“One of the best decisions we have made” – How Tangle Teezer supported its business by working with a business school

Gemma Clarke of Tangle Teezer and Ella, a Marketing undergraduate at Loughborough University’s School

When Tangle Teezer was launched on The Dragon’s Den in November 2007, it looked likely that we may not survive for 7 days, let alone be flourishing 7 years later. Fortunately, the public seemed to see something in our unique detangling hairbrush that the Dragon’s did not. We’re now distributed in over 80 countries worldwide, winner of multiple awards and accolades, and have reached that stage that many entrepreneurial businesses face of bringing some more structure and specialist knowledge into the company. On the one hand we felt great to have reached this level…but on the other it was also a little unnerving.

We’ve loved being a somewhat quirky, small team that had come together largely through recruiting former work colleagues and associates of friends, but now there were nearly 30 of us, and it felt like we were ready to evolve to reach the ‘next level.’

Many SME’s will know the feeling. You start off with a good idea for a new product or service, it starts to grow, and then suddenly you look around and it’s not just a few of you…there’s a company there, and employees, and plans that must be shared, and the pressure of ‘what next?’

It can be tough to know where to find advice about the ‘what next,’ or advice on how to execute the ‘what next.’ And even if you find that advice, you’re never totally sure how good it might be. That’s one of the reasons we began to engage with business schools in the UK, and one of the reasons that we’re big fans of the Small Business Charter.

The Small Business Charter is going to save all of that time wondering where to go for advice, and it’s going to offer SME’s the reassurance that the business school wants to support SME’s not just big global multinationals or top five accountancy firms. I think that’s been one of the barriers for SME’s. We have perhaps been intimidated a little by the thought of approaching a business school.

Certainly before I first stepped through the doors of a business school for the first time, I had visions of young, hot shot students, lengthy equations and graphs on walls, and academics working on rarefied research with little interest in small companies trying to become bigger companies.

Five years on, we’ve certainly met some really great young students, and seen a few graphs – though not in the rooms I visited – but I definitely got it wrong about the idea that business schools were only for multinationals. There certainly seems to have been a cultural shift too – to be an entrepreneur is now ‘cool’ rather than a little weird – and recognition that even big companies started as small ones one day.

With that in mind, hopefully our story might encourage some other SME’s out there to check out how their local business school could help them, because the knowledge we gained from business school has played a big part in our success, and now we’ve taken it a step further and recruited our first business school student, and it could not have been easier, and it could not have gone better.

Ella, a Marketing undergraduate at Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics, joined us as a placement student several months back, and has brought fresh ideas, a strong awareness of marketing concepts and a real enthusiasm to learn and contribute. She was able to hit the ground running, and almost immediately was managing her own projects, coming up with ideas for new products, managing key clients and has proved invaluable in freeing me up from many of the day to day issues so that I might focus upon more strategic planning.

So positive has the experience been, that we are already planning to make the idea of employing a business school student on their placement year a permanent feature of our recruitment strategy. I hope Ella won’t be embarrassed if she reads this!

And if any SME’s out there have never considered recruiting a business school student or graduate before, it’s been remarkably straightforward. All we had to do was place a short advertisement with the business school placements team, and they pretty much did the rest. They advised us what would be an appropriate salary, that we needed to offer performance reviews just like any other staff member, and will keep in touch with both us and Ella throughout her placement year.

So from our perspective, it’s been hugely positive, but perhaps we should leave the last word to Ella.

She says she loves the opportunity that working with a smaller company has given her to play a very hands-on role, and also the daily variety that working with a smaller company offers.

It seems certain that more and more business school students in the future will be looking to work with SME’s and that’s an exciting prospect that’s going to have a big impact upon the success of our UK SME’s I feel sure.

Gemma Clarke
Chief Marketing Officer
Tangle Teezer Limited