On the up · 1 December 2017

Smelly ski boots led this entrepreneur to create an innovative new product

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James Robbins had the original idea for Drysure on a ski holiday in Austria

At 38-years old, startup founder James Robbins gave up his business development job last year to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions full-time.

His business Drysure has created a game changing new product with an eco-friendly concept that uses moisture-absorbing silica oxide beads (surrounded by a shell to help airflow) to dry outdoor sports footwear.

Having launched officially just last year, Robbins has already sold over 14,000 pairs of Drysure shoe/boot drying devices. Business Advice caught up with the entrepreneur to find out what’s next for his brand.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m James Robbins, a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast, and the founder of Drysure, an eco-friendly boot/shoe drying product designed to dry out footwear for people who love outdoor pursuits.

(2) How long have you been around for?

I had the original idea for Drysure boot and shoe dryers in 2013 whilst on a ski holiday in Kitzbühel, Austria, after a day of extreme weather and a temperature change from -18ºC to +4ºC . The thought of having to put wet ski boots on the next morning wasn’t nice, so the brainstorming started and Drysure was born.

The products were designed in 2014, and we started manufacturing and tooling in 2015, before a soft launch in February 2016. We then made our official launch at the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard show on 25 October last year, and to date have over sold over 14,000 pairs.

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(3) Where did your business idea come from? 

Like a lot of people who ski, I have custom foot beds in my ski boots. The foot beds are molded to fit my feet and designed to provide me with the support I need for better stance and balance when I ski.

After a hard day skiing, I would put my boots on traditional heated dryers – which warped my foot beds. This caused a great deal of pain – because my foot beds had essentially become ineffective.

Another issue I had was that from an early age I constantly suffered from wet, cold and smelly ski boots. There was a lack of products available to tackle both problems, so I explored the possibility of creating my own solution.

(4) What was key in terms of getting started?

The backing of my family was very important. I would drive my wife and friends mad with my frustrations over my wet ski boots and cold feet. The more I discussed it, the more people I found who were experiencing the same problem. I thought there must have been a better way to dry footwear quickly and without the need for electricity, which isn’t always accessible.

Friends and family would tell me to shut up or do something about it, so I drafted my vision for Drysure and took my initial designs to several product designers for advice and feedback.

The initial development stage had some frustrations, and I was advised to visit a trade show in China to speak to prospective manufactures in person. Taking time out from my full-time job, I flew out to China to find a way to turn the Drysure design into a viable product. By the time I returned home we had our first sample.

(5) Any major setbacks along the way?

Initially, the tooling costs were too high. A product like Drysure had never been made before, so creating the tools to build the product was an initial barrier.

The prices I was quoted didn’t make for good business, but the best way to overcome that hurdle was taking that trip to China and meeting people in person, dealing with them directly to come up with a viable, cost effective solution.

There were also some considerations around creating a shell that would allow the product to easily slide into a pair of shoes or boots, but still allow enough airflow to absorb moisture and dry the footwear effectively.

Ultimately, this led to a solution, and we developed a design that allowed for ease of use and effective airflow – meaning Drysure is twelve times more effective than air-drying.

(6) How do you make social media work for your business? Which platforms do you use?

Social media is vital for any business looking to reach new markets. We are a young business and growing an engaging social presence is a key factor in expanding our reach, both in the UK and internationally.

We are active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and work alongside brand ambassadors such as British Parasnowsports athletes Millie Knight, Brett Wild and Chris Llyod.

Good PR is social media currency, so being seen and heard in the press is an important part of our social media strategy. We’ve also invested in quality product imagery and photography. Social media is visual, so it’s crucial that the images used reflect the values and quality of Drysure as a brand.

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James Robbins: “Drysure is twelve times more effective than air-drying”

(7) What’s been the key in pitching to buyers?

Most buyers in the outdoor sports world understand the need for effective, boot and shoe dying. The fact our product requires no heat, electricity or electronic technology of any kind is a major differentiator that helps the product sell itself.

Drysure compliments ski boots, hiking boots, walking boots, cycling shoes, run shoes and all types of sporting footwear, so for retailers it’s an easy upsell to their consumers.

(8) What one tip would you give to new brands starting out?

Take your time. I am not saying that you can go really slow as you don’t want to miss the boat. But by taking your time you are able to manage/pay the startup costs in a much more manageable way, you are able to get develop, learn and get feedback on your idea which is so valuable. Taking time has allowed me to make the product that I wanted and one that the customer wants.

(9) In five years’ time, I will be…?

Hopefully, still running Drysure, but instead of a company with two products we will have a whole range of different products which we will be selling around the world.

Drysure is a brand that I want to see develop and become the perfect complimenting brand to the likes of Under Armour, Partagonia and many other leading sports and outdoor brands.

(10) Who do you admire in business and why? 

Sir James Dyson. His perseverance and the way he has grown Dyson is something that I look up to everyday. The level of innovation at Dyson is mind boggling, and to have created all of that is amazing, I just hope that I can create that sort of thinking at Drysure in the years to come.

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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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