Reform school

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‘Reform’ and ‘school’ are not normally two words that any 17-year-old likes to hear in the same sentence. But Dan Dynon and Rob Di Benendetto, co-founders of Melbourne-based Reform Clothing, have changed many minds with their made-to-order year 12 memorabilia. 

The two Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) design graduates, fuelled by their own memories of below-par year 12 jerseys, decided to do something for future generations. 

Gone are the over-priced, colour-by-number, ill-fitting, starch-ridden jerseys of Dynon and Di Benendetto’s own school days – Reform’s own jerseys, t-shirts and accessories make up a comprehensive range of cult-worthy, custom-designed streetwear. 

“Reform is about making change,” says Dynon. 

What started in a garage in Coburg now caters to school leavers across the nation.

Cut-price kids

Getting the business off the ground financially wasn’t difficult. “We didn’t need much money,” says Dynon. 

What they did need was a computer and software, which they had courtesy of their uni days. They also needed a space to work from – Di Benendetto’s grandfather volunteered his garage, rent-free, for the purpose. 

“We renovated it. Well … we put carpet down and put plaster walls up,” Dynon clarifies. “It was far from the lap of luxury.” 

Their office furniture was also pro bono – from a family friend, they scored seconds destined for the scrap heap. “We’ve actually still got the same desks,” says Dynon.

“Besides that, we needed enough cash to have our first brochure printed, pay some phone bills, and buy a printer and fax machine.”

The two funded these purchases from their existing savings. “We really only needed about $6000 to get started.”

Cash flow never posed a threat in the early days, as their payment structure was clear-cut – each job required a 50 per cent deposit from the outset, enough to cover any expenses incurred. 

“If we needed the money up-front to start we would have been in trouble,” admits Dynon of the pair’s limited funds. “But because they had to pay up-front, we were able to pay the bills along the way.” 

This system, born out of necessity, has since proved invaluable. “We wanted some form of financial commitment. When there are students involved, it’s easy for them to jump in without thinking and without collecting the money, and the next thing you know, no-one wants to pay for it anymore.” 

Cost-conscious, they spent a year-and-a-half in their garage abode. Dynon says that this time was far from stressful – financially or otherwise. 

“We were both living at home. I’m sure that if I had a family, or a mortgage or even had rent to pay, it would have been a lot more stressful. But I didn’t have any bills – I had to pay for petrol and my mobile phone, and that was about it.” 

A measured approach

Thanks to the federal government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), there was no need for either of them to work a second job in order to fund the business. 

Despite the assistance, the boys have been realistic about their finances, subscribing to the ‘don’t buy what you can’t afford’ theory. They didn’t make the move from the garage to their current studio until they knew they had enough money in the bank to be able to sustain the move, and any subsequent expenses. 

Cash flow was, and remains, their first priority. “We have made it a prerequisite in everything we do,” says Dynon. “If we didn’t need it, we didn’t get it. We didn’t need a Collins Street address. Everything we’ve done, we’ve done realistically, to keep the overheads down.”

Despite this, Dynon admits that working from home can have disadvantages. 

“If customers or suppliers do ever need to come to your house, [if you don’t look] professional, you’re probably not taken as seriously as you potentially could be,” he says. “But it’s only a location. If we were exactly the same people with exactly the same computers and set up in a Collins Street address, people would think we were a totally different operation to what we would be in a garage.”

True to form, their move was made out of necessity, and not vanity. From their Coburg base, they were wasting time driving to their printer and manufacturer, now in East Brunswick their travel time is reduced – drastically so. 

“If they needed to see us, we’d have to drop what we were doing to make sure that everything stayed on target and schedule,” recalls Dynon. “Now we’ve moved into the same building as our printer and our manufacturer – the printer is literally outside our front door and the manufacturer is upstairs. It was one of those things that had to happen. And it has worked out well.” 

Money talks

On the advice of their fathers, both business veterans, the pair made sure that they had a good accountant from the get go. 

“That and also the fact that we had no idea how to use MYOB. We had no idea about anything to do with accounts.”

Whatever the reason, the investment has proved worthwhile. “It has saved us a lot of time and a lot of headaches.”

Finance is not the only area of their business where they have looked for outside help. For their branding and promotional collateral, they employ a freelance designer.

“We just feel that after a few years of not doing that sort of thing, we’re better off getting someone who is more in touch with current programs to do it,” Dynan says. 

They have also enlisted the help of freelance photographers and web developers for their look books and website. The latter is yet another example of why it’s important to raise your hand when you’re unsure. 

“Our web developer actually recommended that we don’t use flash. [Our website] loads quicker and it’s picked up better by Google.” 

It was advice worth heading – their site ranks highly in most searches, and often makes the top of the results. 

Tailor made

Five years on, the pair still keep a close eye on their cash. “Unlike a retail store where there’s a steady flow [of income] throughout the year, we tend to get all of ours within three months of the year. We budget from that.” 

Dynon insists that no matter how unorthodox, it’s about finding a system that works for your business. There is, after all, no point trying to push a square peg through a round hole. 

“We tend to work on calendar years as opposed to financial years because that’s how the school years work,” he explains. “It’s not the most traditional way of managing cash flow, but it works for us.” 

The secret to sticking to a budget lies in business structure. Dynon says accountability is key. “I think if there was just one of us, we’d probably tend to be looser with the cash. Because there’s two of us, we keep each other in check.” 

This applies across the board. “We complement each other pretty well,” says Dynon. “Rob has a real attention to detail, and always making sure everything’s perfect. I rush things. I push him along and he pulls me back a little bit. It works pretty well.” 

They haven’t, as yet, hit any major financial hurdles. “We haven’t really taken many major risks,” says Dynon. 

In an effort to reduce their turnaround time and to increase productivity, they are looking at housing stock, rather then operating on a made-to-order model. This will effectively reducing a six-week turnaround to a two-week one. This is an expensive change to make, but it’s one the boys have thoroughly prepared for. 

“We’re spending a lot of money producing a lot of hoodies so that we can have them sitting in stock. That’s going to cost us, that will be our biggest purchase since we’ve started.” 

Again, this is a reform made out of necessity. “One of the issue that we faced last year was that we were too busy for what out manufacturer could handle. We got to a point where we were almost having to knock work,” explains Dynon. 

“Printing can be done in a matter of hours, but manufacturing takes weeks – so if we can get that bit that takes the longest over and done with at the start, it means that we’re going to be able to work with a lot less stress.” 

Dynon acknowledges that it is going to be a lot of work until they can get the appropriate systems in place. 

“It’s one of those things that we’ve found that you can actually put as many systems as you like in place but until you’ve put them into practice, you don’t know what kind of problems are going to arise. That’s one thing that we’ve learned 50 times over.” 

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