Saturday, 26 February 2011

An interview with... Simon Duffy, co-founder of Bulldog Natural Grooming

Years in industry: 5 

Simon Duffy made a brave choice when he and his business partner Rhodri Ferrier decided to take on beauty big boys such as Nivea and Gillette, with the launch of a male grooming brand, Bulldog. Simon talks to Your Beauty Industry about having a unique idea, converting your ideas into a commercial business and the realities of investment.

What paved the way to you launching a male grooming brand?
The idea for Bulldog came whilst I was living with my girlfriend (now wife!). All the products she used were natural and when I went to buy my own I realised that there were just no natural products out there for men. So I got this idea for natural skincare products for men. A few days later I met my good friend Rhodri for a drink and told him about my idea. By the end of the night we had agreed to become business partners. In 2006 we decided to quit our jobs and create Bulldog with no experience in the sector.

Once you had the idea for Bulldog, how did you know how to physically get the products created?
Once we had the idea we did an enormous amount of research into all aspects of product development. One of the main considerations was that we wanted to manufacture everything in the UK. Manufacturing in the UK is much better for the environment than the way some of the other brands produce their products overseas and ship it half way across the world. This was vitally important to us.

"Initially we got Bulldog off the ground with £37,000. Once we started talking to large retailers we realised we were going to need additional funds"
Did you need much investment?
Initially we got Bulldog off the ground by combining our life savings and maxing out our credit cards to scrap together £37,000. Once we started talking to large retailers like Sainsbury’s we realised we were going to need additional funds. Raising money is a very hard thing to do. We spoke to hundreds of potential investors and got knocked back more times than I care to remember. You have to be persistent and believe in your idea. Ultimately we found a group of people who loved our concept of removing controversial chemicals and replacing them with the highest quality natural ingredients. The people who invested in Bulldog are as passionate about Bulldog as we are.

Do you think it is a necessity to have large investment to be able to launch a brand?

I don’t think it’s a necessity for every brand, but it was important for Bulldog. We compete against massive multinational companies like L’Oreal, Beiersdorf (Nivea) and Procter & Gamble (Gillette). These companies spend a massive amount on marketing and business development. We knew that we would have to raise some money in order for Bulldog to compete in the long-run, but we’re still very much an underdog when it comes to scale.

"We never did manage to thank whoever handed our samples into lost property, but without them Bulldog would never have happened!"
How easy did you find getting into meet store buyers?
It took an enormous amount of hard work and good fortune to get Bulldog products into our first retailer, Sainsbury’s. Getting into a major retailer is a very hard thing to crack, and it very nearly didn’t happen.

I can remember this terrible time when we lost our final mock-ups of our products the day before our final meeting with the head buyer. We had just had our packs mocked-up by a designer who had painstakingly applied our designs by hand on to some blank tubes. On the way home we managed to leave the bag on the train and we thought we had lost our only samples. We were both in something of a mad panic, and in the end couldn’t believe our luck when this bag turned up at the Baker Street lost property office.

We managed to get the product samples to Sainsbury’s just in time and were thrilled when about two weeks later they called us to say they wanted to launch Bulldog nationwide in over 300 stores. We never did manage to thank whoever handed them into lost property, but without them Bulldog would never have happened!

In an industry dominated by giants such as Gillette and Nivea, how do you succeed?
We compete with massive multinational companies who spend tens of millions of pounds on marketing their brands. There’s nothing unique about them as they pretty much do everything the same. They all use very similar formulations, market their products in exactly the same way and really are just repackaging traditionally female products for men.

Bulldog competes by being different. This means that Bulldog challenges industry conventions on ingredients, packaging, ethics and marketing. Bulldog is the only brand that is bringing something exciting and fresh to the category at the moment, and this is key to our success.

We’re also the first male skincare brand to be certified as Cruelty Free by the BUAV, and we’re very proud to have won an RSPCA Good Business Award.

What kind of marketing do you do for Bulldog?
Bulldog’s biggest marketing spend was our internet shows called ‘David Mitchell’s Soapbox’. The shows are fronted by the BAFTA awarding comedian David Mitchell. The shows, which each lasting for 3 to 5 minutes, cover anything from flowers to male grooming. The shows were the perfect vehicle for David’s witty and topical rants on everyday life.

We partnered with FHM online, the Guardian online, and iTunes to make the series widely available for free viewing and downloading. Bulldog pulled the whole concept together and we added a sponsor’s messages to the front and back of each episode. The shows have been incredibly successful and have had over 10 million views to date, they won the Apple iTunes Best Video Show Award for 2009, and they sat at the top of the podcast charts for weeks.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Actually I think we’re going fine at the moment just as we are; we’re currently the UK’s fastest growing male skincare brand (+86% year on year) and Sweden’s skincare brand of the year (Kings Magazine Awards, and Café Magazine Awards). We’ll see huge growth for Bulldog in the USA and Japan this year. We’ve certainly made loads of mistakes along the way, but I wouldn’t try to unpick anything now. We’re only looking forward at the moment.

What top 5 tips would you give anyone who wants to launch their own range?

•    Don’t conform to industry conventions
•    Believe in your idea
•    Make sure you work with great people
•    Use natural ingredients
•    Enjoy what you do

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Someone once told me “If you believe in something, go for it and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”.  This has always stuck with me.

Who inspires you?
When I was a kid I was obsessed by Lego and loved making stuff, so the person who first inspired me to be creative was the inventor of Lego, Ole Kirk Christiansen.


I would love to know if any of you have considered launching your own beauty brand - what stands in your way?

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