Business partners Andy Jefferies and Ben Muller co-founded Dock & Bay, a lightweight towel made from microfibres that was specifically built for the travel market. The duo appeared on the hit TV show Dragons’ Den scooping £75,000 in return for a 10% stake in their business from serial entrepreneur Deborah Meaden.
Jeffries spoke with Business Leader Magazine about the start of Dock & Bay, the idea and what’s in the future.
What inspired you to go into business in the first place?
It was a thirst for doing something different and not being constrained by the day to day of a 9-5 job. My previous job lacked creativity and I really wanted to make a dent with the work that I do and can use the ideas that run through my head every day. Travel was a hot topic as my business partner and I lived for our next trip around the world.
How did the idea for Dock and Bay initially come about?
Driven by our love of travel, we looked at products that caused us the most problems whilst travelling and towels was top of the list. They either took up too much room in your back pack or if using travel towels, they were dull and boring. Not an exciting product to take around with you. We wanted to change that.
What was the hardest part of starting the business and what initial steps did you take?
Learning how to manufacture products in China! It was an experience we had no knowledge of. To try and sort this we ended up reading a lot of blogs and listening to a lot of podcasts. This allowed us to find the right type of manufacturers and ask the right questions. We also pretend we were a huge global brand testing a new product so that the factories would take notice!
How much initial investment did you start with?
At the very start, we each put in £3,000 to make our first order but as the business grew quick, we both had to add another £27,000 within just a few months. I went to banks for loans and Ben used his savings initially.
How did the idea to appear on BBC’s Dragons’ Den TV show come about?
I’ve always watched Dragons’ Den growing up, wanting to start my own business and so from starting the business, it had always been on my mind as an avenue for us. Once we started to get some traction, I was straight onto the application form. And just four months later, Ben flew over and we found ourselves in front of the Dragons’ up in Manchester.
What do you believe going on Dragons’ Den did for your business?
In 48 hours, we cleared out both our warehouses, selling over 6,000 units (compared to a normal 300-400 that time of year). It was a great boost and really kicked off some momentum for us. Although people may not remember us directly from the show anymore, when they visit our site or when talking to retailers, they see the story of Dragons’ Den. We believe this gives people the final push to buy our products if unsure as shows as a legit brand. We’ve also had great support from our investor Deborah as we make big steps to rapidly grow the company and break America!
You’re set to generate over £4m in sales this year because of an international sales boom in America, generating over 40% of sales worldwide. Can you tell us about the rise of the brand.
We initially built the brand through Amazon channels, creating over 80% of our revenue in the first two years. This has allowed us to build a business in the first place and provide a foundation for our growth. We now have expanded our marketing to focus more on our website, especially in the UK and USA where our strongest markets stand already. This doesn’t mean we ever want to take any sales away from Amazon and we plan to grow our exposure on there. It just means we want to provide an alternative platform for our customers where people can hear more about our brand and story.
You’re planning to expand your beach towel business into swim shorts, made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Can you tell us more about this?
We created an ongoing campaign just over a year ago called ‘Doing Our Bit’, which was to raise the fact that nobody’s perfect, but we can all begin to take small steps to make the world a more sustainable place for future generations. We’re not perfect but we are making steps as we grow the brand, and this is one of them. Making products such as these swim shorts out of recycled materials, allows us to create a more feed good, sustainable product and we have many more to come. As well as changes to our current products. So, watch this space. A lot of exciting things ahead.
Dock & Bay hired its first employee last year, how difficult a process was that to find the right person?
Having never hired anyone before, it was a complete learning curve and still is. We were hiring for a role that we didn’t even have a clear vision for. Both in terms of what skills we required from their side and what we would need them to work on. We just knew we needed extra hands. So, took the leap. We step back more these days and make more strategic decisions as we’ve always just jumped into everything. We’re still big risk takers, just a bit more tactical these days!
What was the turnover of Dock & Bay last year?
Globally we turned over £2.5m.
How important has the role of marketing and PR played to your business?
Hugely important and where it is a great deal of our time and investment is now spent as we grow our digital exposure. Especially across UK, USA and Australia. We have a keen focus currently on Facebook advertising to grow our business.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced so far, and how did you overcome it?
Money. As a seasonal business, experiencing rapid growth, having money to buy stock comes as a bigger and bigger each year, at the start of the year. With Ben living in Australia and our relatively young business, loans don’t tend to come too easily.
We solved this by having many sleepless nights, endless calls to banks and loan providers, as well as chats with our family, until we found people willing to take a punt with us. At higher cost than we would have hoped but if it allows our business to grow, then we’re not worried.
A lot has been made of the current state of the UK entrepreneurial ecosystem, what are your thoughts on it?
Entrepreneurs are all around us and I think the culture is incredible. I have a lot of really good friends, running very successful businesses that all started within the last three-to-five years. And I’m proud of every single one of them. With the state of our political and economic environment, I really hope young entrepreneurs are the ones that innovate around all the problems that are thrown at us daily and react quickly to external forces. A huge advantage we have over any large company in this environment, speed.
Any advice to entrepreneurs?
I always look to set myself stretching but realistic expectations and really believe in this but it all depends on who you want to be. I have no interest in being the next Mark Zuckerberg. If I sat here saying I wanted to be a billionaire, I’d never be happy as I’d constantly be chasing an extremely hard to reach goal, motivated by a low-down factor (money).
Money isn’t everything and success can be defined in so many ways. For me business success will be to build a business that is globally recognised in some key countries, a business that constantly looks to reduce our ecological footprint as we all help to make the world a better place for future generations and a business that I have a lot of fun building. It will be a business that inspires others to go and do great things and ultimately a business that makes me happy.
So, with that in mind, my advice is know your goals (and know that they constantly change) and stay true to yourself. Never look back with regret. A business should be one part of your lifestyle and not the whole thing.
Where do you see Dock & Bay’s business in the future?
We hope to become a globally recognised, sustainable brand, famed for our unique towels. The Havaianas of towels you could say. But with a wider product range that supports our outdoor, active and adventure focused brand.