Mother's pride at son's brush with success
Five television Dragon investors may have given him the brush off, but Grimsby-born Shaun Pulfrey's hair care product now has the backing of the head of state. Business editor David Laister caught up with the latest winner of the Queen's Award for Enterprise in Innovation, and the first member of the Tangle Teezer team – his mother.
SHAUN Pulfrey is looking forward to the Buckingham Palace invite that follows the ultimate business plaudit.
Taking up his plus one will be his mother Wendy Pulfrey. "I couldn't think of anyone I'd sooner have by my side," he said as he spoke about the event, likely to fall within this Diamond Jubilee year.
"I said to my mum she'll need a new hat, and she said 'and a dress!'," he said, laughing, as he recalls one of their conversations. For his mum provided the extra pair of hands, and no doubt ears, required in the beginning.
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"In the early days we would be sat watching Corrie and assembling and packaging up the products. She would travel down to my flat in London, make sure I was fed, make sure the place was clean, help me with the orders and head back home again."
That home is just off North Sea Lane, in Cleethorpes, and Mrs Pulfrey's pride at her son's success is evident.
"It is a great achievement," she said of the news first reported by the Telegraph on Saturday. "He has been working on this for years but in the last few it has really taken off.
"I remember how we used to sit in his lounge clipping the Tangle Teezers together. To win this is fantastic, I'm very proud of him."
With a dad as a trawler skipper and an older brother, Glyn, who followed him to sea, once Shaun's days were over at Matthew Humberstone School, he too sailed out below the Dock Tower. But a couple of trips were enough to convince him that the town's famous industry wasn't for him. Instead he followed his grandfather's footsteps, embarking on a career in hairdressing.
His first job was at Lawson & Stockdale, the town department store, before moving to Manchester, London and then America. He worked for Vidal Sassoon, in Boston, Massachusetts, before returning to the UK.
It was then the development of the Tangle Teezer began, while working as a colourist to the stars.
"As a child he was always doing something, he always wanted to be putting things together, doing jigsaws, anything he could get his hands on," recalled Mrs Pulfrey.
Ready to go with the design complete, and a patent pending, a televised mauling in the BBC's Dragons' Den in 2007 didn't dent his enthusiasm. "They just called it a no-no, but it was his product and he was determined to do well, and he has," she said.
It was actually harsher. Peter Jones branded the Tangle Teezer idea "hairbrained," Deborah Meaden said she had a similar brush in her horse's stable and James Caan thought it was a waste of time.
But, with sales breaking the two-million mark and nearly 10,000 outlets about to be stocked in the US and Germany, and a television shopping channel promotion bringing in the orders from the Far East, the £80,000 for a 15 per cent stake he was offering now looks rather attractive.
Mr Pulfrey has just bought a £1.5 million home in Clapham, and while he doesn't get back to North East Lincolnshire as much as his mum would like, he is in regular contact. "He phones me every day, he is good like that," said Mrs Pulfrey.
For Mr Pulfrey, whose first family home was in Holyoake Road, the Den experience was vital publicity despite the insults. Within weeks of screening more than 5,000 units had been sold.
He had re-mortgaged his flat to get his hands on some working capital – £98,000 – and has not borrowed a penny since.
"It has been self financed," he said. "It was in profit in the second year. That is a source of great pride. I don't think I could have done it by borrowing, I don't think anyone would have listened to me. I have had a few offers now though."
The palm-shaped brush without handle incorporates about 400 teeth of patented design in a unique configuration. For those who know about these things, they are rigid for a firm grip, yet flexible enough to allow for quick, painless and tug free detangling of hair.
Three English factories produce the Tangle Teezer, with Boots giving the mass market exposure in the UK, together with selected salons.
"What we have achieved being in Boots is absolutely amazing," he said. "The success of that has been the role model for what is happening now."
In Germany, Tangle Teezer is to be sold from 1,300 DM stores, with CVS, a 7,300 strong chain in the US, also rolling out this summer.
The biggest challenge now is getting the tooling up to speed with the orders. "At first we had to grow into the volume that could be produced, now we are just surpassing it," he said.
Awards have flowed from the industry, fashion and beauty magazines, and a high profile link-up for the Disney movie Tangled furthered awareness.
A design draped in the Union flag is just about to be launched, and he is working with Wallace And Grommit producers Aardman to create a web-based game featuring Shaun The Sheep.
The Brixton base is a busy one, and with only eight people employed, Mr Pulfrey is extremely hands on.
"It is a tight team, but we have got the right people," he said. With the patent recently granted, Mr Pulfrey sees a long future. "I have done a lot of the groundwork, but it is absolutely fresh still. It has another 20 years of protection.
"We have just closed the last financial year with a £4.4 million turnover. With new products, capacity of tools and growing markets we have got, with just what is on the table now, we will be close to £10 million next year.
"It is going to happen. It is such a simple product, but it is great, and I get excited whenever I talk to anyone about it."