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Three minutes with Simon Duffy

Simon Duffy

Is it possible for a start-up to enter the male grooming market and take on the might of the likes of L'Oreal and Unilever? Simon Duffy of Bulldog Natural Grooming is doing just that. Here he shares his successful business story.

Simon Duffy has every reason to sound cheerful when describing the runaway success of his male grooming products business, Bulldog.

Founded just four years ago by Simon and his old friend Rhodri Ferrier, Bulldog began as nothing more than an outlandish idea: to create a new range of men's skincare products from natural products, at a reasonable price, in the UK. Over a few drinks in the pub one evening in late 2005, Simon sat down with Rhodri to hammer out the basics of his idea.

Creating a unique product from scratch

Watching his girlfriend's buying habits, Simon had noticed that there were plenty of natural skincare products for women, but nothing on the market that was uniquely and solely for men.

'Ours are products designed by men for men,' he says proudly; 'they're not an offshoot of one of the international female skincare brands.' It was important to him to create something new and different, something that could stand out and appeal directly to ordinary blokes in the supermarket.

The pricing and marketing were crucial, and Simon is keen to stress that there was no 'magic formula' for getting these right. He explains, 'We just went with what felt right to us. Men are never going to spend £20 on moisturiser. They want something that's affordable and available wherever they do their regular shopping.'

Getting on the supermarket shelves

Bulldog's 2007 deal with Sainsbury's solved that last problem, providing a stepping-stone to greater things. The nationwide launch propelled the company forwards; Simon now expects turnover to reach £1.5 million in 2010 and has ambitious plans to expand overseas.

Not that getting the deal was easy: 'When you get meetings with a big retailer, there's a myriad of things you have to give them confidence about. You have to show that you've thought of everything, from regulatory requirements to the quality of ingredients.'

Before this, they had to get that all-important first meeting. Simon recommends doing careful research to make sure you are approaching the people best placed to help progress your business. This includes making a list of names of people, rather than just companies you want to target.

'Through cold calling we managed to meet the right person, but you have to persevere until you get there. Create opportunities by going to trade shows and make sure you can sum your ideas up quickly and effectively', Simon advises.

Attracting investors

Then there was the financial hurdle. Bulldog needed significant funding from the outset to formulate the products and launch the brand. Simon and Rhodri had over 100 meetings with angel investors, many of whom they approached directly rather than through intermediaries. 'That was incredibly hard work,' says Simon; 'Investors will ask you any and every question. You have to absolutely believe in your idea and have detailed plans ready. We had to learn so much. We're still learning things.'

Such as? 'Do as much as you can in-house,' Simon replies without hesitating. 'Hire people who completely believe in your ideas. Get space in a thriving shared office where you can bounce ideas off others and enjoy a social atmosphere. We're selling overseas now, but looking back perhaps left that a bit late. Overseas has been a great success for Bulldog so I wish I'd thought about that earlier on.'

Above all, he says, action speaks for itself; 'if you've got a good idea, give it a go. Don't live to regret not doing it. If you're serious, get on with it.'

Despite Bulldog's success, Simon's still not satisfied: 'We're competing against international brands like Nivea and Gillette, and they have deep pockets. Once we're bigger than one of those in the UK, I'll be able to relax.'