What started out three years ago as an organization founded by the Marley family to spread its core values of equality, unity, authenticity, sustainability, and charity, has evolved into a full-blown headphone and accessories brand. The House of Marley has undergone some significant changes over the past few years, but are still poised to carry out the brand’s original mission, as Bob’s son Rohan Marley simply puts it: “It's important to us to stay true to the principles my father has left in place for us— his children— to carry on. What would Bob do? What would the Marley's do? What would Bob say? We make sure we answer those questions before we even create anything.”
As the brand positions itself to make an even more dedicated push into the action sports market, it has undergone a change of hands in executive leadership from former GM Don Inmon, to the brand’s new Senior Vice President and GM Sam Vanderveer, who joined the team last year after working formerly as director of portable solutions for Best Buy and in several senior level positions with Vancouver’s Future Shop, Canada's largest retailer and e-tailer of consumer electronics. The brand has also made several key hires from within the surf and music/lifestyle industries, and embedded itself in one of the major epicenters of Southern California action sports culture with it’s new office space in North County San Diego.
We caught up with Vanderveer to hear more about how the brand is evolving and refining its design and materials to stay relevant to a broad demographic and move away from a sea of “me too” brands, while also improving shelf presence, and partnering with key retailers to tell the brand’s story in less conventional ways.
This year marks three years for the brand and you’ve made some key changes to the direction. Can you speak to those changes and where the brand is headed in the coming months?
This first three years have been a learning process and a great ride. The journey has taken us to a place today where we really understand our brand, what we are, what we stand for and the breadth of our potential customer base. One of the key things we've learned is that the MARLEY name has a very personal meaning, but it may mean something different to specific individuals based on their age, geography, or other reasons. We want people to think about what it means to them to 'Live Marley' and through our products, our people, and our own social activism provide a platform to carry forward the legacy of Bob's and the Marley family's music and vision for a better planet.
We've made some changes on the design side of things, have worked to be a bit more focused in our product offerings, and also refined our packaging to improve shelf presence. What hasn't changed is our commitment to fulfill our original brand principles: Superior Quality. Earth-Friendly. Cause-Minded.
How have you updated the branding on House of Marley products, yet still maintained the authenticity of the brand and kept it true to its roots?
Even prior to launching our first products, we recognized that many people would try to group us among the so-called "celebrity headphone" brands and we've been working hard to distinguish House of Marley from that crowd. Our intent — and that of the Marley family — was never to produce "Bob Marley headphones." We've refined our branding and design to be clear that we embody all of Bob's and the Marley family’s personality traits, values, and vision for this earth. With our current collection, especially our newest products, we are letting our earth-friendly materials, dedication to craftsmanship, and exceptional sound quality take center stage.
You just brought in seasoned industry vets Jeff Baldwin and Vince DiMella. What will be their roles moving forward and how does this strengthen the House of Marley team?
Jeff and Vince bring vast experience to the House of Marley team within the lifestyle and action sports industries—not to mention they bring a whole lot of fun to our office as well! They're not just marketing and sales guys; they're the real deal. Among their most important roles is to make sure everything we do is authentic and never allow us to become full of ourselves and stray away from our principles. Jeff has been surfing since he was a little kid and traveled the world on the ASP World Tour. Vince lives and loves the reggae culture and has the heart of a lion. They strengthen our team and have already made major inroads in deepening the brand's relationships and adding distribution in the action sports, outdoor and lifestyle retail channels. We're excited to see what else they have in their arsenal to continue to grow this brand.
Can you speak about some of the new product you’ve added to the collection for this season and next and how that is resonating at retail?
House of Marley's audio products aim to be the alternative option to the sea of all the "me too" plastic products that exist in the marketplace today. The whole red, black and white plastic thing has sort of been beaten to death. Our new Liberate On-Ear Headphones, which just launched and are getting a tremendous response, showcase our amazing sound quality, design, and materials at a really aggressive and attainable price point of $99.99. Our new Uplift In-Ear Headphones are comfortable, sleek, composed of recyclable aluminum and FSC-certified sapele and beech wood with an entry point of only $29.99. We've also gotten a great response to our MARLEY accessories, from the military inspired Lively Up and Lively Up Leather bag collection to our expressive watch assortment.
How have you grown your distribution since launching the brand, and how much would you like to see it continue to grow?
The MARLEY name resonates deeply with people of all ages, from coast-to-coast across the USA and around the globe, and across pretty much any demographic you can think of. Based on the broad recognition of the MARLEY name, our initial focus was in the consumer electronics retail sector. While we plan to continue to expand in the CE space, we're laser-focused right now on planting deep roots in the action sports, outdoor, and street lifestyle channels. Jeff and Vince have really energized our efforts in these lifestyle retail channels and we've got some great momentum.
