Going Local: Minimoc Interview

The last part of our Minimoc feature in our Going Local series is our interview with Amanda and Jeff Penner, the founders of Minimoc. The two of them were gracious enough to sit down with us and answer a some questions that we asked them during an interview one morning.

Amanda and Jeff were also gracious enough to bring some of their very first pairs of minimocs to share with us. Throughout the post we will share photos of the progression of the minimocs.

What is the story of Minimoc and how it started?

Amanda: The story we usually tell when people ask that is that we had leather scraps sitting around our house; when we got married Jeff hand stitched leather wallets for his groomsmen and he was at work and I was on summer vacation from being a TA (teaching assistant) for the Abbotsford district and I was playing around with the scraps. We had a bunch of friends having babies so I made that pair, the first pair there, and I sent him [Jeff] a picture and said “look” and we refined it a bit and started giving them away and then started getting requests from friends and then Jeff sort of jumped on it and was like “I’m gonna make a website.”

Jeff: Yeah and then we started dealing with e-commerce and getting into that world. It really picked up once we started doing markets. From some of those markets we got some wholesalers that allowed Amanda to leave her job.

Amanda: Yeah that was two and a half months in I just realized. I went back to work in September when school started. That was sort of like “what’s the worst that can happen?” I quit and it doesn’t work out and then I go and get another position; like that wasn’t really a huge thing but it felt huge at the time. When you [Jeff] quit your job it was like “alright, here we go!”

The Very First Minimocs
The Very First Minimocs

When you started, what was the goal? And what is the goal now?

Jeff: When we started the goal was just to support our family and doing that we would be satisfied. Now, the goal is running the business. There are certain levels we have to get to to keep it going and keeping that happening is one of the main things right now. As far as going into business and saying ‘we wanna be $100M a year and sell it then go vacation the rest of our lives,’ we’re not doing that. We’re in it more for a family business and making sure we’re happy and everyone around us is happy that’s working for us. It’s kind of an interesting place to be when you talk about hard set goals; of course we’ve got sales numbers we wanna match for doing better than last year but the main goal isn’t to become this massive company that’s just extracting as much dollar from our product as we can.

What was the hardest thing about getting this company off the ground?

Amanda: One of the first speed bumps that I recall was right before I quit my job. I would go to work, come home, sew, ship and then go to work and do all that. Then we started doing renos in our home; we live in a pretty small space, so we decided to close in our covered patio and that would be minimoc. We would get our employee to come to our home every day and sew and that’s a nice little company, that sounds great. Then we got our first very large wholesale order and we were like ‘this is not gonna work’ so we thought ‘okay do we find a company that already makes these and get them made for us or what do we do?’ and then within 3 weeks we moved into our first factory, a giant open space. For me that was the first big speed bump.

Jeff: We were lucky enough that we didn’t have kids at that time so it allowed us to put time into figuring out how to move out of house and into a warehouse space, that was the first hurdle we really had to do, other than that we would still be in our house plugging away at a maximum capacity.

Was there ever the thought of going the Dragon’s Den route or getting outside investment?

Amanda: It crossed our mind a few times when they were in town.

Jeff: Yeah but I don’t think that I would ever want to do that. It’s always been like ‘let’s own it’. It’s never really crossed our mind, I like to keep the control.

Where did the name ‘minimoc’ come from?

Amanda: That happened pretty quick. Thinking back we sat down one evening and went through a million different options.

Jeff: We were just naturally calling them ‘minimocs’ and we tried to find a name for it and it if you go back through my journal I was writing in at that same there are tons of different names and directions we could go for the name of the company and we ended up going for the simplest thing.

Amanda: It is kind of cool because when you think of something like ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Band-Aid’ it’s a tissue and that the brand, it’s a band aid and that’s a bandage. Now we hear people say ‘oh these are the minimocs’ when they’re not actually minimocs, but they mini mocs so it’s been used as a term like that.

Jeff: Minimoc is all one word so it takes it away from being mini mocs.

Amanda: Like Kleenex but inevitably that’s what people call them.

2nd Generation Minimocs
2nd Generation Minimocs

What other names were in consideration?

Jeff: We did some things with our last name and thinking about it now it wouldn’t even make sense.

What does the future look like for minimoc?

