Sourdough & Seaweed: The Artisan’s Bend Story | #146

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In this episode of Add To Cart, we are joined by Sam Penny from Artisan’s Bend, a curated marketplace for artisan producers. He is also behind the great online cheese shop, Cheese Therapy. According to Sam, they are now the largest cheese retailer behind Woolies and Coles. This is Sam’s latest venture and just one […]

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Nathan Bush is a director at eCommerce talent agency, eSuite. He has led eCommerce for businesses with revenue $100m+ and has been recognised as one of Australia’s Top 50 People in eCommerce four years in a row. You can contact Nathan on LinkedIn, Twitter or via email.


Sam has done some pretty cool stuff in his time. He loves a challenge in pushing himself beyond what most cannot. Recent examples on the sporting front: Dec 2019, the first person in the World to attempt to swim the English Channel in Winter. Aug 2019, ran 87km in 13hrs. July 2019, swam an Ice Mile in 3.9deg water. Aug 2018, swam the English Channel. On the business front, he is relentless in his pursuit of implementing his strategy. Cheese Therapy is Australia’s largest artisan cheese retailer in just four years. His medical device company, High Tech Health went from zero to 1,500 pharmacy distribution in just three years with in-store sales that rivalled the major drug brands. Sam knows strategy, marketing and the relentless pursuit to see a plan rolled out. He is very open about what he does and his future plans but know that his sustainable competitive advantage is his passion and relentlessness.

In this episode of Add To Cart, we are joined by Sam Penny from Artisan’s Bend, a curated marketplace for artisan producers. He is also behind the great online cheese shop, Cheese Therapy. According to Sam, they are now the largest cheese retailer behind Woolies and Coles. This is Sam’s latest venture and just one of the many strings to his bow – he’s a former soldier, engineer, extreme swimmer and cheesemonger…oh and he used to own hair salons.  Slowing down is now at the heart of Sam’s business and the unique food and drink available through Artisan’s Bend is the kind that takes its producers time to get right.  In this chat, we talk all about Sam’s colourful past lives, discuss how the success of his other business, Cheese Therapy, led to a marketplace, why content creation is a huge part of the business and what it feels like to go where no man has ever gone before.

Having a human face in there, or even just a hand holding the product, that for starters really changes someone’s perception”

Sam Penny

Questions answered in this episode include
  • What’s been the biggest challenge of creating a marketplace?
  • How do you keep your inventory fresh?
  • What’s your most valuable daily habit?

To go where no-one has gone before

“Something that I really love, a passion of mine, is to try new things. I do it all through our business. Let’s try that. Is it going to work? Is it going to break? Let’s just try it. We have no idea what the outcome’s going to be. I feel like we are very much pioneering in so many things.

I swam the English Channel in the normal time of summer in 2018. The following year I did an ice mile, which was 1600 meters at Lake Crackenback  in 3.9 degree water and it was snowing when I swam that. That seriously nearly killed me. That was just horrific. I was also at the same time training for a double crossing of the English Channel. That’s 68 kilometers.  I was getting super fit, getting a lot of speed up. I sat in a chest freezer in my garage at one degree for half an hour, about every second day. I built up this great tolerance to cold, and I looked at doing the double crossing and I just thought, you know what, there’s 30, 40 people who’ve done that. I want to try something that nobody has done before.

I recognize that, well, I’ve got speed. I’ve got endurance, cold water climatization. Being a civil engineer, I did data analysis on daily water temperatures of the previous 11 years. I forecast that the water in the start of December was going to be 12 and a half degrees. I thought nobody has ever tried to swim the English Channel in winter. I thought that is going to be my thing. I’m going to go out for this thing….”

What’s in a name?

“Artisans Bend, you can’t say the word fast or the two words fast, it forces you to slow down. The whole sense of Artisan is to slow things down, to make things with your hands. We want people to take the time to learn about each of the producers. I spent a lot of time getting around the country and filming with each of our producers to learn their stories.

Because I believe that when you showcase a product and understand how the product was made, what’s the providence of the ingredients, who’s the person who is the face behind that brand. It makes a huge difference to just how something tastes. We see that all the time when people understand that whole backstory, they will get so much more enjoyment out of the product. It could just be a simple cheese, but when they start to get a lot more of that backstory and that understanding, it really heightens all of their senses and they absolutely love it. The word bend, Artisans Bend, it sounds like a destination like a bend in the river, but an actual fact, a bend is a type of knot.

The type of knot that it is, is where you get two ends and tie them together. If you pull that really hard, that knot actually gets tighter. I really see that as a representation of our producers and our customers coming together and really forming a strong bond. With all the market forces that are out there, if we can really get that loyalty right between the producers and the customers, and us doing the right job of sharing that backstory, then that bend, that knot, is just going to get tighter and tighter to the point where it’ll never be broken.”

Together we rise

“One of the things that I really hate about marketplaces is that they’re all the same. eBay, Amazon, Etsy. If you buy from three different producers, you are paying three shipping rates. That was the hard part where someone just wanted chocolate from that producer, coffee from that producer, and cheese from that producer and then realizing that they’re up for say $45 in shipping.  That was the important part for us to understand, okay, that’s one of the biggest barriers for us to really drive a great marketplace. But also at the same time, we recognized how hard it is for Artisan producers to ship their product around Australia. Shipping in this country is just incredibly hard. 

What we’ve actually created is a couple of warehouses to do, effectively, a three PL service for small artists and producers. That means that we can ship their product anywhere in the country. 90% of our deliveries are refrigerated to the door. Being able to help all these small producers and also tap into a distribution system that they don’t have the scale to tap into. We’re doing it at a bloody reasonable price as well because we just want this entire industry of small producers to rise together. I want them all to have access to what I have access to. 

We’ve got an Artisan educational series.  I want them all to improve their eCommerce capability. Each fortnight, I do a webinar. I’ve hosted webinars with the likes of Shopify and Klaviyo, Gorgias and content writers to try and build their eCommerce. Getting them to sell product through their own website doesn’t help my marketplace at all, but it builds their experience and their knowhow. It builds their content. It builds their product descriptors and images, so that it then ultimately does benefit our marketplace. But also at the same time, if we are managing their logistics for them, obviously that has a big improvement as well.”

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