Matt Lumb, Tangle Teezer

9 December 2015

Tangle Teezer sells 17 hair brushes every minute – 13 of them overseas. But managing the company’s international growth can sometimes feel like “holding on to a rocket”, its CEO explains.

Tangle Teezer – the business founded on the hairbrush that goes by the same name – is known by those involved in TV’s Dragons’ Den as “the one that got away”.

Matt Lumb, its chief executive, joined the business in 2010, three years after the company’s founder, hairdresser Shaun Pulfrey, got turned down by the TV entrepreneur investors. Previously accountant at an accident repair firm in the north-west, Lumb is now the “nuts and bolts, day-to-day” man to counterbalance Pulfrey’s creativity. And he’s responsible for 32 staff who are on course to generate in the region of £30m in sales this year.

Lumb says his biggest challenge is ensuring there is enough manufacturing capacity at its facilities in Witney, Aylesbury and Chesham – and constantly thinking 18 months ahead in order to cater for growth.

Already 17 Tangle Teezer hairbrushes are being sold every minute, and with four new products coming to market next year and continued expansion overseas, it’s not surprising that he likens managing that growth to “holding on to a rocket”.

Export champion

Exports are necessary for Tangle Teezer to deliver the scale the business has set its sights on. With customers in more than 60 countries, overseas markets now account for 86 per cent of sales. And in November, the company was declared Export Champion of the Year at the Growing Business Awards.

Global sales were part of Tangle Teezer’s strategy from day one, starting in Holland, then expanding across Europe. It has since developed a network of exclusive distributors in countries as far afield as Australia and China.

Using distributors has been a good way to keep things as simple as possible, propel sales and share the risk and reward of entering a new market, says Lumb. But he emphasises the importance of doing careful research and finding the right partners that you can trust – and, although it has rarely done so in the past, Tangle Teezer has changed three distributors this year.

As a sign that it is learning from experience, the company also opened up direct sales operations in North America in February 2015. “Sales were not progressing as quickly as we would have liked,” explains Lumb. But he adds that this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the start of developing a larger physical footprint overseas.

The firm is changing its approach to marketing though as, rather than relying on word of mouth as it has done, it has hired Leeds-based agency Cloud 9 – which has also worked with hair straightening brand GHD – in order to drive brand awareness overseas. A marketing manager is also starting at Tangle Teezer in the new year.

For Lumb, this is the obvious next step. After all, his main advice on exports is to take a common sense approach – and to get the best people you can afford to help you, as soon as you can afford it. Both points can be used by other small companies looking for growth, but Tangle Teezer has also achieved Cool Brand status – and the strength of the product idea, which transcends national borders, has everything to do with its success.