By Max Clarke
Founder and CEO of innovative toy company Wow! Stuff, Richard North, has been named HSBC’s 2010 UK Business Thinker in Hong Kong. North was awarded a financial reward of nearly £200,000 and a guaranteed £5m in lending, which will further enable the Wolverhampton based company to expand into Europe and the USA, as they aim to achieve sales of $500m by 2015.
Launched on 27 April 2010, the prestigious HSBC Business Thinking awards are a new initiative from the bank to help support and fund the UK's most innovative and forward-thinking companies. Businesses with turnovers in excess of £2 million were asked to put forward their company vision and ambitions, as well as how they intend to achieve them using the prize money. It was North’s inspiring vision for capturing the international toy market that impressed HSBC’s judges.
"HSBC's Business Thinking was an intensive programme. Hugely successful and entrepreneurial companies, such as consumer brand Thatcher’s Cider and leading trade brands such as Quadralene had to present their businesses achievements to date and plans for the future. Knowing that at every stage of the process your business was being taken apart and scrutinised by HSBC and such qualified business leaders has made winning all the more fantastic and quite frankly breathtaking!"
The intensive judging process began in August of this year and involved initial written examinations from each entrant. Of the thousands of businesses that entered, 54 qualified for the regional finals and were sent on a Thought Exchange to one of three countries; China, Mexico or Turkey. North went to Turkey where he visited several successful businesses and met with their owners. Further presentations that followed saw serial entrepreneur North win through to the regional finals and go on to be one of 18 businesses to present to judges in Hong Kong at the finals.
Six businesses made it into the last section of the knockout competition. At the eleventh hour, North decided to change his final presentation to talk about how Wow! Stuff had been created by a chance meeting with his two co-founders and shareholders Kenny McAndrew and Dr Graeme Taylor.
"The success of most companies rarely lies with the founder but with the founder’s ability to spot talent and then build and nurture a great team. When I met Kenny and Graeme they were selling a towel on a market stall. This wasn't a towel in the mould of any other; it was adding their humour to a boring product that caught my attention. One side of the towel was brown in colour and the other side was white. On the brown side was written Arse and on the white Face-risqué but appealing to anyone with a sense of humour! I wondered what else this duo had in their ideas portfolio and a meeting with them confirmed that they would make the perfect design team and great business partners.
When I decided to incorporate this story into the final presentation, I borrowed some samples from our local Hong Kong office. The product provided a great opening to the judging panel and Lord Digby Jones was quick to spot that this was no simple novelty trick when I informed him that we had sold 1 million pieces to date.
Since then Wow! Stuff’s product range has advanced way beyond toilet humour and includes high-tech radio controlled toys and a brand portfolio that ranges from The Science Museum and Wallace & Gromit to Doctor Who and Britain's Got Talent. Wow's customer base is a who's who of premier retailers including M&S, Argos, Debenhams and WH Smith.
Wow! Stuff’s success has come from its highly rewarding work ethic, celebrating innovation internally and proactively encouraging its team to bring new creative ideas to the table. In order to make these ideas not only a reality but a marketable product, Wow! Stuff has created three ‘strategic sales enhancement’ programmes that ensure that a new idea or product is presented and supported in the most positive way possible.
• The Demonstration Academy, which trains and deploys hundreds of Demonstration Artists across multiple retailers
• TXT4VID, where videos of its products in action are downloaded onto mobile phones
• In-Store Video solutions, with over 3,000 LCD screens playing fast action videos of its products in action
Wow! Stuff has ambitious plans for expansion with operations in the USA, France and Germany and has also negotiated two global licenses, launching in 2011.