Interview With Simon Duffy From Bulldog Natural Grooming

We’re a fan of Bulldog’s cosmetics here at Life Goggles, such as its Post Shave Balm and Shower Gel (you can find all the reviews here), so we thought we’d have a chat to its co-founder, Simon Duffy.

Tell us a bit about your background and how Bulldog started off?
We started Bulldog to take on the big brands in the men’s skincare world and create an entirely new category – natural grooming – where ethics, purity and efficacy are the core focus. The range includes shaving, cleansing and skincare products. You will never find parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, artificial colours or synthetic fragrances in our products.

This is our first proper business venture if you discount countless failed teenage money-making schemes. We started working on Bulldog part time in November 2005, founded the business in February 2006, resigned from our jobs in May 2006 and launched nationwide in Sainsbury’s in July 2007. Bulldog is now available nationwide in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco, Superdrug, Ocado, Debenhams, Whole Foods, and Planet Organic.

Prior to founding Bulldog, Simon was an innovation and branding expert who helped the likes of Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Samsung to create new products and Rhodri Ferrier worked in finance, and was involved in organising corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Simon Duffy

Why focus just on men?
When we used to visit the male grooming aisles of the UK supermarkets, we actually found it a very boring category. What we saw were: “for men” versions of women’s products; boring functional products that were all the same colours, styles and had the same chemical heavy formulations, and very little character. All these brands take themselves way too seriously. Unlike other categories, there are no toiletries brands that men really love. Instead it’s just stuff we have to buy.

From a consumer point of view, Bulldog was nowhere and then suddenly available in lots of high street shops, I presume that’s not the case?
I’d love to say it was an overnight success, but we have been working hard for three years to get this far. What’s more, we have only just begun our journey and we know there is a long way for us to go to achieve our mission of pioneering natural grooming for men in the UK

What’s the male ‘beauty’ market like at the moment? And how do environmentally friendly products fit into that?
Overall the “male beauty market” is really boring. Mainly this because of the unisex compromise that both dominates and commoditizes the current options available for men. Next time you try shopping for male skincare products count how many options are actually “for men” versions of female products and brands.

Environmentally friendly products have a key role to play in expanding the options for men. Lots of men are keen to avoid controversial ingredients that have been linked with everything from skin irritation to male infertility. Lots of men care about the environment and the are concerned about the chemicals they are washing down their plug holes. At the moment the overall size of the environmental products niche is small, but it is growing year on year.

Do men really care about what goes into their products?
Our research shows that an increasing number of men do care and I think the larger companies will find it increasingly harder to fool most men with their “green-washing” tactics.

We get great feedback from men on our website. For instance, lots of men tell us that they find the Bulldog’s approach of using alternative natural ingredients gives them a shave that they don’t get from shave gels that include sodium laureth sulfate and other known skin irritants.

You’re very open about your ingredients, why?
It’s a key part of what we believe, and it’s how we think all companies should operate in this market. Many food and drink companies now list out ingredients like saturated fats, salt and calories on the front of pack so that people can make informed decisions about their health. We think this should also take place in the toiletries market so that consumers can make informed decisions about whether to purchase or avoid products containing ingredients like parabens and sodium laureth sulfate.

How do you source your ingredients?
Ethically, sustainably, and from natural sources whenever possible.

Competitors like Dr Bronner for example have very few ingredients, you seem to have a lot with chemical-sounding names, why is that?
We fully disclose all our ingredients and explain why we use them and where they are from on our website www.meetthebulldog.com. Often the long Latin names are for one of the twenty two essential oils we use across our entire range. We have to write them in this way due to government regulation. For example – Dipterocarpus Turbinatus is actually Balsam Oil. We use ten essential oils in our Lemon & Bergamot shower gel so this takes up a major part of the overall ingredient list for this product. Most of our products contain between seven to ten essential oils.

We only use non-natural ingredients in the exceptional cases where there are no viable natural alternatives, and only then when we are sure they are safe and mild. We are continually working to push the naturalness of our products and hope to introduce a new preservative system and increase the percentage of natural ingredients in our products later this year. This is an area of emerging science and we stay on top of any breakthroughs.

Who do you view as your competitors? Everyone, just the other organic ranges or just the non-organic ranges?
The aim that we have set ourselves is “To Pioneer Natural Grooming For Men”. Over the next five years our goal is to inform and educate men about the benefits of natural ingredients and reduce the number of man-made chemicals in Britain’s bathrooms. We see ourselves competing across UK retail with major players like L’Oreal, Nivea and Gillette.

Environmentally friendly products are seen as more expensive than traditional ones, but yours isn’t, why is that the case?
Our whole range is priced between £2.99 and £5.99. That’s because we don’t want to limit the appeal of Bulldog by making it too expensive for regular men who shop in places like Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco or Superdrug. Our mission is to pioneer natural grooming for men. To do this we need to provide viable alternatives to the likes of Nivea, L’Oreal and Lynx. Price is an important factor for our shoppers, and especially so in the difficult financial times we currently find ourselves in.

How does bottling, packaging and delivery fit in with your philosophy?
Our primary green credentials stem from the way in which we formulate our products. We are trying to remove as many man-made chemicals as possible from the everyday grooming products that men use. As far as our carbon footprint is concerned, we aren’t that innovative yet, but we are different. Unlike the vast majority of our competitors, we manufacture all of our products and its packaging here in the UK. It would certainly be cheaper for us to import packaging from China and have the packs filled in Eastern Europe, but it certainly wouldn’t help the environment. One criticism we have of ourselves is that we probably don’t communicate this fact as clearly to consumers as we could.

All of our products are packaged in 100% recyclable packaging, and we are working closely with our packaging partner to explore the inclusion of post-consumer-recycled plastic in our bottles and tubes. This is more of a challenge than you would expect, particularly if you want to manufacture in the UK.

You seem to be growing and growing, what difficulties have you faced and what barriers are there to further expansion?
The major challenge for Bulldog is getting the name out there and convincing people to give the products a try. This is really tough because all our competitors are large multi-national corporations who have massive marketing budgets, huge advertising campaigns, and the deep pockets required to fund price promotions in-store.

We compete by being different. First of all we knew we had to create amazing natural products. We are relentless in making sure that all our products have a great performance. All the feedback we’ve had has been very positive.

Secondly we launched as Bulldog. The Bulldog represents all of the positive attributes of men. He may not have a rippling six-pack, in fact he’s a little overweight and quite wrinkly, but he’s also tenacious, loyal, honest, hard working and protective. He is “Man’s Best Friend” and we probably all like to think that we have a bit of the bulldog spirit.

If men want to buy affordable natural grooming products with brilliant performance, that are also free from controversial ingredients, then we are the only brand available. We have a real point of difference.

What’s next for Bulldog?
Innovation is the lifeblood of brands and we are constantly searching out and testing new natural ingredients. We set very tough standards on both efficacy and naturalness which allows us to be very focused when reviewing possible new directions.

In terms of building our distribution we are taking it one step at a time, but we are looking to substantially build our distribution and hope that in the next three to four years you’ll be able to buy Bulldog anywhere you might pick up a shave gel or shower gel.

How about doing a deodorant? It’s hard to find good, environmentally friendly ones!
We have a further 10 products in our pipeline for the next 12 months and this includes a brilliant natural deodorant that will open up an entirely new market for us in male grooming. Innovation is key to the development of Bulldog and we will be pushing hard to deliver amazing new products for UK consumers.

Thanks to Simon and Patrick Hobbs for sorting the interview out.

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