This week Baby Wasp's Culture Hound enters the world of "Mag Nation" magazine concept stores.
For those of you have had never had the pleasure of visiting a Mag Nation, close your eyes for a moment, and let me conjure up an image for you....A sophisticated "Baby Wasp Transporter Machine" has taken you to Melbourne, or Sydney or New Zealand, wherever floats your boat.
You breathe in deeply and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee fills the air.... But wait, there's another smell, it's the sweet sweet smell of glossy paper. Beautiful voices surround you, and excitedly you open your eyes. All around you are thousands of Magazines from every corner of the globe, on every topic imaginable.
You run to your favourite publications and the joy filling you is simply orgasmic! But wait, there is something else... ridiculously good looking Angels waiting to serve you coffee and other hot beverages. Who are these Angels? They are the Mag Nation team of ladies and gents.
WELCOME TO MAG NATION. A place to escape, relax and absorb the culture of the world, and surround yourself with gorgeous ladies and men with big schlongs. (That one is on the Mag Nation website!)
Mag Nation currently have 6 stores across Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland...and hopefully in the very near future I'm wishing for a little patch of heaven in Brisvegas!
This week I interview one half of the Mag Nation empire, Sahil Merchant. The other half, Ravi is off saving lives as a Doctor/Pathologist!
BW: I read an article about you Sahil, which suggested that you put your success down to "ignoring common wisdom and breaking all the accepted rules within an industry". I love this attitude, how did you come to the conclusion that going against the grain is a winning formula?
SM: I don’t think that going against the grain “always” means a winning formula. Often, wisdom is wisdom for a reason. However, in the case of the magazine industry, there seemed to be a common set of assumptions, and when we asked people why those assumptions were in place, the answer was often “because they are”. That got us questioning the logic underlying those assumptions, and we concluded that there was a different approach that might be feasible. Industry rules and norms are great if and when some underlying rationale can be identified, but when the arguement boils down to history and tradition, then there is probably an opportunity to carve out a new path.
BW: I live at least an hour's flight time away from my nearest 'Mag Nation' store, yet I feel completely loyal to the brand after perhaps 10 visits over the years. How have you created such passionate followers?
SM: By not worrying about how to create passionate followers. We see so many brands trying so hard to create followership, and people are too switched on these days to be bullshitted. We initially spent a lot of time trying to build loyalty and we realized after some time that the best way to do this was not to try so hard. Do you prefer us to offer you the occasional 30% off if you buy a second mag via a fancy schmancy slick e-newsletter, or are we better off focusing our scarce resources on having a shit hot range of hard to find mags in a really cool and friendly environment. We realized that all we need to do is stick to what we know really well – magazines – and do them in the way that we would love if (and when) we were consumers. Only then can we add around this core offering.
The other thing we have done is decided to be ourselves. Our brand seems to attract followers because it is genuine. There is no brand manager or consultants or anyone else that sets brand strategy or direction. The brand is the founders. We are mag nation, and we can’t fake ourselves, so we can’t fake our brand either.
BW: What has been the toughest lesson you have had to learn in Business? Anything cringe worthy in the past?
SM: Everything is harder, takes longer, and requires more cash than you originally thought. As for cringe worthy, a number of things come to mind. In fact, way too many things. But that is part of our culture. We experiment. Some things fly, some crash.
BW: Being the "Chief Magazineologist" at "Mag Nation" must be a massive job, how do you keep your work and personal life balanced?
SM: Who said I do? I also have 3 kids, so it is a real challenge. It helps that I love what I do. I go home satisfied and even though I probably work more hours than most people, my personal life is not plagued by regrets and what ifs. I am living my dream.
BW: How do you stay ahead of the pack? There has got to be a lot of brands attempting to nip at your heels!
SM: Keep questioning everything, and try to reduce intellectual hierarchy. The founders can’t be across everything, so we have strived to create a culture whereby staff are free to challenge everything we do. This makes us more dynamic than the bigger guys.
BW: Sahil, my interests lie in Business, Art and Design..and to to this day I have only found one magazine that covered all of this, to the point that I was convinced it was written for me. I was sad to find out that this particular mag's financiers had pulled the pin and the mag went bust. How hard is it to "make it" in the Magazine world? Do you see a lot of good magazines fade out against the mainstream publications with bigger budgets and backers?
SM: I get young niche publishers approaching me every week, and I tell them all the same thing. Assume you will make no money (because you probably won’t) and that your magazine will suck the life out of you. If they still want to proceed, I try to find other ways to talk them out of it. My overall message to them is that you should only do this if God put you on this Earth to do nothing other than this magazine. If that is the case, they should go for it.
BW: What is your theory on making dreams come true? How do you stay inspired?
SM: I believe in “do”. Dreams never come true by sitting on your arse. Even if the dream doesn't come true, the journey is a hell of a lot better than stagnation. I’ve never felt the need to seek out inspiration. Maybe I am just one of those sickeningly lucky people. I get inspiration from breathing in the fresh air every morning.
*Mag Nation can be found online @: www.magnation.com
Subscriptions, books and T-Shirts can also be ordered online if you cannot make it to a store, store staff not included.