From the top · 11 December 2015

Tangle Teezer: From Dragons’ Den rejection to 70 per cent annual growth

CEO Matt Lumb: "“We’re definitely not a startup any more"
CEO Matt Lumb: ““We’re definitely not a startup any more”

For many young companies, exporting to a couple of countries would be a big achievement. Few owners dream of distributing products to 70 locations around the world after eight years of trading.

But this is the reality for detangling hairbrush brand Tangle Teezer, recently named Export Champion of the Year at the 2015 Growing Business Awards, hosted by our sister title Real Business.

Since founder Shaun Pulfrey was rejected from Dragons’ Den in 2007, his company has sold over 20m units – and now generates 86 per cent of its turnover overseas. Sales have grown from £1m to £30m, and the business has been a designated “Coolbrand” four years in a row.

Business Advice spoke to Tangle Teezer CEO Matt Lumb to find out just how a company with thirty staff has grown so rapidly and spread its reach so far – and he had one answer: “Aggressive expansion”.

This year alone Tangle Teezer has “properly started” distributing in India, grown its base in China and made headway into the notoriously difficult to crack US market – described by Lumb as “a graveyard, littered with household names that have tried and failed to make it”.

In the UK Tangle Teezer’s marketing efforts were initially targeted at professional hair salons, but as it has expanded globally the company has used a range of different entry strategies depending on the market, from home shopping networks to selling on airlines.

The firm found its usual methods weren’t working when it came to penetrating the US market, however. “We were working through a distributor in 2014 but we realised at the beginning of this year that it wasn’t working. Things just weren’t moving quickly enough. So we grabbed the bull by the horns and set up a subsidiary company there in February,” said Lumb.

But despite increasing its global reach ambitiously, Lumb has made sure Tangle Teezer remains selective about the type of stockists it sells to. “We’re solely distributed in premium outlets. You won’t find us in mass-market retailers,” he said.

At times such rapid growth in demand has been hard for Tangle Teezers production facilities – which are all based in the UK – to keep up with. “People say that it’s a nice problem to have, worrying about growing too quickly, ensuring enough supply. But it has been really difficult, at times,” said Lumb.

“Until now we’ve been very lean as we’ve grown, which isn’t easy. It’s hard to be lean without being under resourced. At the moment we’ve got 31 staff, and if I’m being completely honest we’ve run out of space. We’re moving to a new office next week, and have two more members of staff joining in the new year,” he continued.

Tangle Teezer certainly shows no signs of slowing down – and Lumb doesn’t want it to. “My absolute nightmare would be annual growth of 20 per cent. It sounds fine, but when you’re used to 70 per cent, it really isn’t enough,” he explained.

The biggest challenge will be managing the transition from trailblazing young disruptors to established brand. “We’re definitely not a startup any more,” said Lumb, “but I can’t see us having 100 employees any time soon.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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