3 ‘simple’ business ideas that became global success stories
Started in the last 15 years these three British brands created new markets and took on the world. Here’s how
The world is full of successful business ideas, but many are only obvious with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.
So what really makes business ideas work, especially when it comes to the tricky art of making a local success a global one?
How James Averdieck’s luxury desserts conquered France and then the world
James Averdieck founded adult dessert brand Gü in 2003, building it up before eventually selling it to Noble Foods for £32.5m in 2010.
Averdieck came up with the idea for Gü while working for St Ivel in Belgium. He fell in love with the excellent local patisseries and chocolates, and decided there was a gap in the market for an adult, indulgent pudding of restaurant quality.
“I’d been at St Ivel for 10 years and really understood the market inside out – the manufacture, the distribution and how to bring products to market,” he says.
Gü was timed to perfection in terms of the growth of demand for artisanal products. In the UK Marks & Spencer was producing luxury desserts but there was nothing for other retailers to sell.
The brand launched in 2003 with a chocolate soufflé, and two types of chocolate mousse sold in classy glass packaging.
“We wanted a name that was memorable and it is based on gout meaning taste in French. However, we realised that in the UK that would be pronounced as gout, and Gü as a brand has travelled well to other markets.”
A key milestone was breaking into the French market in 2006. Not only is it one of Europe’s biggest markets, but they also take their desserts very seriously, and are prepared to pay premium prices.
Notably, Gü established itself in Paris first and agreed an exclusive deal with Monoprix (similar to Waitrose in France). Expansion was city by city and region by region until the company achieved a level of distribution that justified a national advertising campaign. Gü products are now sold across Europe, in the US, and in Australia.
Where Gü manufactured in the UK and exported, this option isn’t open for Averdieck’s latest venture the Coconut Collaborative which produces healthy coconut based yogurts and now desserts such as chocolate ganache and rice pudding. He aims to tap into the growing market for healthy food that delivers great taste using his experience of building his dessert empire.
“We have had to make the yogurt using local manufacturers. It has been hard for us to find the right people to make it, but that means it should be tough for competitors to recreate.”
For Averdieck it is not the simplicity of the idea that is the point, but the excellence of execution. “You make a promise and you have to deliver on that promise. That comes through focusing on quality at every stage. Anybody can make chocolate mousse, but producing it to that quality and in a glass jar was hard.”
The Coconut Collaborative is predicted to turnover £3.2m in 2016, with new markets in the US, Scandinavia and the Far East identified.
The flipchart alternative using static energy to build a global business
As a trainer in the NHS, Neil Westwood used flipcharts and stands which were heavy and cumbersome. He decided that if he wanted a product that was portable and lightweight then so would a lot of others. One day he saw a roll of cling film and it inspired the idea of a white board that could be unrolled and stuck to a surface using static.
Imminent redundancies in his area were the spur to develop the idea. He spent three months on Google trying to find someone who could make it, launching in 2006.
“I located a supplier in Germany who spoke little English but somehow managed to understand what I was after. I sent him £1,000 and waited for a shipment to arrive. It seems incredibly naïve, but it worked.”
Westwood’s breakthrough came after a successful appearance on Dragons’ Den in 2008 which resulted in investment from Deborah Meaden and, more notably, Theo Paphitis with the Ryman founder stocking it in 230 stores. “That was probably one of the biggest stepping stones for us. When you invent a product you think that a great idea will just sell, but it’s only the beginning. Distribution is such an unsexy concept, but it is the basis of business success, much more important than things like marketing and PR.”
The show also acted as a global salesman and it is now exported to 20 countries worldwide. The website was translated into French, German and Spanish increasing online orders by more than 30% in a year.
This year, Magic Whiteboard is launching in Japan at the ISOT trade show in Tokyo and the company has a secret weapon – Margaret Thatcher’s House of Lords robes which the company bought at auction for £84,000 at Christie’s. According to Westwood, the Iron Lady is revered as powerful and disciplined in Japan, and he expects the robes to attract a lot of attention to his burgeoning range of products.
As well as the original Whiteboard, the company now also sells blackout blinds, notebooks and reusable post it notes. It’s a tough market, but he hopes to push sales to £1.5m this year.
How co-founder Simon Duffy started a new breed of cosmetics for men
Skincare brand Bulldog was launched by Simon Duffy in 2005 who spent two years developing a product that was based on natural ingredients.
Female skincare brands were doing natural personal care but no men’s brands were in the space. “It was a leap of faith to try to something new in the men’s market that has proven a graveyard for many big brands unable to deliver sustainable launches,” says Duffy.
Bulldog created a brand that made a virtue of its attention to detail and set out to convince men that they should care as much about what they put on their skin as they did about the food they ate. It was disruptive at the point of sale with strong stand out branding, that conveyed the message that it was developed specially for men and not as ‘me too’ by a predominantly female cosmetic line.
“Generic launches don’t tend to work,” says Duffy. “At least they require absolutely loads of investment.”
After launching in 2007, the brand started to export in 2010. Having built up a 10% market share in the UK, it is now a key player with listings in major multiples. This proved the concept in a mature market and allowed Bulldog to scale in other markets.
“Sweden is the best example of Bulldog’s potential,” he says. “In the channels we play in we are at more than 50% share – much bigger than L’Oreal’s second place brand. We are also a key brand in Olive Young – Korea’s largest men’s skincare retailer.”
The brand has sought to adapt its approach to each new market with translated packaging and even new products, but rooted in brand consistency of natural ingredients, quality products and cruelty-free testing.
In the meantime, business is booming. 2016 will see continued growth in the UK, and a key launch into a new sector in men’s grooming. In the US Bulldog is launching with two big retailers and anticipates major progress.