Trichocare Diagnostics: Brian Plunkett
After 40 years in the haircare industry, silver fox Brian Plunkett has developed an award winning new idea
Brian Plunkett was ‘elated' to win the Silver Fox Award at the Startups Awards 2005, which is given to the best company founded by someone over 50. He humbly congratulated all those present declaring them all to be winners. Plunkett now tells us about how to take an innovative idea into a difficult and aggressive market.
Plunkett has worked in the hairdressing sector all his life, taking his first job as a barber when he was just 14-years-old.
“I could barely read or write when I started, and certainly didn't know anything about running a business,” he laughs.
However, Plunkett put himself through night school and later trained as a trichologist; someone who is trained in the science of the hair and scalp.
He worked happily as a trichologist for many years, but soon found himself with an idea in his head that he simply couldn't ignore; he wanted to develop a home-testing kit for allergies from hair dye.
“It was through seeing a lot of people who had hair dye allergies that gave me the idea to do something,” he says.
“But a lot of the major companies didn't want to accept that there was a problem.”
Yet there did appear to be a problem, with research showing that there were an estimated 300,000 people with the allergy, in the UK. However the only testing method was slow, cumbersome and as a result rarely used.
Convinced that there was a market there for him to exploit, Plunkett's next step was to use his contacts at Cranfield University to develop his idea.
“Having the help of an academic institution was a great benefit.
“They are more sympathetic when it comes to billing and there is always a PhD student around who can take things on.
“It is about developing a relationship with a university, they benefit from the publicity, so it is good for them too.”
Plunkett was also learning about the cutthroat nature of the industry that he was in, and realised that if he was to safeguard his product's entry into the market, he had to take precautions.
“I was advised to make sure than anyone I revealed details to had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
“You could talk to a major company about an idea who could then go away and develop the idea without you.”
After scientific testing and academic backing Plunkett's product, Colourstart, was market-ready and a cash injection from a government Smart award enabled him to launch.
His business, Trichocare Diagnostics, launched in October 2003 and had an estimated turnover of £350,000 for 2005.
The company comprises of Brian Plunkett, his wife Anne and his son Nick.
“It has been really brilliant,” says Plunkett. “However, much of our success is down to careful housekeeping.
“It is one thing having a good business plan but it is another thing sticking to it – that's where Nick is so good.”
However, it has not all been plain sailing and Plunkett says that the impact on his home life has been hard.
“It's been difficult, though not marriage breaking, my wife works really hard in the company too.
“We never used to talk about work and we try not to now, but it is a 24 hour a day thing.”
The company now has plans for expansion beyond the UK and has a distributor in Denmark to take the product across Scandinavia.
However, overseas expansion means is another minefield for Trichocare Diagnostics to cross.
“We were approached by a company in Cyprus who wanted to sell Colourstart there, says Plunkett.
“However, then we found out from a contact that what this company did was buy a product at rock-bottom prices and then re-imported it into the UK!
“This could have undercut us very badly.”
Minefields aside, Plunkett now looks forward to a bright future with an innovative, profitable and expanding company and, of course, with a Startups award in the bag.
“It was a great day. I was delighted not just for myself but for the whole team,” he says.