No knotty export problems for Tangle Teezer

“From the word go, we were exporting,” says Shaun Pulfrey, the hair colourist who founded Tangle Teezer. He created the Tangle Teezer to glide through wet or dry hair, flicking tangles apart with no painful tugging or yanking.

It was launched in the UK in 2008 but the home market was never going to be big enough. Holland was the company’s first market. Global expansion was led by word of mouth and rapidly took off.

“It was imperative that we got out and secured a foothold in these markets – and quick,” says Pulfrey.

He drew upon UKTI expertise for some of the territories. “I wasn’t frightened about going in to these overseas markets but the Passport to Export scheme, the UKTI programme that helps businesses to prepare for international markets, gave us confidence,” he says. “It told us we were doing things well and was instrumental in giving us more confidence in moving forward.”

The challenge – and the opportunity – for Tangle Teezer is that its product suits all hair types and knows no boundaries. Testimonials flow in from around the world – from China to Denmark to Mexico. But one size doesn’t fit all: every country is different.

Take Germany, which proved to be surprisingly slow going in Tangle Teezer’s early days. “Few orders were coming from there and we were coming up against brick walls,” says Pulfrey. But collaboration with UKTI turned the situation around; with the result that Germany is now one of their biggest markets.

Protecting intellectual property (IP)

Shaun has patented the brush in over 30 countries. Each brush design is protected by registered design and the name Tangle Teezer is also protected as a trade mark. “Being first to market has been of huge importance, but so has having IP protection,” he adds. “I knew that if the product took off, people would be queuing up to copy it. We take a zero tolerance approach to anyone breaching our IP. We had our first counterfeit in 2011 so I know what this feels like. It’s frustrating to see exact replicas of our products.

“Registering IP can be expensive,” he advises, “but try to think ahead to your biggest markets and make sure that you are fully protected. I’m so glad that I spent what little money I had on as much IP coverage as possible.

“One of the most important pieces of advice I got was from the IPO. They stressed the importance of keeping my innovation a secret until my patent attorney had filed my patent application. I had no idea that getting IP protection after entering a market place might not be possible.”

Expanding into China

In China, the company was generating online sales through its own web shop and had secured distribution deals with several prestigious department store groups. Market briefings by UKTI and seminars run by the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) provided further information about how to access this vast market.

In February 2014, Tangle Teezer met Chinese representatives at a UKTI seminar in London including some from TMall, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. Four weeks later, the Tangle Teezer official store was up and running on the Tmall site.

Having established a direct sales outlet to consumers, the next step was to build brand awareness and online demand in China. The company turned to Hot Pot Digital, a London and Beijing-based digital marketing agency which it had also met at the UKTI event.

Within four weeks, it sold more Tangle Teezers than had been sold over the previous 12 weeks. Fan pages were created on two of the biggest Chinese social media platforms, weibo and weixin; Tangle Teezer gained more than 6,000 followers in China in a week. According to current forecasts, sales are now set to triple in China year on year.

“UKTI work with us as an extension of our own team, giving us insights into our target markets that we simply wouldn’t get from an off-the-shelf report,” says Shaun. “Thanks to the support we’ve had from UKTI, the CBBC and our other contacts, we have approached China in exactly the right way. Now China is set to become our biggest international market by the end of 2015.”


To find out more about how UKTI can help you to export via e-marketplaces, follow us @UKTIRetail or contact us at Arrange a face-to-face meeting with a UKTI adviser today.

Tangle Teezer used the British Library Business & IP Centre and the Intellectual Property Office for business advice and support. To find out more about how the IPO supports business, follow @the_IPO.