Export story: How Bulldog Natural Grooming conquered Sweden

Bulldog co-founder Simon Duffy explains why he decided to begin exporting - and why Scandinavia proved a profitable first port of call


Bulldog Natural Grooming has shaved off a cut of the UK men’s toiletries market with its organic shaving and moisturising products. Founder Simon Duffy explains why he decided to begin exporting – and why Scandinavia proved a profitable first port of call.

It’s been a hectic few years for Bulldog. After starting up in 2007, the business has managed to find its way into the major multiples and is now the fourth largest men’s toiletries company in the UK. Founder Simon Duffy is predicting turnover to be in the region of £1.5m this year, although this won’t just be from sales in the UK. “We had always been interested in selling abroad but initially we wanted to be a successful business here in the UK,” he says. “We started getting things underway towards the end of 2009 and we selected Scandinavia as a good place to go to first.”

Scandinavia is often a happy hunting ground for UK entrepreneurs; language barriers are nullified by the Nordic propensity for speaking English and Duffy sensed a natural affinity between the two cultures. “There’s been a good track record of UK entrepreneurs having success in Scandinavia and we got the sense they would be receptive to our natural and organic concept.”

Duffy and co-founder Rhodri Ferrier found further help at UK Trade and Investment in Stockholm, which was able to suggest potential partners that could aid its foray into the new market. “This started a reviewing process of the different partners available and, by January this year, we were able to launch nationally.” The company’s Stockholm-based partner had plenty of experience selling in the Scandinavian market and felt it could get the brand into major retailers in the region. Deals with major stores, such as Kicks and Ahlens, were soon on the table and the first orders beckoned.

However, Duffy remained hands-on and was keen to meet the future sellers of his products. “One of the requirements of any deal was that we would be able to be involved with the discussions with the retailers as well. We went to Sweden a number of times to meet people and to do the press launch, too.”

Further benefits of going to Scandinavia were uncovered. Surprisingly, Swedish law did not require any changes to the packaging, which meant the goods could be shipped straight out of the UK as soon as there was an order. Currently, Bulldog outsources its manufacturing to a company in the north of England, its packaging is done in East Anglia and the completed goods are warehoused in the Midlands before heading out to retailers.

Exporting to a country such as Sweden was not much harder than shipping goods to Bristol. All Duffy needed to do was to employ a freight company and prepare a small amount of paperwork. “I think this was something I was concerned about but it wasn’t a problem at all,” he says. However, he found that the logistics/freight market in the UK is generally competent and professional and previous fears were allayed. “They ship it from a UK port right across Sweden. There were some technical questions that we had to answer such as, ‘would our products be ok when they were transported by trucks in minus 25c temperatures?’ But nothing too difficult.”

Following the successful launch in Sweden, and off the back of the deals with Kicks and Ahlens, Bulldog has now moved into Norway and Finland. More overseas deals are in the pipeline and Duffy reckons Bulldog, which still only has six staff in-house and is paid in sterling for its international business, is on course for revenues of around £1.5m this year. The weak pound is doing him no harm and, having popped Bulldog’s cherry in Scandinavia, he isn’t looking back. “For a small UK company this was a great opportunity and the weak pound means this a great time to be exporting.”         

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