Lyndon Cormack, co-founder of retailing phenomenon Herschel Supply Company, on working with family and keeping ahead of the fads
I’m feasting on Lyndon Cormack’s brio this lunchtime. The fast-talking managing director of Herschel Supply Co. is buzzing from a weekend of wakesurfing at home in Deep Cove—we’re meeting in September—and is about to head to a trade show in China. The active schedule is part of the DNA for the Vancouver-based global bag-and-travel-accessories brand, which has grown from 25 employees three years ago to 150 today and now sells in 85 countries.
Grabbing bites of bacon pizza at Belgard Kitchen near Herschel’s new 11,000-square-foot Railtown HQ, Cormack excitedly pinballs around Herschel’s success, which will soon see the brand break into the Chinese market through a “wholly owned foreign enterprise” (an investment program that doesn’t require a Mainland Chinese investor). While the private company founded by Lyndon and brother Jamie in 2009 has seen explosive growth, so too has its investment arm, Herschel Capital Co.—recently snapping up a majority stake in Totokaelo, a New York luxury retailer, and buying 8100 Melrose Avenue, a prized shopping complex in Los Angeles, in partnership with Aritzia CEO Brian Hill. “We’re building with momentum,” says Cormack. “There’s so much opportunity ahead of us, it feels like we’re just getting started.”
Herschel—named for the rural Saskatchewan town the family originally emigrated to from Scotland—is known for marrying heritage with modern details, such as pockets for iPads. In the early part of this century, Lyndon and Jamie spotted a gap in the market for these types of high-tech nostalgic goods while working for other retailers—Lyndon as a sales rep for Vans and Jamie at K2 Sports. Since forming Herschel, the brothers have prided themselves on constantly being “out in the field” predicting market demands to avoid becoming a passing fad. “We know it obviously doesn’t go up forever,” says Cormack, “but with a lot of preparation we still plan on having smiles on our faces when things mellow out a little bit.”
Running a business with older brothers means playing to each other’s strengths: Lyndon handles sales and marketing, Jamie steers the design end of things, while their eldest brother, Jason, works on the back end of the business in Calgary (where the Cormacks grew up). While they don’t agree on everything, having familial similarities creates a “middle zone for collaboration where we can truly work together without candy- or sugar-coating things,” says Cormack. “I’d rather a brother piss me off than a staff member. It’s just easier to figure it out. We’re conscious that family comes first, business second.”
Cormack’s own family includes the divorcee’s daughters, aged nine and 10, with whom he loves to also snowboard and surf—a sport picked up while working at a bike store in Melbourne for a couple of years after graduating high school in the early ’90s. “I went for a gap year,” says Cormack, now 40, who also managed a bike and snowboard store in Canmore, Alberta, and worked for Bell Sports in Kelowna in his youth. “And I feel I’m still on it.”
With Herschel’s rapid global expansion, Cormack increasingly finds himself in the air—clocking more than 100,000 kilometres last year alone. While the time away from family isn’t ideal, he seems to relish the pace, saying simply, “Chaos is great.” Besides, he knows there’s no time to wallow in the cutthroat world of retail. “The best part of our job is that it’s always changing and you’re forced to innovate—we don’t think about it; we just go and do it.”
1. Cormack is an interior design hound, installing around 175 lights created by Omer Arbel in his home. He recently made a pilgrimage to see the B.C.-based Bocci creative director’s studio in Berlin, too.