REAL LIFE EXPORTER pack and go F
The Dragons may have declared ‘out’, but tiny travellers around the world are ‘in’, reports Janet Tibble ollowing an inauspicious launch
on Dragons’ Den, Rob Law, pictured right, thought his business was fi nished before it had begun. Eight years after he fi rst came up with the idea for a ride-on children’s suitcase, he had a golden opportunity to present his product on national television and attract the much- needed cash to get his business started. Alas, excitement turned to dread when Theo Paphitis pulled the strap off the case. One by one, the Dragons uttered the words no entrepreneur wants to hear: “I’m out!” However, Law has managed to have the last laugh. By the time the episode was aired, six months later, Trunki was already selling in many national UK chains and being exported to Australia, Japan and the US.
“In the Den I thought I had ruined my business before even starting,” Law recalls. “But after just six months’ trading, we were selling Trunki around the world, winning awards and establishing a credible business history.” Law came up with the idea for Trunki in a national luggage design competition while studying product design at the University of Northumbria. “The competition organisers said it was a commercial idea and suggested I get it licensed,” he says. “I approached a luggage manufacturer and they thought it was a toy, but a toy manufacturer thought it was a piece of luggage. So I didn’t get anywhere.”
After graduating, Law worked in
Taiwan, Australia and New York as a product designer, putting his pet project on the back burner. On returning to the UK in 2002, during the last recession,
30 | springboard | www.ukti.gov.uk
he was unable to fi nd full-time work so decided to give Trunki another try. He secured a start-up loan, grant and business mentoring from the Prince’s Trust, to start his company, Magmatic. Early in 2003, he signed a licensing deal with a toy company to launch Trunki, but after three years the company had sold just 19,000 units.
“It was very disappointing,” says Law. “They only sold to one customer in Saudi Arabia, so Trunki never came to the UK or the US. The toy company went into liquidation in October 2005 and I decided that I could do a better job myself. By then I had been working in different design consultancies in Bristol for three years and had developed a much stronger understanding of brands. “I put my new learnings about branding together with my product and launched Trunki in the UK in 2006.”
Export demand happened virtually overnight thanks to the global power of the internet. Law pasted a press release about Trunki on a design blog and within a matter of hours it went viral, attracting hits from as far afi eld as Australia and Japan. “By that evening, I received an email
from the Museum of Modern Art in New York wanting to stock the product in its store and was approached by a Japanese distribution company,” he continues. “We were inundated with enquiries from all over the world and had about 20 different people wanting to distribute the product in Australia alone.” It was at this time that Law
approached UK Trade & Investment for help to devise an export strategy.
“Our international trade adviser, Norris Myers, helped us decide whether to use agents or distributors,” he says. “We took the distributor route because we wanted partners to grow our brand, which requires marketing investment which we felt agents would not do. “The reason I started trading in the UK was because I couldn’t fi nd a partner who could supply into the luggage, toy and nursery markets. The challenge is similar in exporting – fi nding dynamic fi rms that are prepared to stretch their business model to supply into those three key areas and realise the revenue stream this can bring to them.”
Even with export success, the UK is the company’s largest market and stockists include John Lewis, Boots, Amazon, Argos and Halfords. The range has been enhanced with accessories like a rucksack that turns into a car booster seat and a travel blanket inside a soft toy case. Magmatic now has 21 employees and an annual turnover of £6m, with £1m profi ts. It has attracted a host of awards and Law received an MBE from the Queen for services to business last year. With 62 markets already secured, export continues to be a major focus and boosting sales in the US is a key aim for this year. Magmatic supports its distribution partners with a dedicated web presence to share all its PR and marketing materials. The major toy and nursery shows in Germany each year provide the fi rm with useful opportunities to meet its worldwide distributors and it also makes regular visits to the US and
southeast Asia. ■ magmatic.co.uk