Jeff: The big thing is the Voyageurs that we’re coming out with and making sure that the shoes aren’t just functional for the kids but for the parents as well; that’s a main cornerstone in what we do. So, continuing with that style of shoe so we can serve the kids that have grown out of our soft sole shoe.

Considering where you are today, what are you most proud of?

Amanda: I feel proud of our factory and that we’re still going.

Jeff: Yeah, manufacturing in Canada and trying to find that has been tough. The challenge and the reason why we moved out of our house was that we tried to find factories that could do this here and they would have to bring in the same equipment that we’ve built our factory with over the years. So it wasn’t readily available to us. Garment manufacturing you can get in British Columbia, but leather manufacturing, shoe manufacturing, there’s nobody doing it on the scale we wanted to get to.

Amanda: And we can see why now, this is not easy.

Jeff: Building it ourselves, building a supply chain, and bringing it into Canada, there’s been a lot of learning there and I think that’s one thing that we’re pretty happy with and proud of.

Amanda: His former job was in process improvement so I think I would say almost every day there is a new improvement to some sort of process in our factory. Sometimes because I’ve been busy with the kids and everything and I’ll come in and I’ll go into the back and I haven’t been there in a while and I’m like ‘wow, okay, this is new, this is new, this is more efficient,’ it’s pretty cool.

How many employees do you have?

Jeff: We’re about 20 right now. So there are 4-5 people in the front office, all the rest are in the back doing things like cutting, sewing, and dealing with stock.

Amanda: And there’s some family in there, Jeff’s sister works with us full time and then her brother in law, and her cousin, and his parents are super involved.

Jeff: So it’s really a family business.

3rd Generation Minimocs
3rd Generation Minimocs

So everything is designed locally, manufactured locally and shipped from here?

Jeff: Yeah. Building a factory for the Voyageur shoes would have taken a huge investment and wasn’t something we could have done right out of the gate so those are made in China. I’m super heavily involved. I’ve been over there a number of times in the past year to work on design and look at the factories they’re being made in. I’m also learning a ton from that process as well, so I’m bringing that back to our own factories. China has been manufacturing at scale for the last 70 years and they provide that to the rest of the world so there’s a lot to learn from them that we can bring back to our own facility here in CAnada.

So is the plan to move the Voyageur manufacturing back here to Canada?

Amanda: It’s the dream

Jeff: It’s definitely on our minds and it’s the dream. A lot of things factor in to that based on what we can do and handle. The soft sole business is still growing so in order to keep that growing and focus on it in our own factory keeping the Voyageur in China or at another facility is something we need to do to protect our core business right now. There’s definitely whispers in the shoe industry that could bring more manufacturing back to Canada. There’s a lot of popularity right now with Adidas and the speed factory bring manufacturing closer to where the product is actually used so as we see that growing there might be some opportunities for us as well.

What steps do you take to ensure your product is local and ethical and that those remain a core part of your business?

Jeff: One of the major things is we reach as far back into our supply chain as we can. We make sure that we’re purchasing from factories that have good humanitarian practices, good environmental practices, and they’re form countries that have laws that have good human rights. That’s the first place we start and then once we get it to our factory we have complete oversight from how happy the people are to what they’re actually doing and then we make it here locally. Doing it locally gives us that really precise insight into how people in the process are actually doing. For the Voyageur shoes going to China and being in the factories was something we actually wanted to see. You hear a lot in the news about factories and subcontracting out; going there myself and seeing the factories, seeing the workers, it looks just like our own factory. The people are happy there. Learning about the culture and seeing the cities they live in has been pretty fascinating; it’s a different world over there but you can be happy there too.

How did you pick the Chinese factory that you ended up choosing?

Jeff: This comes down to who you know and through doing Minimoc we’ve had some people that have come to us and people we’ve met through association and throught those contacts we’ve found someone who is a Canadian who had been able to mentor me in getting into the shoe business. Meeting him was super pivotable for the business. When you meet someone who is willing to share their knowledge just for the greater good of the next generation it feels like more than a friendship. It’s been a really good mentorship, life changing for me. That’s really what’s coming into the core of the new products that we’re bringing in.

Minimoc Progression

Where does all your leather come from?

Jeff: Most of our leather comes from Italy and America. Places where there are good practices. One of our suppliers, the CEO drinks out of the water at the end so they have $2-3M filtration systems for the water before it goes back into the environment and the guy is sitting there at the end of the tap and he drinks it.

