Our latest startup story features Cubbies. The business designs, manufactures, imports, wholesales and retails a range of ‘Cubbies’ character bears. The bears are sold to distributors and embroidery businesses, who personalise the bears for their customer and sell it on at full RRP. The product is also sold directly to the consumer via a retail platform. They are operational in the UK, Europe, Canada, US and Australia. The business turned over £1.45m in 2016/17 and expects to grow further, to £1.7m in 2017/18 – this is in spite of economic challenges with the weakening pound raising the cost of goods in China.
The business is based in Blackpool and employs a dozen staff.
We recently interviewed the founder, Lee.
How did you start and why?
I was living in Canada and working for a toy company when I was laid off (this had happened several times already in as many months) and felt I was unemployable due to the frequency that it had been occurring. It seemed the only option was to hire myself! I had noticed from my time at the Toy Company that there was a growing market for personalised plush toys, but did not feel that anyone was quite hitting the mark. I wanted to create something that was better, cheaper, more luxurious, safer and more innovative than the options already available. I didn’t just want to create a range of products – I wanted to create a world of characters that would spark children’s imaginations, where children could accessorise their favourite Cubby with a matching blankie, or hooded towel, or even birthday cards.
What funding, if any, did you take?
I received a Canadian Youth Business Foundation $15,000 start-up loan and started the business as a sole trader in Canada, however I relocated back to the UK in 2014 after separating from my Canadian fiancé. The business was then boot strapped to the £1.46m turnover it is today.
What challenges have you faced so far?
The biggest challenge was a lack of experience in import/export and manufacturing – not speaking Chinese was of course an additional challenge and somewhat limited the choice of supplier to ones who spoke good English. When Fiona (now my wife) joined the business, as a native Chinese speaker this opened up the door to new suppliers we couldn’t previously access. It meant better pricing and faster lead times, and most importantly, it meant using manufacturers that our competitors would struggle to locate or communicate with. The types of challenge we face is ever-evolving – these days our challenges are less about operations and more around scaling up the business quickly, marketing effectively in a crowded E-commerce gifting arena, and managing margins as the pound continues to weaken. No doubt our challenges will be different again in another year or two!
Where is your business going next?
Cubbies is hoping and expecting to enjoy steep growth period as we streamline our dropship operation to make it slicker and more profitable, we have reduced lead times for personalisation down to a couple of days (a year ago it took 14 days to turnaround a personalisation) and we have exciting plans that will take the Cubbies brand to a national and international retailer level.