Sam Tate co-founded Sprue Aegis plc in 1998 when he and his business partner came up with an innovative smoke detector. The FireAngel fits between a light fitting and the bulb, taking its energy from the mains. FireAngel charges up its rechargeable battery when the light is on - and runs off the battery when the light is off.
The company hasn't looked back since convincing one high street retailer to sell the detector. It's now stocked in around 6,000 outlets.
What I did
Research the target consumer
"We spent months digging out market research reports, talking to the Fire Brigade and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - the government department responsible for fire safety (now the responsibility of Communities and Local Government).
"Once we confirmed the FireAngel was a valuable idea, I went out on to the street to see if there was a market for it. We basically just stopped people, showed them the prototype and asked a set list of questions. We also looked closely at our competitors' products and who their market was.
"We initially worked out a sales strategy involving the Internet, direct marketing and advertising. However, we soon knew on a cost-per-sale basis this wouldn't be feasible - we would have sold less and had to charge twice as much. We then realised an ideal way to reach consumers who wanted a quick solution was through supermarkets."
Get the right price and sales channel
"Most smoke detectors retail at between £5 and £10. We knew we could charge a premium because fitting the alarm is as simple as changing a bulb. It doesn't need a battery and it lasts for up to ten years.
"We set the price at around £20 but the retailer obviously takes a margin. Remember - it's a lot harder to put the price up than drop it down, so don't go in too cheaply."
Nail the sales pitch early
"It's really important to be able to get your message across in 30 seconds flat. If you get the chance to speak to a buyer, you need to be able to sock it to them - they're extremely busy people. It's definitely down to trial and error so I would recommend rehearsing your sales pitch in front of anyone who will listen, and not delivering it for the first time to the top buyer at a potentially major client.
"It took three years to get our product to market. A lot of this time was spent on design and safety testing, but it took 18 months of talking to one well-known high street retailer before they agreed to stock the alarm. Once you're in there with one retail chain, it gets much easier to approach others. But you definitely have to be persistent to succeed."
What I'd do differently
Don't take 'no' for an answer - right from the start
"It's easy to say, but be prepared for knockbacks. We got them - and would have started to get demoralised by them without a total belief in our product.
"After a short time we realised that persistence was the key to making it all happen. Buyers are busy people and you've got to make yourself stand out from the crowd. For example, we waited in the reception of one high street retailer's head office until the buyer agreed to see us. Sometimes you have to go to that level." Source: www.businesslink.gov.uk
About Spruce Aegis
A company designing innovative home safety products that save lives.
Sprue was formed in 1998 with the ambition to build a world-class consumer products business focused on the safety products market. Our first product was a highly innovative smoke alarm that fitted into a standard ceiling mounted light fitting and was branded ‘FireAngel.’
Our initial product was stocked by B&Q and Tesco at an early stage and as our range has expanded, we have become the brand of choice for major UK retailers and the UK Fire & Rescue Services.
The FireAngel brand is now the leading name in battery-powered smoke alarms in the UK and our ST-620 Thermoptek smoke alarm was the highest selling smoke alarm in the UK last year*.
Adding to our safety products range with the development of a carbon monoxide (CO) detector, provided Sprue with another growing revenue stream. Safety legislation around smoke and carbon monoxide has significantly increased awareness of the dangers and smoke and CO which has driven sales.
With our inclusion in the Sunday Times FastTrack 100 – the 100 fastest growing companies in the UK – for four consecutive years, Sprue has achieved substantial growth. With our ‘design in-house and outsource manufacturing’ model, our business is highly scalable and is well placed to continue to grow.
Major events in Sprue’s history since its formation in 1998 are set out in the time line below:
1998 Sprue formed
2000/01 Launched first FireAngel plug-in smoke alarm in B&Q
2002/03 Carbon monoxide sensor distribution rights through agreement with Pace Technology
2002 Secures first Public Sector deal with London Borough of Islington
2004 Gains US Regulatory Approval for smoke alarm
2005 FireAngel supplies entire safety products range for Tesco, as sole supplier
2006 Agreement to supply the Fire & Rescue Services with a 10-year optical smoke alarm
2007/08 Launched affordable wireless safety products for the hard of hearing as Wi-Safe brand
2009 Acquired control of Pace Sensors
2010 Launched thermally-enhanced optical Thermoptek smoke alarm
2010 Appointed as BRK Brands Europe Limited exclusive European distributor
2010 Sprue Safety Products launched
2011 Gained exclusive UK distribution rights for Cavius Atom smoke alarm.
For much of this time, we have focused on organic growth alone. However, our appointment as the exclusive distributor in Europe for BRK Brands Europe Limited extended our reach and range. This has also significantly enhanced our market position providing established platforms to expand in the UK trade sector and Continental Europe in particular. Previously, Sprue had little presence in these two markets.
2010 was a milestone year for the business with the launch of a significant new smoke alarm, the ST-620 Thermoptek alarm and Sprue’s appointment as BRK Brands Europe’s exclusive distributor in Europe.
In 2011, the group continued to expand its range of customers appointing a second distributor in France, finding other new customers in Europe.
In December 2011, Sprue gained a Sunday Times FastTrack 100 listing for the fourth year running. FastTrack 100 ranks Britain's fastest growing top one hundred companies based on compound sales growth over three years.
In 2012, Sprue miniaturised its existing carbon monoxide detector, creating one of the world’s smallest CO sensors which are included in its carbon monoxide detector manufactured in China.
We will continue to drive product innovation into all our relevant markets, whilst protecting our IP through an ever-expanding portfolio of patents, now numbering over 80. Throughout this we will remain committed to our objective of keeping more people safe from the dangers of fire, smoke and carbon monoxide by reaching our consumers, whether they are an end-user or trade professional.
Sprue Aegis is today a leading Enterprise in the UK. You may visit their websites at www.http://www.sprueaegis.com/, http://www.fireangel.co.uk/
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