In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Linda Denmark, founder of LuCapel. LuCapel sells cork accessories, is based in Weaverville, California, and has been in business for twelve years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Linda: I started this business because I fell in love with cork. Cork is the perfect eco-friendly, vegan material. Cork is sustainable and renewable. Accessories made from cork are soft, supple, durable, waterproof, and beautiful. I’ve been inspired by cork’s versatility and organic beauty.
R: How did you first get introduced to cork as a material?
L: I was introduced to cork when I saw a cork handbag in a shop in Sintra, Portugal. It was love at first sight. I love the way natural cork looks. I researched cork and discovered it is an important eco-friendly, sustainable, and renewable natural material.
I love the way the bark is transformed into this soft, supple material that is durable. It’s waterproof and lightweight. Sharing the story of cork, the perfect leather alternative, has become my mission.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
L: I teamed up with LuCapel to produce custom vegan pieces. Our line is evolving and growing.
R: Did LuCapel already exist before you were involved? If so how did you become the owner?
L: LuCapel is the name of the factory I partner with. LuCapel has been producing quality pieces in cork and leather for thirty years. LuCapel sells beautifully made, hand crafted accessories in Italy, Spain and France. I partnered with LuCapel because of their consistent quality and the ability to work with my designs.
R: How do you make your product? What’s your process like?
L: One of the greatest benefits of my business is developing relationships with manufacturers. The owners and employees I work with have helped me build my line. We discuss size, details, trims, quality. They produce a sample and we tweak it from there. Patience and communication are key.
R: What are some problems you’ve had dealing with a manufacturer, and how did you overcome them? What advice would you give to someone trying to find a manufacturer?
L: I enjoy working with international manufacturers. It is an opportunity to build relationships. Lack of communication can cause problems. Many of the small companies I work with in Portugal don’t have an English speaker handy.
The Portuguese do not have the US sense of urgency or customer service. If I want to be sure all the details are clear I hire an interpreter and arrange a Skype call. The time difference, company hours, holidays (many holidays in Portugal) all have to be considered. My advice in choosing a manufacturing partner is to be patient and communicate.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
L: My day starts early. I am located in northern California, but my factory is 8 hours ahead. I hit the ground running! Skype, emails, dealing with issues that need to be handled before the end of the Portuguese business day.
I check email, social media, banking etc, I handle inventories, new projects and follow up on existing issues. I reach out to new businesses, pack and ship orders. I end the day emailing the factory with the next day’s questions. Packing and shipping is probably my least favorite duty. It is time consuming. I am looking forward to using a fulfillment center.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
L: I used income from my line of Portuguese tiles. Credit cards helped.
R: Portugeuse tiles? What was your background and experience like before you started working at LuCapel?
L: I am an importer and designer. I have been an importer as a hobby for thirty years. When I visited Portugal I was overwhelmed by the beautiful hand painted ceramic tile murals. They are everywhere. I brought one home. I researched the manufacturer and established a relationship. I discovered that the hand painted tiles were not easily available in the US. Tile murals have both commercial and residential applications.
I set up the supply line. I built a website. Projects I’ve worked on include a restaurant chain in London, a condo in Nantucket, a family memorial in the Cook Islands and an outdoor kitchen in Pasadena. It is satisfying to work with tile clients, to help them bring their vision to completion. My construction background with National Gypsum and Mat’s Inc. gave me the tools and confidence to move ahead.
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
L: I first sold to friends and business acquaintances.
R: What places do you sell your product at now?
L: Now I sell at shops, resorts, wineries, shows, and online.
R: How did you grow from selling to your friends and business contacts to being in all different types of retail locations?
L: When I discovered cork I arranged for stock and set up a website. I educated everyone on the benefits of cork. I was able to sell to friends and business contacts, joined organizations and exhibited at events. I cold called and schlepped cork accessories all over New England. I was featured in publications and on RPTI international television.
I partnered up with other cork addicts. We showed cork in Atlanta, New York and Boston. People would cross rooms to ask about my cork accessories. We were featured at the MOMA and in the prestigious New York Eco-Luxe show. I was contacted by Oprah magazine. The interest in cork was exciting.
Then the great recession hit. Our cork factory became unreliable. I put cork on the back burner and moved to California. With the help of my new factory LuCapel, I put together the new vegan cork line. I started again with friends and local shows. I was recommended to shops. Through an Abound contact I was able to realize my long time goal of having representation in the Napa Valley. Wholesale platforms offering my products are expanding my reach.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
L: I’d love to get our cork products in museum shops, boutiques, and more hotels and resorts.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
L: My marketing is sporadic. My social media is focused on Instagram, which I like. The process is simple. The followers are engaging and my presence has resulted in sales. I hope to do more with this platform.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
L: Google shopping caused major frustrations. I could not get it working correctly. I employed two professionals to help me. I worked with Google. The problem went on for months. My cork accessory line missed Christmas. I am challenged by the constant change in platforms, software, upgrades, updates etc.
R: What problem was Google causing your business?
L: I was unable to promote my products on Google shopping. I’ve used adwords and was excited to use the platform. Then there was a glitch in the system. I spent a couple of months working on correcting this problem. I hired professional help.
Google’s system does not respond in a user friendly way. Their system is cumbersome. The system requires waiting days between inquiries and answers. They do not have a holistic approach. I was unable to advertise my products in the run up to Christmas 2018.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
L: A great achievement of mine has been the persistence to keep going. To learn about cork and educate others about cork. I love seeing the look on someone’s eyes when they spot a cork bag for the first time.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
L: Love what you do. Ask for advice, listen to advice, and make a plan. You must be able to handle change and uncertainty.