The underwear subscription company that stays true to its cheeky Aussie roots

Rob Rand has never been a fan of boring undies. Or shopping, for that matter. So when it came time to shop for briefs, he found himself in a world of consumer pain. 

So he did something about it.

In 2014, he and his wife Ash Rand began KNOBBY, not so much as a clothing company as a subscription based underwear buying club.

“We ship a new, unseen design to members all over the world every month,” Rob explains.

That design, created by a different artist, illustrator or graphic designer each month, is boldly colourful - featuring striking patterns that take inspiration from tattoo design, comic books, art, and a bit of Australiana.

But these quirky and unique designs that KNOBBY print onto their ‘jocks’ are not all that sets the business apart from other underwear retailers… The culture of the business is about so much more than incorporating fun design elements into an everyday clothing item. It’s about great customer service and really understanding the needs of the customer.

Undie-standing the market

When a customer visits they’re not just clicking around, browsing the available products – they’re signing up to become part of a ‘club’ that delivers a cool and unique experience to their doorstep each month. They won’t just receive a pair of undies; they’ll receive a ‘gift pack’ from KNOBBY that could include things like limited edition stickers, bottle openers, keyrings, and other little surprises in their parcel. The whole unboxing strategy incorporates a lot of fun and the element of surprise.

“The reason we chose a subscription model over a traditional eCommerce store was that it allows us to create more of an experience, having that monthly edition of underwear where the customer doesn’t necessarily know what they’re going to get. Whereas if it was a standard eCommerce store, sure, they’re going to know exactly what they want and what they’re going to be purchasing, but it kind of takes a bit of the fun factor out of it,” Rob says.

In fact, KNOBBY does have an online store, where purchasers can choose from a ‘back catalogue’ of designs as well as limited edition prints. But it’s the subscription model that set the company on the path to success and remains their profit engine.

Ash says to make that model work, they’ve had to perfect not just the logistics, but every element of a member’s parcel-opening experience.

“We’re not just about a pair of underwear. Everything has been meticulously designed and crafted, from the package that arrives to the way it’s opened to the messaging that’s written on the box to the layers of packaging within the box until you finally open up your underwear, which is a surprise design. People love that,” Ash says.  

Putting boring briefs to bed

As soon as you land on the KNOBBY website you get a strong sense of what the brand is all about. It’s whimsical, it’s fun and it is, as Rob puts it “colloquially Aussie”. There’s lots of cheeky Aussie slang and silly jokes involved in the way the brand talks to its customers.

Rob says that all comes back to his original insight: the undies he was looking at were profoundly uninspiring.

“The brand is quite unique because it’s created a culture. Guys are no longer hidden with their underwear. They’ll take photos of their underwear, talk to others about what designs they’re wearing.”

Ash says she does a lot of the copywriting for the company and finds it one of the most enjoyable parts of her role at KNOBBY.

“At the start we did approach it with a real cheeky, Aussie colloquial vibe. And it was just a lot of fun to do. We were worried – I was worried – that when we launched the women’s line we might have to lose that tone a little bit but we retained it and I think it works really well and our customers really respond to it.”

Team, tech and a trusty partner

Rob believes that one of the reasons for the success of the venture was the simple concept at the heart of it all, a kind of commercial version of the ‘Golden Rule’.

“Ever since day one of this I really wanted to create, as part of the experience, just brilliant customer support. How I wanted to be treated when I had dealings with another company – that’s really all it was.”

Desiring it was one thing, but making it happen was another challenge entirely. It began with building an excellent and trustworthy crew.

“We have a really diverse team. We have a fairly young team, as well, who bring a certain dynamic. They’re a really great reflection of the culture we try to instil here,” Rob says.

“Our in-house designers and copywriters. Our web team, which is a front-end developer [and] a software engineer who works with our own ‘Backbone’ order management system. But overall it’s just about creating a really nice team that just understands the vision.”

Next was allowing that group to make the most of their talents. Two of the most important ways in which they did that was through technology and partnering with Australia Post.

“We see KNOBBY as very much a tech company. We struggled to just purchase an off-the-shelf shopping cart system. We were so much more than that. We were based on a subscription model [so] we had to create our own software applications behind the scenes. It allowed us to really integrate in with Australia Post.”

“Using Australia Post, it’s amazing that we’re able to get this product from here on the Sunshine Coast to these remote corners of Australia that we didn’t even know existed. They’ve been with us since the very first pair that was sent. It’s allows us to ship our product to so many places in the world.”

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