Palm Beach County is hardly a hub of the fashion world, but entrepreneur Frido Van Mossel likes it that way.
Van Mossel, a native of the Netherlands, makes a brand of leather belts and leather bags that sell in U.S. stores. Amsterdam Heritage belts retail for $50 to $100. The brand’s bags sell for $250 to $325.
Amsterdam Heritage is sold mainly in small boutiques, but the company in late 2016 landed deals with Anthropologie and Free People, both units of Urban Outfitters.
“We’re slowly getting into these bigger accounts,” Van Mossel said.
When his fashion company was in startup mode, it was headquartered in New York. But Van Mossel prefers the lower costs and slower pace of Jupiter, where Amsterdam Heritage is headquartered now.
Hometown: I’m originally from the Netherlands. I live in Jupiter now.
About your company: The company is 12 years old, and we’ve always been looking for European brands we can bring to the U.S. It started out with men’s shirts, and in 2007 we added jewelry. Then in 2009, we added leather belts and leather bags. A year ago, we launched our own leather belt and leather bag company. It’s called Amsterdam Heritage. We’re at 140 different designs now. We supply what the fashionistas from the U.S. would like to wear. It’s mainly women — 80 percent women, 20 percent men. Women just shop more. We’re a fairly small company. In the office, it’s just five people, but then we work with a team of 10 independent sales reps throughout the country — in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, the sales reps cover six or seven states. We don’t really need a whole lot of people to grow. Belts don’t take a whole lot of space, so we store the product at our office in Jupiter.
First job: When I was a student, I did everything. I cleaned vacation bungalows. I worked at the newspaper. I would come in Friday afternoon to put inserts into the newspapers, then at 1:30 a.m. the actual news would come out, and we’d have to put the papers together. Then a couple of delivery people wouldn’t show up, and we’d have to deliver the newspaper. The coolest job was when I was a telemarketer for a company that’s like the European version of AAA. If a tourist would go to Austria or Croatia or Spain or wherever and they’d break their leg and couldn’t drive back, I’d fly there and drive their car back. That was a really fun job.
Best business advice you’ve received: I’ve never had a corporate job. I just started my own business straight out of college. I had to learn everything the hard way, on my own. I kept growing until I reached a ceiling, and I wanted to learn more. A good friend of mine spoke about the Entrepreneurs Organization. He’s a member of the Los Angeles chapter, and he said, “Hey, you should look into this. It’s a great organization.” I joined and that kind of opened my world. It’s all about learning. All of a sudden, I get together with all these other entrepreneurs who are in different industries, and the focus is on learning.
Best business book you’ve read: “Traction.” It was the first real book about how to run a business. It’s kind of like an operating system for your business. That was an eye-opener for me.
Biggest business challenge: The change in the retail landscape. Every day, you see stories in the newspaper about big chains that are closing 100 or 200 locations. The consumer these days is just shopping different, online. It’s not that there’s no need for the product. There’s definitely a need for the product, but it’s not being bought the traditional way. So the whole traditional distribution model is really changing, and we need to make sure we’re ready for that change. We need to communicate directly with the consumer. That’s what it’s all about these days.
Biggest business mistake: It’s a timing thing. I need to pull the plug quicker. I sometimes drag a certain project for too long even if it’s not working out. I might bring a brand in from Europe, and even if it doesn’t sell in the first six months, I keep it for another six months. The same with salespeople. If you’re a salesperson and you don’t sell in the first month, you’re probably not going to sell in the second month.
Trait you look for when hiring: Being proactive and having an entrepreneurial spirit. I always like when a person has an attitude of, “Hey, here’s what can I do for your business. How can we make money together?” Some people want to talk about salary and time off right away. We can talk about that later.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: Jupiter, which is where I’m based, has really been growing. Since Harbourside Place came, the whole area started improving. Jupiter is the most northern tip of this whole metropolitan area, so I feel like this is the last place that’s getting developed.