THE AXEMAN

  Howard Saunders   Jan 11, 2015   Blog, Brand, image, Retail   8 Comments

I’ve just received the coolest gift. A box, one metre long, heavy and wooden: inside a limited edition, numbered, hand-painted, hickory-handled, American felling axe. Yes, an axe. In another box, a cream enamelled ‘axe care kit’ complete with a sharpening stone and some serious looking G clamps that I wouldn’t know where to start with. The whole thing is so exciting. I mean, what else can you get a cynical city dweller of my advanced years other than some professional lumberjacking equipment? What’s more, my girlfriend is just as thrilled. She loves to feel the reassuring heft of the four pound, leather-sheathed axehead as it falls into her palm. No, I’m not being rude…this is serious. There is certainly something immensely powerful about an axe. Let me explain.




I recently took a small group of professional guys from Sydney around New York for a bit of a retail safari. They were a mix of well travelled developers and lawyers, so a clever bunch. They were interested in seeing a few cool brands so at the end of our afternoon walking Manhattan I took them to Tribeca to visit one of the coolest: Best Made. Now, I’ve brought people in here before and the reaction can be somewhat mixed. The entrance is hard to find with an appropriately tiny logo on the glass and inside you are greeted by a wall of logs, on sale for a dollar each. This is a clue.

Best Made is urban man’s last hope:it sells us the dream of those that built this city, chopped down the forests and replaced them with skyscrapers. It reminds us that not far from this little granite island there is countryside, and a lot of it, and if you want to explore then you’d better be prepared. You’d better man up!

Basically, Best Made sells everything you need to survive in the wilderness after the apocalypse: nicely branded and stylishly over priced enamel ware, waxed canvas jackets as thick as doormats,chunky duffel bags, maps and atlases and lots of very cool camping gear…but their signature product is the axe. Hold an axe in your hands and you are transported to a simpler world, one where you had to kill things for dinner and chop things to stay warm.

Hold an axe and you forget your daily commute, all the office politics and gripes about your expense account. This is the real you, the adventurer, the pioneer, the man they will turn to after the apocalypse: the man with the axe. The axe tells us that our crazy urban lives are meaningless. It reminds us that we can leave our stupid jobs and head for the woods to start a new life living in a shelter we built with our own blistered hands. (Until, that is, we get cold and lonely and want to go home)

So, Best Made are selling us a beautiful handmade icon of the primeval masculinity that we thought we had lost forever. The axe is the first and most important tool man ever created. It gave us wood, fire, food, shelter and power. A limited, numbered, hand painted axe can be yours for about $300. How can so much meaning come so cheap?

I love the fact that as our aspirations shift as times change, the retail space responds with tangible products that answer what are, ultimately, emotional needs. Here is a brand that understands we really don’t need any more stuff. It also understands that in a world where we have most of what we need, we still desperately search for things with real meaning. Oh yes, I love my axe.

About Howard Saunders

Howard has worked in retail design for over twenty five years. As a former Creative Director of Fitch, based in London, he was responsible for retail design and branding and for creating multi-disciplinary teams of architects, graphic designers, product designers and copywriters and making them work together! As an independent consultant Howard has worked closely with Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Westfield, for over a decade, helping them develop new store designs and keeping them informed of the latest retail innovations and shifts in customer expectations. His work with Westfield, for example, culminated in the creation of the artisan Great Eastern Market at Westfield Stratford, Europe’s largest shopping centre, which opened in 2011 on London’s Olympic Park. Now based in New York, Howard’s current clients include CBRE, Claire’s Accessories, Consumer Goods Forum, Ebay, Johnson & Johnson, L’Occitane, Magento, Mothercare, Permira and Westfield World Trade Center. As an international speaker Howard’s talks are big, visual journeys across the world of retail. Provocative, challenging, brutally honest, evidence based and thoroughly entertaining.

8 Comments

  1. Aub Says: January 11, 2015 6:38 pm Reply

    I want one. Really!
    I gotta get out to see you H.
    Great article!

  2. Eduard Litver Says: January 11, 2015 7:02 pm Reply

    Brilliantly summarised our desire for what is authentic, raw and real. Enjoy the Axe, we hope it only comes to use for recreational purposes and to see you in Sydney.

  3. kevin Says: January 13, 2015 1:16 am Reply

    Howard, great observations that build on your mantra that good independent retailers “curate & display.” Can I post your blogs on The Road To Retail website?
    Talk soon from a sunny warm Sydney: )
    Kevin

  4. Cathy McClymont Says: January 15, 2015 7:32 pm Reply

    Haha! Howard the Great! Love this piece, it’s so real! I have lived with this very axe man for 11 years to escape to something sincere, green and wild. Now I need to return to the urban landscape! Miss you Mr Saunders x you have always been inspirational to me and responsible for my love of design x

  5. gil baron Says: January 21, 2015 9:51 pm Reply

    scintillating!
    the relationship between the sharp tools – mind and object!

  6. fifa team builder 15 Says: December 20, 2015 2:16 pm Reply

    Howdy terrific blog! Does running a blog
    such as this take a lot of work? I’ve no understanding of coding however I was hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyhow, if you have any ideas or tips for new
    blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject however I just needed to
    ask. Many thanks!

    • Howard Saunders Says: January 8, 2016 6:09 pm Reply

      Hi

      Well, yes it does take a lot of work. Writing is a job…but more important than that is having something to write about. There’s no programming skills needed (believe me, I’m doing it!) Just get it set up on WordPress or similar and tap away! I would have this advice:

      1. Have something to say. No rhetoric, you need original, passionate thoughts on your subject.

      2. Write as you would speak. Then re -read, re-read, hone and re-read again.

      3. Press publish.

      I hope this helps!

      Howard

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