JML chief Ken Daly explains why now is as important a time as ever for British brands to think outside of the box…
The term ‘household name’ is often thrown around quite loosely in business. However, for innovative consumer goods brand JML, there is no saying more fitting.
Entrepreneur and inventor John Mills launched JML back in 1986 from the basement of his home in Camden and started off by selling his products at trade shows.
Today, the company employs 243 people, boasts an annual turnover of £80m, and has one of its products in seven out of every 10 UK homes – literally making it one of Britain’s largest household brands.
So, why has JML proven to be such a hit? Well, the reason the company has managed to have its products in so many British homes, is because of the staggering number of products it has developed.
Since its launch in 1986, JML has brought a total of 2,000 products to market. Ken tells us: “The first JML product was actually a woodworking vice! It was sourced in Switzerland, and had a number of extra features which required some explanation in order to sell it.
“That's exactly how the business started: the product was sold at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, where a demonstrator explained it to the crowd. We were selling that particular item for well over a decade.
“Since then, we’ve evolved from live demos to video content marketing.”
And they’ve also developed from the woodworking vice to cordless power scrubbers, universal satnav holders and pet grooming accessories.
It’s clear to see that innovation is at the heart of everything JML does and nobody knows this better than Ken Daly, the group’s CEO who joined the business 23 years ago and has since worked his way from the bottom to the top.
And Ken, who has helped bring so many new products to market just like John before him, is encouraging other businesses to do the same, despite the economic and political uncertainties surrounding them.
In an exclusive interview, he told BQ: “It’s vitally important for British businesses to innovate to preserve the reputation of British industry as well as for practical reasons.
“The UK has historically been a world-leading innovator in all areas, and with the uncertainty brought about by Brexit already having an effect on confidence, it is especially important that we show the rest of the world that British innovation is in rude health.”
What would he say to entrepreneurs worried about taking a risk in this climate? “I think it’s a mistake to focus too heavily on the idea of risk when talking about innovation.
“There are, of course, inherent risks to innovation and even to the simple exploration of new ideas. By definition, innovation implies a degree of speculation, but equally there is also the risk of paralysis by analysis.
“In other words if you think for too long about the potential shortcomings of a new idea, you will either convince yourself that it won’t work or you’ll never come around to turning the idea into a reality.
“Innovation is absolutely essential for any business with long-term goals, and this is true for all sectors. That old adage, ‘evolve or die’ is especially accurate in an era such as ours which is defined by mass disruption. Retail is no exception. At JML, we’re constantly looking for ways to adapt our business and our products to the changing marketplace – and there have been a few big name failures in the sector that attest to the need to relentlessly adapt.”
Ken says that innovation is fundamental to the continued success of JML. “This can be seen if you look at our selection of products: at any one time, 80% of our revenue comes directly from products that didn’t exist just two years previously.
“The culture at JML has grown out of a belief in looking for new ideas, and the whole JML ‘machine’ has been created around this. For our staff, there's genuinely no such thing as a bad idea. No one is ever criticised or put down for coming up with ideas that didn't work and, importantly, we make sure we learn from our mistakes.
“We trial a large number of products at JML, and some of them never make it to market. But for us this doesn’t represent a failure, as there are always things to learn from an unsuccessful trial that will be applied to future products that could be a roaring success for us.
“And more generally we believe that even if a new idea doesn’t become a reality, it forces all of us at JML to question our pre-existing notions and, if necessary, refine our thinking.
“All ideas have value.”
JML is continuing its forward push in the marketplace. “This year we’re directing our focus to the development of products for our international markets. We’ve been expanding our network of international distributors and continue to do so. The demand for generating video content to go alongside our global product range is a key element of this.
“Our business model is about generating video content for our products, and it's particularly relevant in an online world where video content is consumed in such vast volumes. As a result we’re making more content than ever and also beginning to make some of it in the US to appeal better to an international audience.”