we own. We make the policies. I think we have the better opportunity to grow. So we launched the online platform and got a major distribution deal with a factory in San Clemente. The factory was started by a gentleman named Luke Burrett. He had a company called Silver Star Casting Clothing Line, which he ended up selling for about 46 million dollars in 2010.”
However, Benjamen’s time at the mall was not wasted. He used his experience with the kiosk to create a leaner and smarter business model.
“We did one year at the mall, a full year there, and we used that as research and development. We grew from five employees to about 20 employees. So we grew extremely fast, and just met an amazing network of people through that location. It’s almost like that kiosk was like a gateway… like a portal to all these opportunities that we are able to take advantage of now.”
It was because of his kiosk that a representative from Silver Star came by, saw the merchandise and looked at the business model. Said Benjamen,
“He asked if we had a distributor, whether we were online, but at that point we were still in development. So I thought it was an amazing opportunity to take. We got in contact with them, worked out some of the logistics. Now we have a fully operating web store and wholesale business in which everything that hits the site will print at the factory and drop ship directly to the customer.”
The online site was revamped and rebranded. Instead of “HD-LV: High Definition-Liquid Value,” it has become “HDLV: High Definition and Living Victorious.” According to Benjamen,
“The brand now represents individuals or people—it doesn’t matter what walk of life or race, or anything, but you’re a fighter. You persevere and you stand out from the crowd. It really represents what has happened to me. It’s real, it’s authentic.”
Because of its authenticity, the line is now attracting a broader audience. “So the website is so much more dynamic,” Benjamen said.
“Customers can go on, you can get a painted cap, and reach millions of people every single day with a click of a mouse.
“When you think about how consumers are thinking right now, they’re not saying, ‘Hey how can I drive to the same place, put gas in the car, go somewhere and spend some bucks?’ They’re thinking. ‘How can I save time, save money, and receive the same or greater value?’ That’s what we want to provide.”
The updated website also contains a blog where customers can post pictures of themselves with their new custom-made caps. The blog shows average Joes from Miami to Sweden, to actors and musicians from Los Angeles, all sporting the HDLV brand with style.
It’s clear that relinquishing the retail hub not only brought the freedom of mobility to broaden the brand’s reach. It also opened the door to cross-brand marketing. In addition, Benjamen, negotiated a contract with Nike where he did “some in-person custom designs at specific Nike retailers around L.A. That’s been a fantastic opportunity, and it all came from that 115-square foot kiosk.”
Now HDLV has the potential for even more growth, through a developing deal with Xtreme Boardshop. “Their biggest competitor is Zumiez, they have about 20 doors nationwide. And when they order, it’s like tens of thousands at a time. When we get the Xtreme Boardshop shops, that’s going to be huge,” says Benjamen.
Meanwhile, the original concept of a retail arm has not been discarded, and is part of the vision for HDLV’s future.
“Right now we’re looking at probably one to two years where we can actually launch a flagship store, 2-5,000 square feet, as opposed to 115 square feet. It would have to be in a prominent place in L.A., a popular place, maybe Melrose. So, I plan to use the next year and a half to build the buzz online.”
Soccer player Frederick B. Wilcox said, “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Benjamen had to take the calculated risk of abandoning the kiosk to see what could happen with the company’s growth. Part of that calculation was listening to the customer.
“A lot of it was actually consumer feedback. After making a purchase, people would ask, ‘Hey, are you guys online?’ or ‘Are you in other stores?’ I can’t imagine how many times someone might not have had the money that day, or they were flying somewhere else, and they’d say, ‘Hey, I love your products. How can we buy them?’ To be able to reach those customers outside of a 115-square foot kiosk within a certain space and a certain demographic, it started to dawn on me that maybe this is actually limiting.”
Part of that calculation was trusting his instincts to know the right time to make a move.
“So instead of continuing to incur the $7,000 rent, I thought about how we can reach those people, take this customer list and reach back out to those people, and enable them to buy it from Italy, from New York, from Florida, or wherever they were going back to.
“And, you know, a lot of times it’s that change that is really the trigger for the explosive growth.”
With the website and the distribution arm in San Clemente along with the cross-brand marketing in other stores, HDLV is seeing increased sales.
“Now we have a huge factory. The warehouses tap out clothing as well, we probably do close to 100 million in sales. I can also learn from someone [Luke Burrett] who has successfully sold a brand for tens of millions of dollars. And so, I think it’s almost like hitting the lottery to be honest with you.”
With growth also comes stepping out of your comfort zone. “It’s an interesting but very exciting time,” says Benjamen. “There was definitely some unexpected turnouts to what we originally planned as a three-year deal where we’re gonna be taking the kiosk all around.”
One of those unexpected turnouts was having to transition and downsize employees. Not everyone would work out in a wholesale environment, so this meant sharing the vision and seeing who would be equipped to come on board while phasing out the rest: an uncomfortable, but necessary part of moving a business forward.
“That’s not an easy decision. At that point when it was June and I knew that the lease was up in August, and I had to decide. I mean, we’re thinking about the employees. Honestly, one girl cried. And we weren’t closing the business, we were just bringing it into a different phase. But you’d be shocked how many people have a hard time with transition, with change.”
Benjamen was not only able to deal with this situation in a hands-on and head-on way. He turned it into another opportunity to gain knowledge beyond his scope. “That was an amazing learning experience. How to talk, console, and be a leader, a true leader. Explaining the value of the new structure, and assuring them their employment is still there. I feel like I became a general.”
A leader requires those who will follow, however. Fortunately, Benjamen found employees who could catch the vision and move forward with him.
“One of the things that surprised me about the transition was that the group of people that we’re working with, everyone is on board with the transition. A lot of times companies—it happens all the time—there’s some change internally, and a lot of employees are not with that. We actually have people who have the belief in the brand and the business. Even though they’re going to have to make an adjustment, that’s it’s going to be beneficial to them.
“To have that belief in me, I was really humbled and appreciative. It’s a good feeling that people got your back. Because you don’t often see that out here.”
Along with that vision is the recognition that favor and fortune are not simply the advantages and perks of the smart, the calculating, or the lucky. They are engineered by a God above, who constantly superintends our future, as Benjamen points out.
“A lot of that, it’s God too. It’s definitely blessings. All those people who came to that kiosk—you can say right time, right place, but you can’t plan that. Think about it—No one is that smart. That’s someone up there saying. ‘Hey, this guy is working hard, let’s throw him something good.’“
Benjamen is thankful for God’s favor and grateful for the people who have helped him move HDLV beyond what he originally envisioned, something he readily acknowledges.
“Maintaining and developing relationships is really important. It’s about respect. You earn it by your actions.
“I’m so appreciative of my team, the people I have on board, people that I know, the new contracts, all the employees that stuck it in and are willing to take the jump with me. It’s just a blessing.”
With the holiday season fast approaching, HDLV is looking at an expansion of their customer base and increased revenues. The goal is over 1 million in revenue and more cross-brand exposure in other outlets. The general is positioning his troops and ready to ford the river.
“I feel good, feel grounded, and I’m ready for the next phase of business. We’re in this for the long haul.”