Big shoes to fill: How Amanda Bennetts jumped feet-first into an untapped niche

Amanda Bennetts started Bennetts Boots with the goal of providing quality wide-cut boots to women, a gap which wasn’t being serviced. In the past few years of doing business, the company has exceeded revenues of more than $1 million.

But starting a fashion business hasn’t been easy. Bennetts has spent a good deal of time setting up a manufacturing base in China, and as she tells SmartCompany, keeping up with technology is always a challenge.

I went through a pretty messy divorce. When I got out of all that, I decided to I wanted to do something else with my life. So I went to China, met someone, and lost a lot of weight.

I never thought I could fit into boots. I suddenly thought I’d be able to after losing weight, but they still didn’t fit. I realised it wasn’t me, it was the boots. So that’s where the idea came from.

I ordered some, but we ordered more pairs than I needed. So I thought, we’ll sell them online. My new husband started the business with me, he learned how to do all the website stuff. It snowballed incredibly fast from there.

We shipped 30,000 in the first financial year, then one million in the first three years. We’re aiming for two million this financial year.

Our season is basically all of winter. We do most of our business within about a three month period, so everything happens all at once.

That seasonality hurts the cashflow. And we’ve tried a few things to fill out the rest of the year.

We’ve tried apparel like clothes, shoes and handbags. But none of it really pays off. But because of those trials we’ve got a great creative partnership in China, and we’ve started a company there. We do smaller runs of products to keep the cashflow going.

We couldn’t handle demand with our unique positioning. Trying to launch overseas wasn’t happening because we had to launch all of our stock at a certain time.

So this manufacturing side-business helps balance that out. We’ll have stock when the USA-UK season hits.

We’re the only company in the world that makes high-end quality wide-cut boots. We’re positioned well as a brand because of that.

The manufacturing side was initially very challenging. When we made our first order, we ordered 500 pairs and they were all one centimetre narrow in the calf. They told us, “it looked too wide”! So we source everything ourselves now.

China has really changed in the past five years. The growth is exponential. When you find the right people, it’s a lot about teaching each other and then building that relationship.

I couldn’t find that in Australia. They all want huge amounts of money upfront and the risk is on my side. The Chinese are more willing to be flexible.

I really didn’t believe you could grow too fast. But the last two years we’ve spent re-systemising everything. Two years ago we had 25 staff in Australia, and now we have three. That’s a lot to do with how we use technology.

In fact, that’s one of the biggest challenges – keeping up with technology. Things keep changing rapidly. We spent $2,000 to do our Facebook page and then six months later, Facebook changed everything! It’s important to keep up to date.


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