Who is your ideal customer?

Amanda: You guys. When we go places and we see a mom before we see their kids we’re like ‘I bet you that kid is wearing minimoc’ and if they are we’re like ‘sweet!’ and if they’re not we’re like ‘we need to market better haha’. She’s probably tbe mom with the backpack diaper bag with two kids, busy and has her kids in some stylish local clothing and dressing her kids in something that looks good but is super functional.

What criticism have been brought against minimoc over the years?

Amanda: We definitely had a few people question why we decided to make the Voyageurs in China and we can explain to them what we explained to you.

Jeff: Yeah you have to move your business forward and we think with that there’s been some criticism to moving it over there to China but we couldn’t do that. It’s a product that everyone has been asking for, they want that next generation of shoe from us and as parents I think they appreciate that we’re designing the product so when we get those criticisms we can’t offer that product with what our company is doing. We can’t make the soft sole moccasins and shoes without going to China first. There’s that criticism that we’ve dealt with but I think people are accepting of it now that we’ve explained it to them. Other than that, it’s a ruthless world out there with customer service and day to day we’re reminded of how we can get better. We’re constantly trying to improve the customer service aspect of it and making sure our customers are successful with our product.

How does it make you feel when you see minimocs in public?

Amanda: It feels really good still, definitely doesn’t get old. Every once in a while where there is a big event somewhere we will keep a running tally. We were at the Berry Festival and every couple minutes we’re like “we’re up at 5, oh 7, oh I saw Oak, Driftwood, there’s Confetti.” It feel really good.

Jeff: Sometimes we’ll be at a place like the zoo and we’ll see a stroller walk by and Amanda might be 30 feet in front of me and as the person walks by she’ll be like *excited face* and I’ll see them walk past and they’re wearing Confetti or Narwhal.

Amanda: And we don’t show our face a ton on social media so sometimes they’ll just walk by and have no idea we’re associated with their children’s footwear but other times we’ll walk by and see the mom do a double take and then she’ll whisper to her husband and we’re like “yay haha”. It definitely feels good.

Jeff: One thing we wish we could do is interact with people more when that happens but it’s kind of weird to always just start with looking at the kid’s foot and then introduce yourself.

Minimoc Interview with Jeff & Amanda Penner, Minimoc Founders

In honour of one of my favourite podcasts ever, How I Built This, how much of your success has been due to your skills and abilities and how much was because of luck?

Amanda: Initially, the product we decided to get into, looking back now, that’s luck. People buy one pair then they grow out of them then they’re back a few months later and they buy another pair then another pair. We could’ve stumbled upon something that you only need one of and the rest is an insane amount of hard work.

Jeff: It’s such a selfish question for me to answer because I feel like there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it so you want to reclaim that by saying it’s not luck, it’s all what we’ve done. I think there’s a certain amount of, I don’t know if you would call it luck but people gravitating towards your brand differently than anybody else’s or the brands that don’t build up in scale. It’s such a hard question to answer. I think that there’s some businesses where they’re making a great product and someone discovers them and boom, it happens all the time in the music industry.

Amanda: Timing was huge for us too. The way social media was at the time as well, we got into just when Instagram was small and growing. Our brand wasn’t perfection as first, now when you start a new business you need the perfect curated feed and everything just for anyone to even take a second look at you.

Jeff: We actually notice a lot of business now starting up and they’re people that don’t really have an Instagram following and it’s a beautifully curated Instagram feed. Back when we were starting that wasn’t even something you thought of first. Instagram didn’t even come until 2-3 months after we started. That social media part if pivotal to any business starting up now.

What year did you sell your first shoe?

Amanda: 2013. September 1, 2013 is when we say we really started. I think the end of August was when I made that first pair.

That was our Minimoc interview with Amanda and Jeff, the husband and wife founders of Minimoc. We want to send them a huge thank you for taking the time to share everything with us and sitting down with us. If you haven’t already, be sure to check them out online:

Minimoc Website
Minimoc on Instagram
Minimoc on Pinterest
Minimoc on Facebook

They’re having their Fall warehouse sale this Saturday and you’ll be sure to find us there. It starts at 10am in Abbotsford. You can find more info on Minimoc’s Instagram post. And if you want to know why warehouse sales are so great, you can read all about how we save tons of money at them.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram to be alerted about new posts throughout this series!

Never stop adventuring!