A lot has been written about British manufacturing over the last few months. Early optimism at the start of the year has waned and recent figures suggest the rebound in manufacturing has slowed. Most recently, steel billionaire Ratan Tata criticised British workers for being ‘lazy’ and ‘unwilling to go the extra mile’. His comments came after he cut 1,500 jobs in three UK factories.
Our manufacturing sector has been in general decline for as long as I’ve been alive. In the 70s, over 20 per cent of the British economy was based on manufacturing, today it’s down to only 12 per cent. One really striking statistic, which was pointed out recently by the Manufacturers’ Organisation, is that in 2010, 36 per cent of a JCB digger was made in the UK. In 1976, this figure was 96 per cent.
I know a number of entrepreneurs that have built very successful businesses over the last five years on the back of overseas sourcing. The siren call of low Far East costs and standard off the peg products is a difficult one to resist, particularly when you are starting up. Unfortunately, I’ve met far fewer people who have started businesses with the core concept of ‘made in the UK’.
My company, Bulldog, sells a range of naturally formulated moisturisers, shave gels, face washes and scrubs, for men. These products are sold widely across the UK in places like Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots and Waitrose. Not only are we managing to survive against huge companies like L’Oreal, NIVEA and Gillette, but we’re actually growing rapidly with sales almost doubling over the last 12 months. All of our products are manufactured here in the UK and I believe it’s been central to our success.
In the personal care industry, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a large number of products you have in your bathroom are manufactured in Eastern Europe and the Far East. And even if the contents of the packaging were made in the UK, its highly likely that the packaging has travelled substantially further.
Manufacturing our products overseas has never been an option for Bulldog. I’ve always felt that the process brings a whole host of complicating factors. You’re manufacturing a long way from home, so quality control can be a real headache. Distance can be a real curse, when things go wrong and it’s easy to underestimate the issues caused by different languages. I’ve heard absolute horror stories from other companies of breakdowns in communications so severe that completely the wrong ingredients made it into products. Of course, these couldn’t be sold and this caused huge headaches all round.
When you’re small and growing fast you need to be extremely flexible with your operations. It’s no good if there’s a problem with a production line that’s thousands of miles away from your desk. My advice to other entrepreneurs is to look closer to home for world-class manufacturing.
My experience of manufacturing our products in the UK has been incredibly positive. We work with a family-run company based in Shropshire to manufacture the Bulldog packaging. They are a very impressive team and love what they do. It’s vital to us that we work with people that are as passionate about our products as we are. Not only have they invested heavily in their operations, they also have a great team that always goes the extra mile to hit our sometimes unrealistic deadlines.
Around the world we get a fantastic reception when we tell people that all of our products are made in the UK. I’m not sure that companies factor the power of the British brand into their thinking as much as they should. Our national reputation for quality is still strong and has certainly been a factor in our export success.
In January 2010 we made our first, tentative step into the world of exporting when we launched Bulldog into Sweden. We initially launched in two of Sweden’s finest department and beauty stores – Åhléns and Kicks. The experience has been terrific and hugely beaten our expectations. We’ve now expanded across Scandinavia and are in nearly 1,000 stores.
So, don’t believe the doom and gloom merchants. British manufacturing has the potential to boom again, despite what Ratan Tata thinks.
Simon Duffy is the founder of Bulldog Natural Skincare