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Simon Duffy: The founder changing the male skincare scene

The idea for male skincare company Bulldog was born in 2005 when founder, Simon Duffy, noticed that there were no straightforward skincare options that were made for him. Looking at the shelves, there were products he used, but no products he loved.

Bulldog is now a flourishing business and making it’s mark in the FMCG sector. Dynamic Business had a chat to founder, Simon Duffy, about creating a successful FMCG company, managing competition and advice for those who want to follow suite.

There are major competitors in the FMCG market, how did you manage to compete with the big guys?

When you start something new in men’s skincare, the are several bigger companies that have many advantages such as famous brands, momentum with the big retailers, and huge marketing budgets.

By contrast, when we started Bulldog in the UK in 2007, we were starting from zero on all these fronts. What we were able to do was to make better and more positive choices across manufacturing, formulation and branding.

Bulldog’s products have been purpose built for men and are not just a men’s version of what was initially a woman’s product. Our formulations are highly effective and use natural ingredients. We’ve always tried to make more environmentally responsible choices such as never using plastic microbeads. We are certified by Cruelty-Free International and are proud to be part of the global campaign to end cosmetic tests on animals. I think it’s the combination of these elements that men have come to love in Bulldog.

As our company has grown, we’ve found that men are increasingly interested in more natural formulas. However, what will never change for male skincare users is that they are demanding in terms of performance and results. It’s been crucial for Bulldog to really deliver to men’s needs. Our success in doing this has helped the brand to grow through word-of-mouth recommendations.

From a branding perspective we also very purposefully intended Bulldog to stand out in a crowded market. Before Bulldog, the men’s skincare aisle was a sea of blacks, blues and greys. All these products were marketed with complicated skincare jargon. Our simple white packaging was chosen to be different; and our simple and straightforward language was intended as an antidote to the unnecessary complexity we saw elsewhere.

We love the Bulldog as he is ‘man’s best friend’. He’s highly-memorable, masculine, approachable, and brings personality to a market that takes itself too seriously and follows female beauty rules too closely.

How long did it take from idea to official launch?

About 1.5 years. We first had the idea in November 2005 and launched with Sainsbury’s in June 2007.

Do you have a co-founder?

Yes, my good friend, Rhodri Ferrier.

Where did you source your initial funding from?

Raising money is a really hard challenge for any new business. We had more than 80 different meetings trying to organize funding for Bulldog. In the end we raised the seed money we needed from 18 people who shared our vision and values for Bulldog.

What retailer was first to supply your product? Could you talk us through that process?

Sainsbury’s was the first retailer to list our product. They are a leading supermarket in the UK. They have been great partners for us. More than ten years on and we are still growing sales really quickly with them.

The process to list with a big retailer takes about 9 months. You have initial meetings to introduce the team and explain the concept. There are follow up meetings to explore different areas such as what was unique in our formulations and how we were planning to market our brand. We also had to provide reassurance around other areas such as business insurance and how we were going to manufacture the products. In the final part of the process, the retailer will call in samples of all the existing products they sell and all the pre-qualified new products they might potentially launch. Internal teams will devise various shelf plans, with one version ultimately signed off by senior management for implementation in stores.

Bulldog secured a listing for 6 items in 300 stores in our first time through this process. It felt like a huge moment to see our items on a supermarket shelf for the first time.

What were your three main obstacles and how did you combat them?

The three main obstacles we faced when we’re starting were (1) raising funds, (2) formulating products in a different way using natural ingredients, and (3) getting the brand listed for the first time.

From a formulation perspective we wanted to challenge the conventions and legacy thinking in our industry. There is a very commoditized way to make skincare products for men using the same types of ingredients, same preservatives, and artificial fragrances. With Bulldog we wanted to change things. We prioritized natural ingredients, avoided controversial cosmetic ingredients like parabens, and committed to no artificial colours or ingredients from animal sources. This created a tricky brief and there were many manufacturers who refused to work with us on these terms. In the end we found an amazing manufacturing team to work with in the UK.

Developing the signature fragrances for our products was also a big challenge and great fun. We exclusively use essentials oils rather than artificial fragrances. We spent hours working with some talented people to blend these fragrances. Bulldog products smell great and it’s something we always hear nice things about from people who use products

If there is something you could go back and tell or teach yourself in the beginning phases, what would it be?

It took us a few attempts to get our packaging design right. I wish we’d cracked the code on this earlier.

I also think we would have been able to go faster had we recruited some more brilliant people earlier on. Perhaps Rhodri and myself tried to do too much ourselves for too long.

Any big news you have to share with us?

Yes! We just launched the Original Bamboo Razor in the UK and USA. It’s an exciting development for us.


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Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher, editor, Dynamic Business

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