My mother taught me a lot. She worked for Molton Brown for 30 years so their products were always in the house and we were always discussing them. Perfume is a closed-off industry – especially if you’re not French. I still feel that sometimes but, because of my mum, we used to go often to Grasse, in the south of France, to visit the perfumery houses there. The perfumers became family friends and the ones she used for Molton Brown, we ended up using for Tom Daxon.
When you’re in a creative business, there’s always room for one more. It’s not like we’re in wall fixings, and the wall fixing we want to make already exists. When we launched Tom Daxon, a few nice brands were starting to appear. None of them felt relevant to me – I liked them, but I didn’t find one I wanted to wear. So, creatively, there was room for me to do my version.
As a creative business you have to stick to your guns. Tom Daxon stands out from mass-market brands because we have a higher price point and therefore more budget to work with to create the product, and we don’t use focus groups to decide what to do next. We trust ourselves and I believe the end result is better for it. We get conflicting ideas from people all the time. If we followed them all, we’d forever be changing course. You know your brand better than anyone and you have to be headstrong and confident in your own opinion.
Handcare is an overlooked, underworked area. That was the real opportunity I saw. I’ve made gloved a separate brand because often handwashes are just an add-on to a wider range of products. I wanted to say, look, this is a specialist product. We’re not just using a standard formula that we’ve added one of our fragrances to. We’ve thought about it a lot more than that. The frequency with which we wash our hands means it’s much more important to get the formulation right in handwashes than it is in other products.
Everyone asks me about the timing with Covid-19 and the new focus on washing your hands. It’s good timing but it’s a fluke. I wish it was only a two or three-month process to build a brand and we were responding directly to what’s happened this year, but in reality I had the idea two years ago and it’s something we’ve been working on for a while – a high-performance handwash that’s environmentally sound.
Finding a USP for a fragrance brand is quite hard. You can go for a wacky marketing strategy – touting a rare ingredient – but I don’t really believe in that. Whether or not a customer likes your product and wants to buy it really comes down to whether their taste aligns with yours as the creator. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say.
With gloved, it was about loading the product with USPs. A glass bottles, a fine fragrance, environmental friendliess, a great formulation – we’ve tried to beat the competition on every level. We’ve also tried to introduce a warmth and approachability – because gloved comes from a caring place. In the past, with fragrance brands especially, there’s not been that kind of dialogue with the customer – brands have been too aspirational for that, they’ve had a mystique around them.
Those marketing clichés about finding clarity in what you’re creating are really useful. Having used one for gloved, I’d now recommend using a branding agency. In fact, I want to go back to Tom Daxon and do the same thing. It really helps to answer the difficult questions at the outset. If you do a brand Q&A, you’re going to be asked: what problem are you solving? Why would someone buy your product over another one? Your brand can be so personal to you that’s it hard to answer those questions. But, force yourself to do it and you’ll get a new perspective on why someone who doesn’t know you and has no reason to buy your product might actually want to buy it.
When you have your own business, there’s a very clear relationship between what you put in and what you get out. When you start selling your product, it’s a really nice feeling: I did that and now people are willing to buy it. I don’t think I could work on some huge project where I couldn’t see how I’m affecting the course of the business as a whole.
If I did have a big business, I’d want to foster an entrepreneurial mentality. People with their own small business really care. They’re always looking at new ideas, and there’s no trepidation around new things. I don’t see why you can’t take that into a big company. I’d certainly want people who think in an entrepreneurial way at my big company.
We’ve always tried to keep our overheads to a minimum. I’m still amazed when I hear from people how much big companies are paying for things. It blows my mind how much they’re willing to pay for travel. We’ve always tried to keep tabs on things like that – things that don’t really affect the product. It’s not the case that buckets of cash equals a good end product.
There is so much in place now for people who want to start a new business. Launching gloved has been so much easier than launching Tom Daxon. Some of that is business knowledge on my part, but I genuinely think it’s so much easier to do really fundamental things. When I started Tom Daxon, we did stock counting and orders manually in a book. Now it’s automatic. That option did exist before, but you’d need deep pockets for expensive software. It used to cost tens of thousands of pounds to build a decent website. Not anymore.
There have been pluses and minuses to launching gloved during lockdown. Handcare is obviously better than most other brands you could be trying to launch right now, and we’ve been able to focus on gloved because Tom Daxon has been quiet as everywhere has been closed. But there have been problems for suppliers. And customers have got more to think about than just the next thing they’re going to buy, so you need to be more relevant to them than ever.
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