British Bulldog triumphs in global markets

 

Collaboration with the right partners is critical to exporting success according to Simon Duffy, co-founder of Bulldog Skincare.

About the author

Simon Duffy is the co-founder of Bulldog Skincare, one of the fastest growing men’s skincare brands in the world. Bulldog’s products are sold in over 18,000 retail points in 15 different countries from the UK and US to Thailand and South Korea.

Simon Duffy

Simon Duffy at a glance

Like so many great products, Bulldog was born out of seeking to address a personal need. On a shopping trip in the US, I realised there wasn’t a natural skincare brand with products or marketing specifically aimed at men – only unconvincing extensions of female brands. That was my ‘gap in the market’ moment.

Working with my friend Rhodri Ferrier to turn that observation into a viable business opportunity was a real leap of faith. Our first year was all about raising capital. It was very important for us to find investors who shared our values and really bought into what we wanted to do.

Getting things off the ground

Finding the right suppliers to help us formulate the products – all of which are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, use natural ingredients and are certified cruelty free – was challenging. But we were determined to approach the types of ingredients used in our products differently from other brands. It’s these values that really sets Bulldog apart.

Getting the products to market was another critical area. We needed to compete head on with established brands like Nivea or L’Oreal just to hit the target market, which was a tough call. It paid off. Within the first 18 months, Bulldog Skincare products were in three major UK supermarkets as well as Boots and carving out a niche for themselves.

Exploring the export market

From the outset we wanted Bulldog to be an international brand. We launched in Sweden, which we’d identified as a manageable market for us in terms of size and familiarity. Without any experience, the large markets in China or the US seemed a step too far. Sweden was a logical choice. Having that level of control in the early stages of exporting was crucial – we were already on a steep learning curve and today we are the leading men’s skincare brand in the country.

And, whilst you can spend an enormous amount of money carrying out consumer and retailer research before launching new products or entering new markets, sooner or later you have to back your idea, have confidence in what you’re doing and just go for it.

Despite the most careful planning, there’s always scope for the unexpected. One of our Swedish retailers, for example, wanted to know what would happen to our moisturisers during transportation in temperatures of -45°C. It wasn’t an issue we’d even considered prior to launch, but it’s certainly on our radar now. We faced a similar issue in Australia when it came to extreme heat, but we’d learnt from that earlier example.

Advice for first time exporters

As examples like that demonstrate, it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for every eventuality before exporting your products to another market. However, having a clear plan for growth is essential. Based on our own experiences, we’d recommend the following steps:

  • Contact UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) to learn more about their Passport to Export service.1
  • Consider if it’s the right time to start exporting. How well do you understand your market in the UK? Will you be taking your eye off the ball by focusing on new territories? Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Find the right suppliers to collaborate with. For example, we had to find people who could help with skincare labelling regulations and legislation in countries such as Thailand and South Korea.
  • Speak to your bank. Your relationship manager may be able to put you in contact with someone who can help with areas such as currency for example.
  • Evaluate what you’re learning. Exporting needs to be complementary to your existing business. We’ve been able to apply a lot of what we’ve learned from exporting to improve our UK operations.
  • Don’t be put off. It may seem daunting to think about the ins and outs of exporting but there are always experts in each subject matter. Break down bigger tasks into smaller component parts and tackle them one at a time.

Juggling the curveballs

“From the outset we wanted Bulldog to be an international brand.”

It’s also important to realise that your experience of exporting will be slightly different in every country you launch in. There will always be curveballs you didn’t anticipate but as long as you’re organised on the core things such as logistics, intellectual property (IP) and contracts, you’re giving yourself the best chance of success.

In our experience, exporting has been a very positive experience. It has enabled us to grow our team, launch new products and try new marketing initiatives overseas.

What’s the key to continued success?

Whenever you’re selling products, it’s important to strike a balance between innovation and continuously improving your ‘hero’ items. For example, we’ve expanded our original range into new lines such as hand creams and lip balms, but we’re always striving to make products such as our Original Moisturiser the best it can possibly be.

Our ambition is to build Bulldog into the biggest skincare brand for men in the world. We aim to achieve this through increased exporting to the countries we’re already active in as well as expanding into new areas.

Whether you’re at the early stages of business or are ready to export, my advice is to have the courage of your convictions and just get started – time is of the essence.

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