What does your current distribution breakdown look like with core retail shops, vs. big box and chain retailers, and what about domestic vs. international?
You'll find us in consumer electronics retailers, airport-based retailers for the business and leisure traveler, and, increasingly, on the shelves of action sports (surf, skate, snow, hike, bike) and lifestyle retailers from the national chains to influential independents. Our products are distributed worldwide and we will continue to open new international markets. We're currently sold across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
How do you hope to partner with retailers moving forward?
We look to deliver the best MARLEY products and in-store environment to support each of our core partners in their specific region and retail channel. Each of our partners has a distinct customer base and a different shopping experience that makes them unique. We want to make sure that we bring our MARLEY style and experience to them in a way their customers will appreciate.
On October 3rd we are kicking off a collaboration in New York City with Dave's Wear House, which was founded by Dave Ortiz who is a legend in the NYC street, skate and BMX culture and arts scene. He believes in what we're doing. We're opening a temporary store-within-a-store at DWH's shop on Baxter Street on the Lower East Side. Members of Team MARLEY — our brand ambassadors — will join Rohan Marley and others at DWH on Oct. 3rd to help us celebrate, including guys like Pat Hoblin, John Jackson, Luis Tolentino, Danny Supa and Karl Watson. We'll tag all of our activity with Dave's Wear House with #LiveMarleyNYC, so people can follow and virtually join us from all over the globe. We think this is a good template we intend to replicate.
The #LiveMarley Movement is growing and we are eager to have our retail partners join us.
The company recently just moved into new headquarters in San Diego- what was the catalyst behind this, when did you move and where from, and how do you think this strengthens the brand?
The lifestyle and action sports worlds are very important to us. We love the passion and energy, admire many of its brands, and believe those who work, live, and play in the category embody very similar values that we share at the House of Marley. Our move to open in San Diego was simple: we needed to put a stake in the ground and have a home base where we could really let our brand grow in the lifestyle channel. Spend a day in our San Diego office with Jeff, Vince, and our team and you'll understand why we had to be there.
What does House of Marley have up its sleeve for 2014 and what can we expect to see coming soon from the brand?
You can expect to see new types of functionality for your every day audio products. We want to be able to use audio in a way that you have not been able to before. We'll continue to push ourselves and the industry to create exceptional products that don't require you to sacrifice your values. You can certainly look for us to offer new styles and designs when it comes to our headphones and, likely, will see new Bluetooth audio systems as new technology lets you take your music wherever your spirit takes you. Plus, we're committed to expanding the use of our exclusive REWIND eco-fabric.
Any plans to expand into additional categories? If so, which ones and what will the roll out look like?
We're always looking at opportunities and speaking with Rohan, Cedella, and other members of the Marley family about new ideas. We introduced our bags and watch collections in the past year and we're exploring complementary lifestyle categories. The key is that we are not looking to expand for the sake of expansion; when we do it will be for a special reason and with purpose. For now, I'd simply say, "stay tuned."
Where do you see the overall state of the headphones market within action sports and what do you think are some key strategies for brands in the space looking to secure and grow their market share?
Relevancy to your consumer is key, as is authenticity. You have to be more than your products and that's something we knew before we even launched anything. The consumer is engaged today to connect with the brands they like on a deeper level and truly become fans and brand advocates if they feel a connection. This should be the goal of all brands and one that we pride ourselves on and take seriously.
To that point, we're proud to have put together the founding members of Team MARLEY, our brand ambassadors. This talented group of personalities from sports and music are as diverse as the people all over the globe who have enjoyed generations of Marley music since the 1970s, yet all share common values that are captured by the #LiveMarley Movement.
• Trey Burke, Professional Basketball Player, Utah Jazz
• Tyson Chandler, Professional Basketball Player, New York Knicks
• Mason Ho, Professional Surfer
• Michael Ho, Legendary Professional Surfer
• John Jackson, Professional Snowboarder
• Makua Rothman, Professional Surfer, Musician
• Pat "DJ Peril" Simpson, DJ/Producer, Tribe of Kings
• Karl Watson, Professional Skateboarder
• Owen Wright, Professional Surfer
• Tyler Wright, Professional Surfer
We're honored to have these very special souls as part of the House of Marley. Fans will be able to learn more about how each of them #LiveMarley through our website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Take a Tour Of House of Marley’s New Leucadia, California Headquarters
Take a spin through the new San Diego-based office space for House Of Marley, nestled in the heart of Leucadia along North Coast Highway. Read a full interview with the brand’s Senior VP and General Manager Sam Vanderveer to hear how the brand is positioning itself to become a force within the action sports market.