Josh: What inspired you to create Benny Gold, the brand?
Benny: I am a graphic designer by trade, graduating from Savannah College of Art & Design. I moved out here to pursue a career in art and what they tell you in art school is a lot different than what a real career in art is like. So they tell you it’s like this real creative field and you will be designing and working on all these amazing projects and it is going to be very loose and fun. Then when I got out here I realized I was working until 2AM on a lot of stuff that was uninspiring, like toothpaste packaging and annual reports.
So I started a little personal project for myself and I labeled it Stay Gold - a reminder to stay true to the things that really inspire me. Which was the reason I moved to California and the reason I got into art.
So I placed some stickers around town on my days off from work. I was also new to the city so I was putting them everywhere. I was like, “I’ve never been to North Beach and I’ve never been to Haight Street.” I put the stickers up along the way and on my way home from work.
As the months and time passed, people, including skaters, started associating me with the stickers. They asked me for stickers and then some other people asked me to put Stay Gold on a shirt, so I made a couple of shirts and gave them out to friends.
Then this streetwear store opened around the corner from my house which was called Huf so I started helping Keith Hufnagel, the founder, with the art, doing his logos and tee-shirts. He was like, “What are you doing with the tee-shirts and stickers you make?” I told him I just make them and give them out to friends, so he put them in the store. He started to ask me for more and then other stores asked me for orders and here we are over a decade later.
Josh: Did the cops ever have a problem with the stickers?
Benny: The cops never had a problem with me placing stickers around the city. It was the late 90’s, early 2000's and San Francisco was a different place then. My biggest problem was people scraping them off, but I was fine, I just put them back on. To me, whenever I saw one taken off, I was like “Oh, someone wants the sticker.” I didn’t even think it was like the police taking them off, I thought it was fans. It fueled me to make more.
They weren’t even real stickers, I would photo copy them after work. Nothing fancy. People always ask about how much money and capital you need to start a business, I just use the resources that are available, always.
Josh: How have you seen the world of retail change? What do think has been the biggest difference in the past 10-12 years?
Benny: The retail market has changed tremendously. I mean when I first opened the retail store, and I had a store for eight years, back then you could take a chance on a small personal project. Rent was cheap. I mean my first business was around the corner from here (in the Mission) and it was less than $2,000 a month and it was a store front. Now you can’t find a place like that. You can’t take a chance on yourself as much as you could back then.
Josh: What do you think is important today for new businesses that are considering opening a retail store, a physical experience?
Benny: The most important thing to starting a retail store is to make the experience something you can’t get online. Make it an experience they have to come to you for. That’s why we added a cafe and I do small talks and "office hours" in the store. We have things like chai. I have more plans for it too. Right now I am just trying to get everything moving and then I can expand.
Josh: I think you nailed it. I think a lot more stores should be inspired by your approach, making it more than just a place that people can look at clothes. You’ve created more of a community vibe which is cool. Why the Mission? Why here? What do you love about the Mission?
Benny: What I love about the Mission (and I live in the Mission and my first store was in the Mission) is that I feel really connected here. The brand was never about making a living or profit or anything like that. I mean, now I need to - but back then I was more about supporting the community that I was a part of and that is why it was just a few blocks from my house. I am a part of the Mission community. You know, you walk down the street and you know all of your neighbors. You eat in the same restaurants and you see the same people and its nice to be part of the community.
Josh: Do you have a favorite spot in the Mission that you are frequenting? I know you’ve got your loop.
Benny: As far as restaurants go, I love Namu Gaji. I love the grocery stores around here, I love the sushi shops, coffee shops, skate shops. What’s great about the Mission is that they don’t allow chains, (so small businesses can establish themselves.) Other top spots listed below:
Josh: So, what's the "Golden Ticket"? People love that. It’s something that surprises people and delights them. It gives them something to get excited about. What can customers look forward to in the future?
Benny: "The Golden Ticket" is a fun thing. As a kid, I loved Willy Wonka and all that other stuff he was creating. So we’ve been giving Golden Tickets away in our store since we started. I use to have a sticker machine in the store and it broke so we took it out, but I moved the concept to online sales and a give away - it’s like discount codes for hats, socks and shoes . . .
Josh: How do you do that by the way? How do you maintain such a great leading brand but special discounts and promotions?
Benny: I think you are just telling your overall story. I just look at the whole marketing thing as ways to tell your story. You have to tell it over and over again. You think you told it so many times but there are always new people that never even heard of your brand, never stumbled in your store, or have seen your product anywhere, so you constantly have to retell your story. And then there is finding unique ways to tell it. New ways to tell it, so it doesn’t get boring to me.
Josh: Love that. What are you particularly excited about coming into the fall/winter?
Benny: Yeah, I mean I am trying to get my fall collection out right now, which is inspired by vintage sportswear and the store (stock?) is slowly turning over. I love the fall colors, I love the fabrics. Summer is more fun and light. Fall gets deeper, rich colors. We’re in process. I’ve got drop one in store and drop two will come out next week and then the whole store will be brand new.
Josh: Last question. I know you’re a deep philosophical guy. I love the meditative bowls btw on your Instagram stories. This is a really deep question. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Benny: I think my whole thing is trying not to grow up. That’s been my goal in life. To not really grow up. Honestly, I am pretty happy where I am right now in life. I could use more money, but who couldn’t? I think what I want to do is just keep creating and being proud of stuff I put out and not be worried about the financials. I could do it purely for the love of creating. Other than that I’ve got no other plans.
Josh: Benny Gold? Is that your real name?
Benny: Not even close. My real name is Benny, but the Gold comes from the original sticker that I made “Stay Gold” and then I dropped the “Stay”.
Josh: Benjamin? Ben?
Benny: Anything but Benji. :)
Benny Gold is located at 968 Valencia Street. Store hours are 11 am–7 pm, everyday.