How you create an industry from scratch

How you create an industry from scratch

When was the last time you had that butterfly feeling in your stomach where you knew you were on to something big; something so huge you knew it could change the world?

The hair feathers story.

Ok so maybe it didn't change the world, but it definitely felt like it at the time.

It was a normal day like any other, fresh back from lunch, probably stuffed off a ham sandwich no cheese, extra salad cream, scanning through the build-up of junk emails... you know the sort "you have won $5m dollars, you just need to send $100 to get it".

Anyway, there it was, sitting amongst the spam, glistening like a diamond in the rough. The subject standing out like a sore thumb: "GOOGLE ALERT: HAIR".

If you haven't heard of Google Alerts let me enlighten you, it's the best thing since digital bread, you give Google a list of keywords you want it to monitor and when a brand new web page is published mentioning one of your keywords it sends you an instant alert.

I was in the hair and beauty industry so I was monitoring "hair" and usually the alerts were nothing special, however this time it was different. Within a matter of minutes it would change my life and be the start of a brand new exciting industry in the UK.

Feathers 01

The email alert linked to an article about Steven Tyler being spotted wearing a hair feather accessory during his judging of American Idol and that he was the first celebrity to do so with this new style.

I got one of those world famous butterfly feelings as my mind went crazy at the thought of what I could do if I was the first to bring this trend to the UK and get first mover advantage.

Within minutes I had my entire team sitting around the board table figuring out what type of feathers were used, where to get them, ideas for a new website, details of a photo-shoot, feather designs and potential stockists.

This is what I can only imagine a war room is like during the early stages of a full scale declared war, papers flying all over, people rushing in and out of the room with a crazy lunatic leader waving his arms around like he's trying to get a wasp out of an enclosed space.

The early stages of this operation really were similar, as you know in your head that thirty other business people are all trying to beat each other in this international arms race to build the first and biggest hair feathers empire.

Feathers 02

I soon found out that the feathers were known as rooster saddles and were commercially used in the fishing industry to make flys. The feathers have the same characteristics as human hair and can be heated in hair straighteners without burning.

I immediately began to ring around feather suppliers and found one of the largest suppliers in the UK. I enquired about buying a few boxes of saddles. "A few boxes!?" shouted the strong northern accent on the other end of the phone. "I usually only sell one of two packets a week and you want a few boxes full of them?! What do you want that many for?" ..... There was only one answer to this.........."Because I A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y LOVE FISHING" I said as if it was completely normal. I didn't want him knowing I was going to be selling 7 feathers for £15, when he sells 150 for £26..... Mission one accomplished.

Next up was designing the packaging and doing a photo-shoot. When you first start off doing something like this you need to do everything on a shoe-string budget in case it doesn't work out. So armed with my camera and a blue sky sunny day I took some of the team down to the local beach to take some shots with them sporting this brand new fashion trend. After experimenting with various locations and poses we ended up with some good results that cost us nothing but an hours time.

Feathers 03Within a few days I had built the website myself going for a Bohemian look and feel, optimising it to the UK market. Website content is important, so I ensured it was full of relevant high quality articles explaining things such as what this new fashion statement was all about, how to wear and style it etc.

All in all from start to finish it took about two weeks before something amazing happened that even I wasn't expecting.

The phone started ringing and we were receiving calls from all of the major UK press demanding to know what this new craze was and would I do an interview.

This was the start of a roller coaster ride and I couldn't have predicted how fast it happened. Literally only a few weeks earlier I had received that faithful email alert.

We were well and truly at the races and public demand started to sky rocket as news spread about the new must have style item for the fashion conscious girl about town and everyone was talking about our website

We started to see demand not only from the public but from hair salons who wanted to get in on the seasons must-have accessory. From Land's End to John O'Groats they could not get enough of them. We were selling hundreds of packets a week at the peak and at £15 a time the profit margins were unbelievable.

As expected, rivals soon start coming into the game and me-too copycat products started cropping up, but at least we had around four weeks head start and enough to make us the first and the largest manufacturer and supplier of hair feathers in the UK. One of the most surprising parts of the story is when all of the hair feather products started to come via China, except they developed synthetic versions that were inferior and cheap. But wow, if China starts to copy you, you know you're on to something.

Feathers 04As with all fashion fads you have to expect them to eventually come to an end and the hair feathers industry in the UK peaked in 2011 and by 2013 had all but fizzled out, with lukewarm sales.

I may not have been the first in the world, but being the first in the UK and creating an industry from scratch was immensely satisfying and always reminds me of what is possible with an ambitious vision and stacks of determination.

The fear of losing out and someone over-taking you is a terrific breeder of success. Never become complacent and continually evolve, innovation is key.

The next time you get that butterfly feeling, don't ignore it.

Author: Darren Williams

Darren has created over five companies in the past 14 years and successfully sold them all despite only being 32 years old. His fifth multi-award winning business ‘Harland Corp’ was one of the fastest growing online hair and beauty companies in the UK winning 16 awards out of 16 including one prestigious national accolade. It attracted over 1 million unique visitors per year between its six ecommerce stores, employed 18 staff, operated from a 7000 Sq Ft warehouse and turned over £1 million per year with a 731% growth rate during one of the worst recessions in living memory. Harland dispatched over 10,000 products each month, with 10% of those being exported to over 37 countries worldwide including Barbados and Afghanistan. He was named as one of the most influential people in the North East in 2011 alongside business legends such as Sir Peter Vardy, Tom Maxfield and Duncan Bannatyne, winning national press coverage along the way. In 2014 Darren was listed in the '35 under 35' list by The Journal newspaper.