Simon Duffy is 36, and lives in North London. He’s married (soz, ladies) with a baby daughter, and a dog called Bruno. With a background in advertising and product development, it seems natural — no pun intended — that he’d know how to work with a new and big idea. Along with business partner Rhodri Ferrier, he conceived a line of skincare products for men that were akin to the good stuff that women were able to buy for themselves.
Bulldog rolled out in the UK in 2007 in Sainsbury’s, and whilst the business has grown, Simon is keeping it real. ‘We’re certainly a lot bigger now, and are currently operating in 12 countries,’ he says. ‘However, we’re still learning, and by no means do we have all the answers yet.’ Here as some answers! Simon very kindly talked to B&B! about ideas, fundraising, and follow through.
What was the ‘ah ha!’ moment that lead to the start up this business?
The idea for Bulldog came about when I was shopping for skincare products for my wife. All the products she used were natural, and when I went to buy my own I realised that there were just no natural products out there for men. A few days later I met Rhodri and told him about my idea for natural skincare products for men. By the end of the night we had agreed to become business partners. In 2006 we decided to quit our jobs and create Bulldog with no experience in the sector.
Can you talk about the learning curve involved in the start up, and how you’ve grown since then?
Once we had the idea, we did an enormous amount of research into all aspects of product development. Our main considerations were that we wanted to make the highest quality natural skincare products for men, manufacture everything in the UK, and offer great value to consumers.
Personally, I would never spend €30 for a moisturiser, so value was always going to be key. Our Original Moisturiser has a RRP of €8.75 and comes in a 100ml tube, making it considerably cheaper than the smaller sized alternatives from L’Oreal and Nivea. We’re really proud that we can make this affordable without any compromise on our commitment to using the highest quality natural ingredients or delivering great performance. This took an enormous amount of work in the upfront stage.
How did you get the whole thing off the ground?
Initially Rhodri and I combined our life savings and maxed out our credit cards. I think we scraped together just under £37,000. However, once we started talking to large retailers like Sainsbury’s, we realised we were going to need additional funds.
Raising money is a very hard thing to do. We spoke to hundreds of potential investors and got knocked back more times than I care to remember. Ultimately, we found a group of people who loved our concept of removing controversial chemicals and replacing them with the highest quality natural ingredients. The people who invested in Bulldog are as passionate about Bulldog as we are.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to go out on their own in business in general, and skincare in particular?
Don’t conform to industry conventions, and make sure you work with great people.
It’s been a really steep learning curve, especially at the beginning as we were total outsiders to the industry. Nothing is insurmountable however, providing that you approach every challenge with an open mind, and actively look to seek out people more experienced than you to help at critical stages. We’ve learnt a great deal through collaborating with great people.
I am struck by the packaging design — most dude stuff has very macho names, and the containers are black or silver with like, racing stripes all over them. Can you talk about the approach that you took to designing the line’s appearance, and the ethos behind it?
We compete with massive multinational companies who spend tens of millions of pounds on marketing their brands. There’s nothing unique about them as they pretty much do everything the same. They all use very similar formulations, market their products in exactly the same way, and really are just repackaging traditionally female products for men.
We wanted to bring something exciting and fresh to the skincare category and we wanted our packaging to reflect this. We set ourselves the challenge of standing out rather than blending in. When you can’t afford to run massive advertising campaigns, you have to let your products do the talking for you. We like to think that the shelf is our opportunity to catch people’s eye.
Last year I got some samples of Bulldog’s products, and very boldly used them myself instead of passing them on to the dudes in my life! Turnabout is fair play!
Seriously though, I thought they were great, especially the face scrub. It’s not as if there’s not enough product for women out there, but have you thought about applying your principles to lady product?
Great to hear this! We do know that our face scrub, face wash and moisturiser have something of a female cult following, which is great. However, we have no plans to launch a new range or a sub-range in this area. There are just so many ‘For Men’ version of female brands, where men know that they are being treated as something of an afterthought. We only want to focus on men’s skin, and unlike pretty much 100% of our competition, Bulldog is 100% focused on men and their skincare needs.
Any new launches we should look out for?
Watch out for our brilliant new roll-on deodorant, coming later this year. We are also working on some great gifting sets and you should start to see some new options in the later part of this year as well. We’re also working on some new face wash products, but we can’t quite reveal any exact details in this area just yet!