Bulldog – a man’s world

When friends Simon Duffy and Rhodri Ferrier founded Bulldog in February 2006 they were looking to profit from a previously untapped market, that of natural male grooming products. It seems that this was exactly what UK consumers had been waiting for, reports Katie Middleweek

Bulldog founders: Duffy (right) and Ferrier (left)

When friends Simon Duffy and Rhodri Ferrier founded Bulldog in February 2006 they were looking to profit from a previously untapped market, that of natural male grooming products. It seems that this was exactly what UK consumers had been waiting for, reports Katie Middleweek

For anyone looking to set up a new business, even when done with a partner, it is a big undertaking. Simon Duffy, co-founder of male grooming brand Bulldog, says that looking back he wouldn’t do anything differently but his advice to others looking to do the same would be to “never underestimate the sheer hard work and effort, not to mention the cost of setting up in business”.

Indeed, Duffy actually slept on friends’ sofas and even lived on a building site for six months to save the money to invest and his determination and focus are evident. Both Duffy and his partner Rhodri Ferrier resigned from their jobs in early 2006, pooling their life savings of £37,000 to get the business off the ground. The name Bulldog came from the concept of the dog being a man’s best friend – something that the founders hoped to replicate with the range – and also because Ferrier had a pet bulldog called Spike as a child.

The lightbulb moment

Duffy says the idea for Bulldog came to them very naturally. “We were just two friends talking about male skin care products in the pub one day and we remarked how there were no natural skin care ranges specifically available for men like there are for women. It seemed such an obvious gap in the market and we just thought that it was such a good opportunity for us. The Bulldog range now comprises 13 products which are natural, free from parabens and synthetic fragrances, not tested on animals and packaged in recyclable materials.”

Up until that point Duffy had worked in marketing and Ferrier in finance and they figured that their combined skills would provide the perfect mix. They were both working in New York, where they had met, when they came up with the idea and resigned after they were happy that they had looked at the business concept from all angles.

Duffy adds: “It was a huge step for us and looking back now there was so much that we didn’t know. But ultimately it has been very satisfying that from launching in February 2006 we have achieved a lot in a relatively short space of time.”

From humble beginnings with its very first product, Bulldog Original Moisturiser, the range now boasts 13 skus

From launching nationwide with an exclusive contract with Sainsbury’s in July 2007, Bulldog is now available in over 2,000 doors in the UK, having added Boots, Debenhams, Wholefoods, Waitrose, Planet Organic, Tesco and Ocado to its list of retailers. And the figures also speak for themselves as Duffy highlights: “In the first year we turned over £500,000 worth of sales and by the end of 2010 we expect this figure to be £1.5m – and of course this is worth more at retail. We are lucky that we have seen steady growth from the start.”

Something about what Bulldog offers seems to have tapped into the male consciousness and, as well as steady sales in the UK, the brand has recently made the move overseas. January this year saw Bulldog’s arrival in Swedish retailers – department store Ählens and mass market retail chain Kicks – and success there has meant it is now rated as the third fastest growing product in the male skin care sector.

Duffy continues: “We feel that this brand has real global potential and in the past six months we have also moved into Norway, Finland, Japan and the US. We are trialling the products in 30 stores in Japan and 29 stores in the US and so far feedback has been very encouraging.

“And our home business continues to be strong – in the Republic of Ireland alone we have 50 independent health stores stocking Bulldog. We are helped enormously in our domestic business by our distributor, Tree of Life, which has been terrific.”

Opportunity knocks

Duffy feels that most men will come back to Bulldog once they have had the opportunity to try the products. “Many men suffer from sensitive skin,” says Duffy “and Bulldog products are great for this because they are so natural. From our shaving gels and facial washes to our hero product the Bulldog Original Moisturiser, our formulations are packed full of essential oils and natural actives and once tried so many customers tell us they will never revert to conventional formulas”.

