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Distant Echo Celebrates Five Years

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A fifth birthday party usually involves lots of games, jelly and ice cream. Maybe an entertainer who you have to watch really carefully. When you’re not an actual child and you’re more like an online shop, none of this applies, thankfully. Instead of balloon animals and pass the parcel, we thought it’d be a nice point at which to speak to the man behind perennial Proper stockist Distant Echo.

Based in Liverpool, a place which proclaims to be in England but not of it, Distant Echo draws on the music and football culture of its home city but extends its reach beyond Merseyside. It’s in Liverpool but not of it.

We had a little chat with Daniel Nicolson, who founded Distant Echo from his bedroom five years ago.

Five years is an achievement in business, especially while there has been a recession on. How have you done it?

It’s a bit corny but I do think it’s down to the service. Deliver what you promise to people and they’ll come back.

We offer same day despatch, free delivery and most importantly of all honest communication. If we make a mistake, which hopefully isn’t all too often, we admit it and make it right.
In five years I can’t think of a single case where we know we’ve left someone unhappy. And as a result we have a really really high returning customer rate.

What was your background prior to Distant Echo?
 
Web development. It still is. I run a development company totally separate to Distant Echo.
Having that background no doubt helped me get over some of the barriers in setting up an online store. I set up Distant Echo in my mid-twenties, but had a decade or more of working with large sites and e-commerce prior to that. I was doing this kind of thing in school.

You’ve occupied three different addresses, the first of which was your back bedroom. Having done similar with Proper, how hard was it to make the transition from hobby to real, actual work?
The transition happened really quickly to be honest. My plan was never to run it from a bedroom in the long run. With balancing everything else I knew it couldn’t run from home for too long so once the right office came up I went for it.The name is a nod to a well known song. What is playing in the DE offices right now?
It depends who’s in. There’s a clear indie/minimal tech divide. Jake who manages the day to day operation is likely to perusing the SoundCloud of some unknown Romanian tech producer. I’d be more likely to make do with 6music myself.

Have you ever been down in the tube station at midnight

I got attacked by some Chelsea fans getting onto a tube train once. I first felt a fist, and then a kick.

It was about 5 in the afternoon though so it hasn’t quite got the same ring to it.

You’re based in Liverpool, a city which has a real sense of uniqueness about it which can’t be said of many other UK cities. How much of that Scouse DNA is in Distant Echo?
Unlike some other things I’ve done over the years I haven’t played on the connection too much. But it is there. A lot of the culture Distant Echo celebrates has roots somewhere in the city, whether that be “casual” or music. Our office sits above the original site of Wade Smith.
But as proud as I am of my city we shouldn’t underestimate the wider Northwest Influence across several subcultures, much of which is celebrated in what we carry on Distant Echo.
This little corner of land has produced so much and I’d say it’s that DNA that is most prevalent.
I’m not suggesting we drop or even dilute the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry but I’ve often wondered where Tony Wilson would have took the Northwest as a devolved region idea if he was still around today.

We’ve done a lot in this small part of the world. Despite the rain.

I’m obsessed with regional dialects. What’s your favourite Liverpudlian phrase or word, and why?

Well, I had a mag called Boss. The parent company of Distant Echo references Class. I always fancied getting the hat trick of Scouse words and having a bar called Sound. But then someone got there before me so we just drink in there now.

Your most popular product was a Dukla Prague away kit which has football, music and geeky-good connotations. Is that a good representation of your customers? 

I’d say so. It’s a broad church. You find there’s different parts of the country and continent that sway towards different brands. Different ages as well.  But by and large we sell clothing that broadcasts some sort of cultural message. And you can’t get more cultural than a Half Man Half Biscuit song, I reckon.

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You’ve also got Steeple Pine, another shop with a slightly obscure music lyric name. What made you set that up as something different rather than evolving Distant Echo? Once we had the model set up I knew I wanted to expand upon the brands celebrating that football/music culture.

I’d swayed between simply broadening Distant Echo or setting up a new site for ages.
In the end I went for the new site under a new banner. Distant Echo had, by then, carved itself out as a bit dark, northern and gritty so the more heritage and discerning Steeple Pine was born to cater for brands like tuktuk, Realm & Empire and Sebago.
That said there is a huge crossover. We do find that the lad who has been buying Casual Connoisseur for years from Distant Echo will dive over to Steeple Pine for a pair of Superga or a bit of Newfangle for example.

You’re involved in fan politics, for want of a better phrase. How do you think fan power has influenced football culture in the UK over the last few years?
More than perhaps the average person thinks. Football is undoubtedly about the money and power but there have been notable victories.
Liverpool’s former owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett once described the protestors at Anfield as the “noise that won’t go away”. We didn’t. They had to in the end.
This season we’ve seen the freezing of all away tickets in the top flight to just £30. They haven’t done that out the goodness of their own hearts. They’ve done it in the face of action.

Tell us about Boss Magazine. You were involved in that weren’t you?
Yeah, BOSS was a Liverpool FC fanzine I started and ran until last year. We only got to a paltry sixteen issues by each time a new one came out it was a bit of a thing.
There’s was hardly any on the pitch stuff in it. My idea was to capture what was going on at the time for match going lads in the city. The clothes, the music, the trips.
Ordinary lads just recording what they were up to in a black and white mag that sold for a pound and could be rolled into a back pocket on the way home from a match.
We brought it to a close at the end of last season. As time moved on and we got a bit older it felt that we as individuals were a bit less relevant to the reasons it started. No longer going to every game, no longer out at gigs a few times week.
It felt right to hand the mantle over to the next generation of young lads going home and away with Liverpool to tell their story.
No one has yet but I hope they do.
I believe the fanzine culture around football is so important. In this internet day and where a good forum post can be lost in a few hours or the opinion of some overseas super-fan carries as much weight as a die-hard local its important that physical grassroots media still exist.

The whole purpose of BOSS was so that in a few decades time someone can pick up the mag and know that’s what young Scouse lads were doing at that moment in time and we achieved that.

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You’ve also helped shape Mundial Mag, where do you see that going?
I’ve been involved in the fringes in a very minor way and it’s been great to see it get to where it is now.
Full credit to Seb, Dan and the team they’ve brought together – it’s quite an achievement.

I think there’s a huge place for brands to align themselves with magazines like Mundial, Umbrella and of course Proper and commission them to undertake projects, be it print, online or event led that they can’t necessarily do themselves, or maybe aren’t quite cool enough to do themselves.

As for Distant Echo and Steeple Pine… more of the same is it?

Yeah hopefully. We’ve got a solid customer base on both sites which we’re immensely grateful for and we look forward to the next five years.

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