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Success in a pandemic? For Cape Town’s ROWDY, it’s in the bag

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Hannah Collett

Mar 31, 2021

Cape Town-based leather bag company ROWDY has built a loyal following and a robust business since it started selling affordable leather rucksacks in 2012. However, as the pandemic began and retail locations were forced to close, the company needed to adapt quickly to stay afloat. We spoke with the company’s owner, Adam Young, to learn about the changes that ROWDY made and why he believes the company will leave the lockdown stronger than it entered.

Adapting to life under lockdown 

During the first lockdown, the quick-thinking company used its manufacturing capabilities to produce masks and later even designed its own. Within days of partnering with a supplier, they received an order for 7,000 masks. Pivoting to mask-making in this uncertain period helped the business to keep the lights on, says Adam.

Lockdowns decimated in-person retail, and Adam estimates that without ecommerce, the company’s annual sales numbers would have dropped by over 50 percent. However, the company quickly pivoted to focus on online sales, including selling to ecommerce distributors, which eventually exceeded the previous year’s revenues. 

Going digital also allowed the business to sell its handmade products globally – in South Africa, Switzerland and the UK, with additional markets coming soon. Adam expects the company to continue selling online and through wholesalers even after the pandemic – “We think ecommerce is going to continue to evolve and become quite awesome,” he shares.

Integrations make complex tasks seem easy

Adam says that technology played a vital role in ROWDY’s continued trading through the pandemic. By relying on modern tools, the business could adapt quickly – Adam launched the entire mask-manufacturing project from his phone. The company also found stability in its accounting platform. “Xero helps every day,” Adam says. “It really makes the business light on its feet, and we wouldn’t have been able to do export business during the pandemic without Xero. It gives us the security of knowing where our numbers stand, so we can make the right decisions.”

ROWDY’s tools – including Shopify, Vend, Xero, and SimplePay – all integrate with one another as part of a larger ecosystem. This has enabled Adam and the team to seamlessly manage every aspect of the business online during the pandemic. They could also make quick changes to their point of sale, accounting, payroll, bookkeeping and more. They also use the insights and data across these connected tools to spot potential opportunities and issues.

The value of a good accountant 

As in many successful businesses, ROWDY’s accountant plays a vital role. Adam says that he has relied on the company’s accounting firm for reporting, best practice advice in a rapidly changing landscape, and guidance about international sales. “With the help of our accountant, we don’t have to think about the numbers as much. We can just focus on the actual running of the business,” Adam adds.

ROWDY joined Iridium – a Xero partner – in 2019, to improve its financial and inventory systems. The relationship has helped them to adopt the right tech tools and systems, but also provided invaluable advice on guiding the business through the pandemic.

Overcoming challenges and moving forward

Adam is optimistic about ROWDY’s future. He says that their largest challenge right now is safely scaling up production. “There is still much economic uncertainty, so we are carefully monitoring the business and mitigating risks.” The company intends to continue nurturing its current markets because it is the best way to scale production, and then new markets will quickly follow.

For other businesses, Adam has two pieces of advice: first, “have a huge dream, think about it every single day, and hold on to it forever. Alongside that, show up every single day and never give up. Then you can’t fail.”

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