From the top · 13 May 2016

Tangle Teezer CEO Matt Lumb: “Innovation has been at the heart of everything we’ve done”

Launch party for new Tangle Teezer offices, comm by Daniel Jewel, contact was Jackie Ripley
Tangle Teezer’s Shaun Pulfrey and Matt Lumb

Achieving strong, worldwide brand recognition in an extraordinarily short space of time has seemed easy for Tangle Teezer. The British company responsible for the world’s first and best-selling detangling hairbrush began exporting almost immediately after setting up in 2007.

Now, the firm exports 82 per cent of its £28.4m sales revenue to more than 70 countries. Twenty Tangle Teezer brushes are currently being sold every minute, and the brand now seems like a permanent fixture on the Fast Track 100 list of growing UK companies. Despite these astonishing figures, the company still only employs under 50 staff, many based out of one office in central London.

To find out more about what it takes to create and run a successful global brand with a market leading product, all with a small team, Business Advice sat down with Tangle Teezer CEO Matt Lumb at The Business Show 2016. In front of a packed room full of excited delegates, Lumb revealed some of the key decisions and crucial steps his business took to achieve fast, sustainable growth.

“One of the crucial differences is having that ‘Made in Great Britain’ stamp of quality and premium on every product,” Lumb told his audience. “We fly the flag of British manufacturing high and proud and it makes a huge difference, especially in Asia.

“By keeping manufacturing in the UK, I can be at any of our plants within a few hours whenever a discussion or problem with our product arises, without having to deal with flights, time delays or language barriers,” he added.

With one eye focussed permanently on new markets, Lumb explained that the desire of Tangle Teezer founder Shaun Pulfrey to begin exporting as quickly as possible came to define the brand and is central to the business model.

“In the case of many new companies, initial budgets get used mostly on working capital, stock, staff or premises. Shaun had the foresight to put a huge chunk of his initial budget into securing international property rights for Tangle Teezer, which he did in 2006, even before taking the product to market.

“If you’re looking to export to a particular territory and you haven’t got the property rights it’s going to make life hard, as you can’t put it in retrospectively,” Lumb went on to say.

For those small business owners thinking of exporting for the first time, it’s key to find the right partners in the territories you’re thinking of selling in. Lumb explained that by choosing smaller, often startup-level distributors in certain countries, Tangle Teezer was able to develop stronger relationships with export partners, as smaller distributors were able to spend all their time and energy taking the Tangle Teezer product to market.

“Also, go with one distributor per region,” Lumb advised. “It means that that one distributor makes all the return on their investment, as there’s no one else in their market picking up additional sales. It makes for longer-lasting business relationships.”

Tangle Teezer offers a shining example of a small business that’s been unafraid to venture into unchartered territory to achieve growth, providing government with a poster child to encourage other smaller firms into exporting.

Lumb worked closely with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) during the early stages of Tangle Teezer’s international expansion, and found them very helpful, but said that more is needed if the 2020 export target of £1tn is to be achieved.

“There’s still such a lack of expertise and knowledge around exporting,” Lumb explained. “UKTI are a good example of a body that can help, but there’s still a general fear among young companies of ‘where will my product end up?’

“A lot of brands suffer the same problems: parallel importing, the grey market, or third-party sellers around Europe that, if they’re not governed properly, will trash your price and ultimately trash your brand. That would have been our main concern a few years ago, so finding the right partners is crucial,” added Lumb.

An innovative company from the outset, a large part of Tangle Teezer’s appeal has been its dedication to its unique product. The brand is centred on the detangling brush – the first of its kind –  and the team have deliberately shied away from launching other product ranges.

“Up until last year, we’ve focussed solely on the detangling brush, so that hopefully it’ll be the go-to product for customers worldwide. We’ve deliberately not diversified the product range. Shampoos and conditioners, for example, aren’t innovative, and innovation has been the key to everything we’ve done,” added Lumb.

Having already won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in innovation, Lumb sees no limit to the exciting new products Tangle Teezer may be able to introduce in the future. He revealed that founder Pulfrey now spends most of his time working on new products and designs, leaving Lumb to take care of day-to-day operations.

To an eager audience at The Business Show 2016, to which Business Advice was the headline digital media partner, Lumb announced the launch of two new Tangle Teezer products. “We have two new products launching later this year with a design plan to take us through to 2018,” confirmed Lumb.

Currently representing just 1.7 per cent market share of the £7bn a year hairbrush industry, there appears to be very little stopping Tangle Teezer achieving even bigger growth in future. “There’s still a huge amount of room to grow,” confirmed Lumb.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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