Duffy adds that Bulldog currently sits in fourth position in the UK men’s skin care market, its biggest competition coming from Beiersdorf, Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal, but he emphasises that the formulations for many of these competitor products are practically identical, offering men little choice if they wanted something natural –until Bulldog came along.

“In our relatively short time in the market we have seen many other male grooming brands come and go, some with huge marketing and advertising budgets which we have never had, and this makes our success more satisfying in a way. These brands have included Vaseline Men and Simple for Men among others so they have lots of money pumped into making them work and sometimes they don’t go the distance for whatever reason.”

The process of getting Bulldog’s initial listing at Sainsbury’s was a long and arduous one but one that ultimately bore much fruit for the company. As Duffy reflects: “It was April 2007 when I took the initial call from Sainsbury’s and from then on we were plunged into a lengthy process of due diligence. Although it was one that was ultimately worth it and they obviously recognised what consumers would see in Bulldog – and this confirmed what we already knew.”

Male domination

Alongside Duffy and Ferrier there are two other people who work full time for Bulldog and both are male, making for a very masculine environment at Bulldog’s Ladbroke Grove head office. Although a small core team, the brand collaborates with many other partners in its daily operations. All products are manufactured in the UK with what Duffy calls a “third party specialist” and local production is very important to Bulldog on an environmental level. “It is key for us that what we are doing is not harming the planet. When we export our products they are all transported by sea rather than air to minimise our carbon footprint. We also collaborate with partners for logistics purposes so we don’t have our own trucks or our own warehouses.”

Duffy is also very proud that Bulldog was the first global male C&T brand to launch a fairtrade product, with its Eco-System Shave Gel and Eco-System Moisturiser hitting shelves in July 2009, distinguished from other Bulldog products by their dark brown packaging. Through this work, Bulldog supports co-operatives in Paraguay for sugar, Ghana for shea butter, Nicaragua for sesame seed oil, Peru for Brazil nut oil and Sri Lanka for green tea.

Duffy remarks that starting any business, let alone one in the highly competitive world of male grooming is high risk, nerve wracking and requires effort on a scale that is hard to imagine before you begin, but ultimately he and Ferrier can look back on the past four years as contented and successful businessmen, a dream realised and still very much in the ascendant. And it doesn’t end there – Duffy says he won’t stop until he has “a Bulldog in every bathroom in Britain” – and you wouldn’t bet against him.

Bulldog gets on its soap box
Ben Grace is Bulldog’s marketing director and responsible for the website, promotional and marketing activity, a big part of which involves the sponsorship of viral internet hit David Mitchell’s Soap Box which Bulldog sponsors
“This online activity, which is a series of comedy slots fronted by Peep Show comedian David Mitchell, is our biggest marketing activity to date and is doing really well for us. Because it is an online campaign, viewed by people via Facebook, YouTube and The Guardian’s website among others, it is often in the list of top ten podcasts. Men are obviously our target consumer group and the internet plays a big part in their lives – the show has had six million hits so far and it has been a big success. Bulldog sponsors the branded bumpers at the beginning and end of each show and the medium of online gives us lots of scope and flexibility to get our message across.
“The same goes for our actual website which we want to be very interactive and informal, while carrying all the necessary information. We can’t compete with the budgets that the other companies have but in a way they can’t connect with their customers as effectively as us because of their size. Our website has an inbuilt content management system which allows brilliant flexibility in terms of different campaigns or promotional drives that we might be running at any one time. We also have our online newsletter called The Kennel and for example when we were promoting our new fairtrade products last year we were able to theme this newsletter with lots of imagery and dialogue around that theme.
“Having such an interactive website allows a great two-way dialogue with our customers and we are also able to offer them certain discounts. We have partnered with the satellite channel Dave in the past and have been able to offer customers discounts of up to 25% when quoting this show. We are also very active on Facebook and Twitter and see social media as a key channel for us going forwards. Building customer relationships is vitally important to Bulldog and is something we will continue to invest in.”

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