My wife Charlie and I set up Charlie Bears to fill the gap in the market between the high street teddy and high end collectable teddy bears. Our first trade show was a roaring success and with dozens of new customers, business was off to a great start.A strong year followed, but we soon found out that it was more than we were geared up to handle. Thanks to shows on QVC, our orders increased tenfold, and suddenly we were faced with a 30 week backlog. At the time we weren’t aware how close we were to our production capacity. And we were so focussed on trying to get orders out the door that we didn’t have the capacity to step back and try to tackle the root of the problem. The 30 week backlog soon became a 62 week backlog, and we had to turn some big customers away. We were thrilled with the popularity of Charlie Bears, but we knew that something had to change. In 2012 we turned to GrowthAccelerator for some support on how to deal with this influx of orders and make sure that our growth was sustainable. We had done a great job of getting the business to this stage, but weren’t afraid to admit that we needed an injection of knowledge from someone who could help us overcome some of the hurdles we faced. Our growth coach Paul listened to our issues and we went about solving them. We knew that we had to examine our manufacturing capability. We discussed the feasibility of finding an additional manufacturing source but realised this wouldn’t have the immediate impact that we needed. So we decided to work with our existing manufacturer and help them overcome the obstacles that were preventing them from speeding up production. We also worked closely with Paul on business plans for the next 10 years so that we were clear on the impact our growth plans would have on production. It was important to us to focus on long-term growth. The outcome of this was a trip to Sri Lanka to visit four of our suppliers which proved very successful. We worked with them on their processes, quality control and staffing and discussed the levels of growth they’d need to deal with. We even employed hairdressers and art students to work on creating the bears’ faces – a part of the process that requires great skill and attention to detail. We’re now looking at expanding internationally – into Europe, the Middle East and Japan – as well as looking at boosting our presence in the USA. For any other businesses finding themselves in a similar position as we did, here is my advice: Don’t sell out to volume – we could have gone to China and manufactured the bears cheaply and quickly, but maintaining the quality of the product was vital. Don’t compromise your offering Do ask for help – plenty of people can grow a business to a good size, but everyone gets stuck occasionally! Having access to our growth coach who had been there, done that was so important to give us a sounding board, confidence in the business and guidance on how we could sustain our growth in the long-term People are key – it can be scary to ‘let go’ and it is always easier to handle the day-to-day activity than to think about a strategy for international expansion! Make sure you have the right people in place and give yourself space to step back and look at the bigger picture. William Morris is COO of Charlie Bears. Visit GrowthAccelerator for more info.
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