Shaun Pulfrey has sold more than £100 million-worth of brushes in little over 10 years. Curious? He reveals all.
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Shaun Pulfrey's Tangle Teezer has revolutionised the way we brush our hair - and banked a cool £100 million in the process. He talks celebrity fans, exporting around the world and four years topping the business growth league tables.
1) Give us the lowdown:
Tangle Teezer created a whole new category in the hair care industry – “detangling” – and is now the world’s best selling detangling hairbrush brand. We manufacture a range of hairbrushes in the UK and ship them to more than 70 countries around the world. Since launch we have sold more than 35 million brushes.
2) Why did you think the world needed a new brush?
I was a celebrity hair colourist for many years and often struggled with tangled hair. I developed my own method of detangling by flicking the hair with more than one comb or brush.
I realised this was an issue for hairdressers around the world and decided to invent a product to address the problem. In 2007 I launched the Original Tangle Teezer and it took the world by storm.
3) How have you developed over the years?
We have grown exponentially quickly. From sales of £2m in 2011 with just four staff, we are now at 50 staff and turning over £30m per annum, with sales of more than £100m since launch.
We have featured in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 League Table for the last four consecutive years and the Profit Track League Table for the last two years. In 2010 export sales made up just 2% whereas for the last two years they have made up more than 80% of total sales.
Up until March 2016 we never spent any money on marketing, our growth was organic and mostly word of mouth. We have a proven distribution method and highly valued business partners on every continent.
There are 35 million Tangle Teezer brush owners and counting
4) Is the market in rude health?
Is there a big opportunity and what do you hope to achieve in the future? Innovation is at the heart of everything we do and everything we produce. So, whilst other brands have since launched their own version of a detangling brush, we truly believe ours is by far the best out there.
We’re the market leader in terms of detangling brushes, but we have recently launched a range of styling brushes which have been received extremely well. We have lots of exciting products in the NPD pipeline as well and hope to achieve annual sales of more than £60m in the next five years.
5) Any knots you've had to iron out along the way?
Managing the growth was a real challenge for the first few years and we struggled to make sure that UK supply could keep up with the global demand. We’ve invested more than £1 million in tooling to make sure that we always have enough manufacturing capacity.
With any successful brand comes counterfeits and copycats. We have a strong, global IP portfolio and enforce it on a daily basis.
6) How have you marketed the business?
We launched the product initially in to high end professional hair salons. The stylists love it and so use it, which then gives the product lots of credibility with the client/consumer. We’ve also been very fortunate to have had dozens of celebrity endorsements from all over the world.
We wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay the likes of Victoria Beckham and Cara Delevigne to rave about Tangle Teezer products, but they do it anyway because they love our brushes! Our first foray into mainstream print/digital/social marketing was less than a year ago.
7) What makes running a business hard - and what makes it fun?
Our business has grown so quickly that it’s quite literally been like running a different business every year.
So the challenges have been different every year and have varied from getting the product out there, sourcing reliable UK manufacturing, finding the right international partners, ensuring supply constantly meets demand, finding and retaining excellent staff, positioning the brand as a premium one, and enforcing our IP.
There are many different challenges, but it’s still fun and we still love coming to work every day. The culture at Tangle Teezer is of absolute paramount importance. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Cara Delevigne is said to be a fan of the brushes
8) What one thing would you change about doing business in the UK?
I’m not sure I would. We benefit from great tax breaks, e.g. patent box, and we have one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the world. We’re a huge supporter of British manufacturing and all our products are 100% designed and manufactured in the UK.
9) What’s your biggest mistake?
We’ve made many mistakes along the way. It’s impossible not to when we’re growing as quickly as we have. We just try and make sure we never make the same ones twice.
When I launched the brand in 2007, I registered patents, trademarks and designs into those countries where I thought we might sell one day. It was a significant expense for a start-up and as a result, there were a few countries where I declined to register I.P at the time. One of them was Taiwan.
Shortly after launching in the UK, a copy of a Tangle Teezer hairbrush appeared on a TV shopping channel in Taipei with a video of myself promoting ‘the copy’ (which was, of course, actually the real thing!). If it wasn’t so serious, it would have been hilarious.
That fake product closed off the Taiwan market to us for nearly five years, and could have threatened opportunities in the much bigger Chinese market too. Plus it cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost sales, and many thousands in legal fees to rectify, and a fair few sleepless nights to boot!
10) What sets your business apart from the rest?
We created the category. Our products are incredibly functional. Our hairbrushes are the only ones that stylists, celebrities and the consumer talk about every day of the week. They’re fun, they’re affordable and most importantly they do exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Tangle Teezer has featured in the Sunday Times Fast Track four years running
11) How have you developed your staff?
We have an incredibly low staff turnover and the senior management team has remained the same and been in place since 2011. I’m a huge believer in empowerment and in the rapid development of staff.
I think it was Richard Branson that said ‘train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough that they don’t want to,’ and I couldn’t agree more.
We’ve recruited by word of mouth, by using agencies and we’ve had a few staff follow previous line managers to Tangle Teezer.
We offer excellent remuneration packages that help support the staff member’s family as well as the employee. We make sure they’re constantly being developed, challenged, mentored, and when the working day is done we try and make sure we have fun.
12) How do you rate government support for growing business and why?
I think the British government have been extremely supportive of entrepreneurs and we’ve had some great help and support from the UKTI over the years. Exporting British goods is a vital part of growing our economy.
13) Give us your top three tips for people starting a business today
1) Find staff that re better than you are at what they do, and then make sure you keep hold of them. Every successful business has a great management team behind it. It’s rarely down to one person.
2) If it’s possible to get any intellectual property protection around your brand/product such as patents, trademarks, design registrations etc then get as many as you can afford and apply for them before you launch your product (you can’t do it retrospectively).
Money is sparse at launch of course, but try and allocate as much as you can to global IP protection.
3) Choose the right overseas business partners carefully, make them a part of your family and support them as much as you can in growing your brand around the world.