Ten years ago, hair colourist Shaun Pulfrey stood nervously in front of five Dragons to pitch his idea for a new type of detangling hairbrush. Seeking an investment of £80,000 for a 15 per cent stake, he claimed that his invention, the Tangle Teezer could tame all types of hair without pain or damage.
A decade after hearing his business idea described as ‘hair-brained’ and ‘a waste of time,’ in the Den, Pulfrey celebrated his role at the helm of a global business which operates in over 70 countries at a glittering showbiz party in London last week. Often described as ‘the one that got away’, Tangle Teezer is Dragons’ Den’s most successful ever reject, with four hairbrushes sold every 20 seconds somewhere in the world.
The product has legions of celebrity fans and has won over 25 beauty industry awards. Pulfrey is also proud to have won two Queen’s Awards for Innovation and Export and is an ambassador for The Princes Trust.
“I’m a natural optimist, but I’m not blinded. I go with a gut feeling, my business plan initially were clients telling me I had a success on my hands. I invented for my industry – the general consumer took me by surprise,” he says. “The highlight over the past decade for me has been the love of the brand globally. I never get bored of people telling their Tangle Teezer stories and the passion they have for it. I’m not one to dwell on rejection – I’m a believer that out of something not-so-good, comes good!”
The son of a deep-sea fisherman, born in Grimsby, Pulfrey initially disappointed his father by not following in his footsteps, instead leaving school with no formal qualifications and heading for a career in hairdressing. He became known as the salon’s ‘go to guy’ for detangling and had his lightbulb moment for the Tangle Teezer at the salon backwash.
The first Tangle Teezer was handle-less, shaped like a bean and in knock your socks off pink. After appearing on Dragons’ Den the product was jumped on by fashionistas and adopted by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Emma Watson and Nicole Scherzinger. It also became a life-changing product for mums used to screaming children with tangled hair.
Although the Dragons’ Den knockback back in 2007 hit Pulfrey hard, he refused to give up on his idea, and self-financed the venture, using his savings and re-mortgaging his Brixton flat. He researched plastic injection moulding, polymer and the ins and outs of intellectual properties at the British Library.
After a buyer from Boots spotted Tangle Teezer at The Clothes Show in 2008, Pulfrey began to supply 600 stores across the country, boxing up hairbrushes in his front room whilst watching Coronation Street. At the same time, a well-known Chinese influencer spotted the brushes whilst on a trip to London and shared it with her thousands of fans on social media. The result was an avalanche of orders from the Far East, and an international business was born almost overnight.
“The global success for Tangle Teezer was not having many cultural barriers,” Pulfrey explains. “Hair problems are pretty universal – whether it’s detangling or wanting to achieve the perfect blow-dry, and the Tangle Teezer suits all types of hair. Furthermore, Britain is recognised as a leader in hair innovation, so Tangle Teezer had a global appeal because of its Britishness, because the products are designed and manufactured in the UK.”
From its origins in Pulfrey’s Brixton flat, Tangle Teezer now employs 45 staff at its head office in London and at its design and manufacturing facility near Oxford. Turnover for last year was £28.6 million (up 22 per cent), with pre-tax profits of £8 million. Despite his phenomenal success, Pulfrey has no plans to take it easy, and continues to design and invent new products. He recently launched two new inventions, The Back-Combing Brush and Blow-Styling tools, and has teamed up with Victoria Beckham last month to create the sleek hairstyles showcased at her S/S18 show.
Tangle Teezer is celebrating its 10th birthday by re-launching a limited-edition version of The Original detangling brush in Purple Glitter.