How did you navigate price points?
Pricing was another thing we had to learn quickly. It wasn’t easy. I think we went too high on some products and too low on others. It is really important to value what you are creating and not to undersell. A lot of time and research goes into the products – you have to value this.
Did you start small, or burst in and disrupt?
Our aim was always to disrupt a very unglamorous space. Ten years ago, hi-vis was just vests for road workers. We thought we could disrupt the space quickly, but soon realised it takes a lot longer – and we had a very, very limited budget. I am naturally quite impatient, so was keen for high impact, but we had to go methodically. I feel we’ve made our mark now; we have over 70,000 social media followers with regular postings of customers in their gear. We recently won the Amazon Growing Business Award, which is the most prestigious such award in the UK. We had to go up in front of a judging panel, who said we won because we disrupted a very uncool space. It has taken a bit of time, but it is great this has been acknowledged.
How did you get the press to listen?
I noticed how much the press talked about the clocks going back at the end of October. Every national newspaper ran a story on it, so it was a great time for us to launch our REFLECT360 jacket. The press like innovative things and I think some of our products captured their imagination. We always sent out samples. When we launched the REFLECT360, selfies had just come in and we encouraged journalists to take photos of themselves. The jacket pings with the flash and people just loved it. We have also worked with the brilliant PR agency Fusion Media.
What publicity has really driven growth?
Word of mouth is huge for us. We hear hundreds of stories from customers saying they are cycling or running, and someone comes up to them and says, ‘Where did you get that jacket from? I saw you from miles away.’ It is a naturally viral product.
Tell us about where you initially sold, and how do sales look today?
We started out just with wholesale, selling to distributors who then sold to retailers (a mix of independent and chain stores). A couple of years later we launched our first e-commerce website. Now we have a mix of wholesale, market places (Amazon) and online. In the last couple of years, we have put an incredible amount of resource and effort into making our website world class, and recently won the Best Fashion E-Commerce Website at the National E-Commerce Awards for Excellence, which was a proud moment.
With such huge brands in the industry, how do you compete to establish yourself as a small business?
I believe in having something niche. There is no point just doing copycat products. Keep changing the brand and hope for the best. There has to be a USP. If you get that right, and keep pushing it and believe in it, you will get there.
How do you ensure brand longevity?
By focusing on specialist, innovative products and making them incredibly well with no compromise, never resting on our laurels, being versatile, embracing change and opportunities, and continuing to focus on exceptional customer services.
In a crowded market, how close can you play it to existing brands?
We stick to our own ideas and designs, and we take feedback from customers as they are amazing with their suggestions. We avoid playing it close to existing brands as there are a lot of people doing the same kind of thing, so we try and stand out with different products. When we first started, I would get the fear if I saw a similar product, but now I see it as a compliment if people have tried to copy us. We see it and ignore it. We focus on our own brand, rather than spending too much time worrying about competition.
What are the projections for the next five years?
A massive focus on continuing to scale our e-commerce platforms. We have just opened a warehouse in Germany, which is a big project for us and we see huge potential there. We are looking to continue our expansion in the US and Australasia, then we would like to look at the Asian market. We have a big focus on expanding ranges horizontally to offer more products per category, as well as going into the athleisure market, and increasing brand awareness.
What are your big challenges for the next five years?
The big challenges are the seasonality of Proviz. To counter this, we have been pushing hard in Australasia, where our summer is their winter. This has worked well. We are also launching more summer-focused products. The other challenges are always quantities of stock and the launching of new products, because you are never sure how they will go. Keeping a cap on marketing budgets is another ongoing challenge. We would love to be able to release the reins more on this in the future.
How have you made sure can pay the mortgage and look after the family while not being able to rely on a monthly paycheck?
It has been incredibly challenging at times, but running your own business means you are in control of your destiny. This just drives you on harder, and we have been brought up to be very diligent and determined to reach our goals. I like being in control of my future. I work much better that way and am way more focused. I think this would be the same for my brother.
How would someone else know when to take the plunge and set up their own business?
We are really lucky living in the UK. The government massively supports entrepreneurship and the route to market is easier than it has ever been. It doesn’t need to be the full plunge; you can start part time, then go full time once things are moving. If you have an idea, you will kick yourself for not trying. There is access to everything online now: you can have an e-commerce site set up within a day and design your own brand online, whereas it used to all have to be outsourced at great expense. It is important to back and believe in yourself.
Visit Proviz and use the code SL20 for a 20% discount for SLMan readers