It's often the simplest of ideas that are the most successful. See how this Scottish fixings manufacturer took their product to markets worldwide.
We caught up with Iain MacDonald, director of Buttonfix Limited based in Edinburgh to share his business inspiration and experience of getting his product to market.
In just four years, Button-fix has grown from an idea with zero sales to a company that sold £100K of buttons and fixes in 2014, and made a profit. The company set up and developed a website to include how-to-use videos and now has 12 UK stockists and stockists worldwide in Australia, New Zealand, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Canada.
What inspired you to get into business?
We saw an opportunity to design and manufacture a secret fixing system that was better than the crude but commonly used competition, and realised product innovation could have impact in this stagnant sector. Although much emphasis is placed on the high-tech sectors, we believed there was still a place for investing in practical products that solve every-day problems.
It's all about the customer. I'm still inspired by creating fixings that work brilliantly for the end user – working to the highest standards and meeting customers’ needs.
What motivates you to keep going?
- The excellent feedback we get from end users motivates us to design more fittings, penetrate more markets and increase global sales.
- Repeat orders confirm that we're offering a great product
- The fun of seeing what can be done with a good idea turned into a good product
- Using the web and social media to grow a business from a low cost base into an international trading company
How do you define success?
- Developing the product range to satisfy our customers’ needs, receiving positive feedback and repeat orders
- Making an operating profit - as we did in 2014 - and growing the business into a profitable one with a ROI in 2 years from now
- Spotting an opportunity in the market and answering a well-defined need
- The people who work in the company, the ethos and desire to constantly improve
What do you wish you'd know when you first started out?
The routes to market we've now found – these took us time and investment to source at the outset. And the cost of IP protection – brand protection is important and is something to factor into your planning costs.
What advice would you offer to others?
Keep your costs under control, keep your expectations modest and keep striving to be the best.
Doing things properly lengthens the time before the company can emerge from the investment trough, but pays dividends thereafter. The costs of bringing a new product to market are higher than most people predict. And, treat Dragons’ Den as TV fiction!
Grant support and how it's helped
We heard about Scottish Enterprise's 'Make it to Market' grant online and followed up with a couple of calls with one of their advisers.
The grant enabled us to double our product offer by creating two more Button-fixes; Type 3 (bonded) and Type 4 (flush-mounted)
The new Fixes address specific market opportunities and open up direct, potentially more profitable, B2B sales to manufacturers offering high value products.
The new products allow the fixing system to be used with a wider range of materials, including several high value ones, and increases the system’s versatility. The increased functionality will help us to expand particularly, we anticipate, in our exports to North America and Germany.
How important is innovation to you and why?
Very important. Button-fix is an innovative solution to a specific fixing need. We commissioned Type 1 and 2 Button-fixes to offer the best secret fixing solution for timber-based panel products. We therefore decided to commission new designs to open up new markets for us.
Identifying customer need and routes to market
Our target market are global and country-specific furniture hardware distributors. We're picking off the best and easiest targets first. Existing sales bring comfort to new distributors.
Success in the UK quickly generated export demand. Also, thinking big and finding ways to bring our products to the attention of the major distributors in each market. Serendipity certainly plays its part but the secret fixing of panels to walls is a global problem, which we address with an obviously good product range at a reasonable price.
We sell predominantly through stockists and only sell directly to large end-user customers. We support our stockists through advertising, direct marketing and sending samples to key targets. We also offer extensive technical support and other information.
Expanding awareness of the product among professionals in target sectors is key and we use the web and social media to help with this. Professionally-made videos on YouTube work very well for us too.
How has the grant benefited the company?
The grant will open new market sectors for us and has already proved a useful bargaining tool with one of the world’s largest furniture component distributors.
How we can help
Want to develop your product or service for international markets?
Read about our Make it to Market grant