Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|May 11, 2022|11 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

How Prince Harry and Meghan put their best foot forward for Africa.

Nick Dreyer the man who turned old farmer’s shoes into a youth brand inspired a prince, convinced a billionaire and styled his way to the Olympics with some fancy footwork.

Entrepreneurs are said to be a rare breed, unique, passionate, and loaded with an endless reserve of energy. When logging on to the Zoom call to interview the world-renowned Nick Dreyer the bar was set high, but he cleared it.

The optimistic nature of Dreyer flows through the brand he and his cofounders have created. One is easily lost in conversation with the array of stories from the larger-than-life founder of Veldskoen. It is a South African shoe with a heritage stretching back 400 years

The business rebranded, cleverly, the kind of dusty shoes that old farmers used to tramp their fields in South Africa into a cool street shoe not out of place on the streets of Manhattan and fit for a prince.

Taking inspiration from his South African heritage, Dreyer’s passion is infectious. One must not allow his outgoing nature to hide the image of the competitive businessman with an eye for opportunity.

One huge opportunity shone like a beacon and benefited from a glimmer of chance. What happened was that Dreyer and his company made a pair of monogrammed shoes for Prince Harry and Megan Markle. To his delight, the couple wore the shoes. Surely to even greater delight in the Dreyer camp, the couple were photographed wearing them by The Times of London who put on their front page. Sales rocketed faster than you could say Windsor Castle.

On the investment front, the billionaire Mark Cuban together with Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher are shareholders in the American operations.

Dreyer has successfully created an e-commerce business that spans 28 countries and has achieved more than 100 000 sales each year. All around leather shoes made in a Durban factory in KwaZulu Natal.

The road to this level of success is rarely traveled and is filled with obstacles many of us may struggle to comprehend.

The 39-year-old former hotel manager’s journey to a success began on the N1 toward Cape Town, having a conversation at the wheel with his soon to be co-founder who was a builder. They were talking about the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“The South African team should have worn veldskoens,” he exclaims in disappointment.

His co-founder agreed and yet ventured that old-school veldskoens were more dusty fields than fashion. They cast their minds to an eye-catching shoe they saw in New York City which boasted a bright-coloured sole. He asked a former colleague to photoshop a veldskoen.

“It was in that moment we knew it was something big,” Dreyer shares with passion and excitement, recalling the early days.

The passion in his voice and the glint  in his eyes shine through the computer screen as he tells the story of his first sale.

“We made our first sale before we made our first shoe.”

This was his method of controlling cash flow. The goal to start small, one sale a day. He had never created an e-commerce platform, neither had his cofounders. It took months of studying and understanding the industry, yet at the end of the day, it was impossible to know everything.

“To sell our shoes we created a hype. We shared a risky advert saying ’THE LEGEND IS BACK’.”

The tag line created a bubble of attention as thousands believed Veldskoen was an old business reinventing itself when in fact it was Dreyer and his co-founders at home starting off.

To the outside world, it has seemed like a continuous success story, never putting a foot wrong. Yet, his journey was not easy, Dreyer needed a thick skin as well as strong shoes.

“We make mistakes, and we try to embrace them. With our open culture, there can be big fights.”

Becoming the first external shoe provider to Woolworths, one of the biggest clothing retail chains in South Africa, indicates they learn from mistakes.

A major mishap came in the early days though poor customer service; a deadly sin in retail.

In the first year, he and his co-founder personally fulfilled the logistics of sales by writing out waybills at the local Postnet. Several pairs of veldskoen unfortunately never reached their destination.

“It was in these days we learned to simply apologize and return the money.”

Understanding the importance of a brand, Dreyer always wanted to make Veldskoen as human as possible, to attain a unique connection with customers. Mixing this with risky marketing Veldskoen was able to grow into a household name.

“The goal is not for my name, Nick Dreyer, to be remembered in 100 years, but if Veldskoen is still around I would be proud. Our goal is to for Veldskoen to be the most recognizable South African brand in the world. “

This long-term business view allows Dreyer a certain element of freedom in decision-making as his short-term decisions simply need to align with the long-term goal.

“We know we do not know how to reach our goal of becoming the most recognizable brand. There is no handbook- if there was everyone would do it.”

International growth is one method of attaining this goal. Before Covid only 10% of sales were international, now 40% of total sales are international. The biggest markets are the USA, Germany, and Australia.

Naturally, a worldwide pandemic threw a spanner in the works; sales halved; the business felt the pressure.

“We went remote as early as possible before the government came out.”

Moving online meant a change in management style, to ensure his team walked with him.

“One of our major advantages is all our products are locally produced. We did not need to worry about losing production because of shipment problems or pages worth of regulation. The stress of the weakening currency naturally assisted us as we sold internationally.”

Continuous work at home, with the kids running around in the background, was vital to ensure as the world opened up, the would capitalize on the spending spree soon to come caused by pent up demand.. So much so that pre-Covid Veldskoen operated in 4 countries, now it is 28 countries.

No matter how appealing the international stage becomes, Dreyer is a ‘local is lekker’ man.

“It is lekker (great) to be in South Africa, we have our problems but there are worse places. Anything is still possible here, both from an individual perspective and business perspective.”

By using local suppliers Dreyer has ensured low costs while using international regulation favorably to ensure cheap exports.

His proudest moment as CEO came when Veldskoen was announced the official off-field shoe for the South African athletes traveling Japan for the 2020 Olympics and Para-Olympics. It completed the circle from his first thought about the shoe in the car on the highway.

“The story is wonderful; we posted a video of me speaking into a smartphone camera asking South Africa to help. The next day the CEO of SASCO called me on my cellphone, and mentioned he heard we were looking for him.”

This story perfectly encompasses the go-getter attitude of Dreyer; never deterred by a challenge, only seeking to rise above adversity.

A veldskoen shoe is designed to be three things, simply beautiful, comfortable, and strong.

The journey of Veldskoen is very similar, simply beautiful yet powerful.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we are comfortable and hardworking like the veldskoen shoes.”

As the journey continues, there may be ups and downs, yet the one guarantee is the “arbiter of Veldskoen” will strive for victory and may very well attain it.

Yet the question still needs to be answered, how did Dreyer trademark a 400-year-old word?

“No one trademarked it, so we did, keeping it as simple as possible. However, we do not expect other businesses to stop making veldskoen. We want the veldskoen pie to grow bigger. But they must not copy us of course.”

A business summed up in six words.

Shoes, soles, South Africa, sales, simple.