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Creating a £5m brand in 18 months: Hawkins & Brimble

19th August 2018, 11:08
People & skills
Sales & marketing
stephen shortt hawkins and brimble

When it comes to men’s grooming products there’s one brand that seems to be taking the market by storm. And with seemingly meteoric growth in just 18 months of trading, what is it about the Gloucestershire-born, award-winning brand Hawkins and Brimble that makes it one to watch?

Founder and CEO Stephen Shortt shares with us the secrets of his success, the support he received from the Growth Hub and just how he is now proudly driving a brand with more than £1m turnover and the very brightest of futures.

Firstly tell us a little about the range?

Hawkins and Brimble is a range of men’s grooming products that epitomizes ‘Cool Britannia’. As our website says ‘we’ve revived traditional barber rituals that inspire pride in masculine traditions, so you can up your grooming game for good.’ With an expanding portfolio of products we offer solutions for shaving and skincare, beard and hair products and also clothing so that our customers can really buy into our brand.

Male grooming is a growing market with increasing competition from some of the world’s biggest players – so how do you cut in?

I knew that to be successful we had to have an edge, a compelling brand story and a product experience that was second to none. Other than strong packaging and a competitive price point, one of the areas that I spent most of my time was that of the quality of the products that we created.

Committed to creating a product that is as natural as possible, I spent a long time talking to barbers about what good looked like and then looking for the ingredients that would become the basis for our brand.

Across the category there has been a real trend to use quite heavy aromas such as tobacco and leather but you will see that we use a subtle fragrance of Elemi and Ginseng – ingredients taken from tropical plants which provide an invigorating and enlivening user experience.

So where did The Growth Hub step in?

I was referred to the Growth Hub by another advisor, initially as a place to come and work from and hold meetings with my team. This suited us as we didn’t want to get our own office which would add to our costs.

Once I started visiting more I made contact with some of the Growth Hub team who were able to, and have continued to offer me advice and training around a range of topics including export, sales and marketing. I now work with Business Guide Peter Brown, who I know from his time within the manufacturing and cosmetics industry. Having Peter on hand, as an expert who understands my business is invaluable and I will continue to draw upon his support as the needs of our business grow.

I really love the Growth Hub as it’s got a real entrepreneurial spirit and buzz to it, and even now, with a larger team behind me we still come and work from the Open Space whenever we need to.

With significant success already in place, where does Hawkins and Brimble go from here?

We are projecting £1.5m sales in Year 2 and we have set ourselves a Year 4 target of £5m sales which is more than achievable. The exponential growth we have already seen shows that by getting into the right markets, with a great product and a clear strategy – anything is possible.

We’re already well-established in the premium retail channel in 15 countries including the UK, Netherlands, South Africa, Czech Republic, and Portugal. For the home market, whilst we are already in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Boots Online, we really want to get our products on shelf in Boots stores.

Outside the UK, our efforts will be put into expanding our reach throughout the USA and into Canada. Having set up a business in the US we have a warehouse in Virginia, and people on the ground, there is still huge scope for us to expand into North and South America. China requires a different approach as unless we are prepared to test our products on animals, which we are not, we can only sell online. But even with these using online platforms such as Tmall we have access to 500 million buyers.

What is it about this brand that still excites you?

I consider myself very lucky to work with some incredible people. Even though we have grown we are still a small team of 5. But the knowledge, experience and sheer passion that my colleagues have is so energizing. Thanks to the IT infrastructure we have put in place, I am really excited to know that we can continue to grow against our planned trajectory, create new opportunities for a couple of new members of the team but essentially keep ourselves quite small so that the real heart and soul of the business isn’t lost.

And thanks to the commitment of this team we have some incredibly exciting opportunities in the pipeline. Most notably with imminent launches in Spain, Greece, India and Brazil. Make no mistake, retail is a tough category to get into, but having the right people with the right attitude and a product that really does have a singular proposition, we are living proof of just how far these attributes can take us.

And there must be pressures? What are the key things that keep you rooted?

I think the main area of pressure has come from production and unsurprisingly cash. Any new brand entering a market is going to find the same. In the beginning I was able to finance a lot of the operation myself, but as the business grows it just isn’t viable or sensible to do this. The nature of our products and the distribution models we use meant we reached a stage in our growth that in order to be able to meet market demand we needed to look at other options. We are soon to launch our first round of investment via the Crowdcude platform to raise up to £500,000.

And finally, what advice would you give to other businesses looking to grow?

As CEO of a growing business I am still constantly learning, which I love, but based on my experiences so far I would say;

  • Always manage your costs – don’t let your costs control you.
  • Be selective about where you want your product to retail through – this is essential if you want to protect your brand proposition and profile.
  • Having a great product is only the start – you have to also have the vision, the strategy and the sheer determination to make your business a success.
  • Never be afraid to ask for advice – everyone needs a mentor at some stage – don’t let your ego hold you back.
  • And finally the most important: When at times when everything seems to be against you, stay strong and never ever give up!

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