The last few months have been a whirlwind for Stuart Jolley, as his business, Wingman, has exploded onto the scene. From securing an exclusive contract with Boots, to having BBC cameras follow his every move for an upcoming Theo Paphitis-fronted series, Wingman has come a long way since Stuart’s original idea for a male deodorising wipe as a student.
“The idea came about when I was at University in Cardiff”, explains Stuart. “I entered the Spark Business Idea competition through Student Enterprise, and came second. After receiving some start-up money, the business has gone from strength to strength.”
Stuart graduated with a degree in Journalism, Film & Media in 2009, and after working in Pizza Express for three months, it looked like Wingman might be going somewhere. “I quit my job, because a national vending machine company wanted to take the product on”, Stuart says. “But unfortunately that deal fell through”. Having moved back home to his parents, Stuart cleared out an empty room and turned it into an office. “I sent out about 30 information packs to some of the biggest companies and I discussed my brand with some big players in the market. I managed to get two investors on board, just through word of mouth – contacting people, emailing people. They funded prototype development, and then the BBC programme came on board over the last seven months.”
The BBC series, ‘The Next Big Thing’ is due to air in early 2011. Stuart describes the programme as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to pitch in front of some of the most influential buying teams in the country. It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever had to do.” The BBC programme led to a 12 month exclusivity deal with Boots, as well as an unexpected role for Stuart. “Boots have offered me additional research related work that I was never expecting”. I think once you can get your business up and running it really opens doors.” Stuart has also worked hard at opening doors for himself, and has come up with some novel marketing techniques. “I took the wipes to Reading Festival, where I had to endure three days of sitting outside the toilet and shower lines, getting people to test and buy them”, Stuart explains. “I also sent 2500 samples out with NUTS magazine to Afghanistan to support the British troops.”
Stuart believes that this hard-working and proactive ethic has been a key to the business’ success, but he admits that at first he found this a challenge. “The biggest challenge is the amount of time you have to dedicate. When I started the project I didn’t really know how much work was involved. I didn’t anticipate it taking up every single second of the day. You’ve almost got to be a bit selfish in that I haven’t seen some friends in ages because this is the only thing I’ve been able to do. You’ve just got to dedicate literally all of your time to it and almost nurture it as if it was a baby.”
As well as gaining support and advice from the Spark competition, and mentoring at Venture Wales, Stuart evidently takes the hands-on approach when it comes to learning. “One valuable thing I’ve learnt is how the retail business works. I’ve had to see where our wipes are manufactured and negotiate price points with both manufacturer and Boots. It was really insightful. Being chucked in at the deep end meant it was either sink or swim and this crash course in business was a very fast learning curve.”
Wingman is currently a one man project, though Stuart admits that he would like to build a team. “I am someone who bounces well off other people, so if I could do it again I probably would’ve started a partnership rather than going it alone. It’s the hardest thing, having to deal with all aspects of the business on your own. From the accounts and marketing to presentation work and pitching - you’ve got to manage the lot!”
Whether flying solo or as part of a team, Stuart has big ambitions for his business. “The company is looking to expand into all areas of the male grooming sector, with shower gels and a skincare range on the horizon”, Stuart explains. “The Wingman brand is ready to take flight.”
Wingman is available in selected Boots stores nationwide.
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