There can be few academic experts in potholing who have launched a business making ceramic hair-styling irons and built it up to sales of more than £40m in four years. Meet Martin Penny, who never did finish his PhD in climbing and potholing equipment, but has revolutionised the hair industry with an iron that straightens hair between two heated ceramic plates. Celebrities from Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham swear by it.
Jemella Group, which trades as GHD, claims to sell the iron, made in South Korea, to more than 10,000 professional British hair salons – or 85% of the market.
When Penny went to his bank in 2001 to ask for a £50,000 loan to launch the business, his bank manager was sceptical. ‘Hair tongs? You must be out of your mind,’ he said. But Penny secured his loan on the strength of his track record running an environmental consultancy.
Instead of selling through the high street, he targeted upmarket London West End hair salons. It wasn’t long before a celebrity fan club was building the GHD (Good Hair Day) brand quicker than any multi-million pound marketing budget. Sales have rocketed 365% a year, from an annualised £459,000 in 2001 to £46.1m in 2004, with the hair iron accounting for 90% of these.
The company is making good profits and diversifying by launching a range of 30 new haircare products branded Nu:u. This is backed by a £2.6m advertising campaign.
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