This was taken from The Telegraph entitled "Look no further for the bear necessities", and was written by Anna White. Many thanks, Anna, for this inciteful article.
"Husband and wife couple William and Charlotte Morris won over the collectables market with their handmade teddy bear, but its popularity almost proved their downfall as a surge in demand led to a year-long backlog of orders.The Yorkshire pair spotted a niche for good quality, yet affordable collectors’ toys, secured a Small Firms Loan Guarantee from the Government to start Charlie Bears in 2005. “There was a significant gap in the market,” said Mr Morris, 39. “There were low quality products at the bottom end of the price range that people simply didn’t fall in love with or very expensive collectables.”The Morris’s, who met when William walked into Charlotte’s teddy bear shop in Leeds looking for a present for his mother, relocated to Cornwall and after much searching found a manufacturer in Thailand that was willing to take on this new category.“We had a few false starts,” said Mr Morris. “There just wasn’t a manufacturer out there capable of producing quality for the right price. All the attention to detail adds to the cost but if you approach suppliers in China you’ll get the opposite - low price, mass production.”The small plant in Thailand already made high end Mohair Bears, supplying Walmart and other major brands. The pair approached the Korean owner with the idea to use a cheaper material called plush to handmade a detailed prototype.The English couple designed 12 characters and placed a minimum order of 600 of each without any commitment of forward sales. “If it all went wrong all we had was 2,000 teddy bears to keep us warm,” said Mr Morris, who had sold their home, car and speed boat to launch the business.Charlie Bears’ meteoric rise to fame began at the Birmingham Spring Fair, where they took £20,000 worth of orders from small independent retailers in one day. “For giftware start-ups it is the place to be,” he said. By the end of their first year they generating revenues of £138,000.And it wasn’t long before the shopping channel QVC signed them up. “QVC fell for the love story behind the brand and our first show was a complete sellout,” Mr Morris said.The strategy was to build a following of the next generation of collectors. The full series of Charlie Bears, retailing for around £400, was already commanding prices of around £3,000 on secondary marketplaces such as eBay.While the consumer squeeze gripped the retail industry, Charlie Bears doubled its turnover from £1.1m in 2008 to £2.1m in 2009. “The recession was our biggest turning point,” said Mr Morris. “The bad news story meant people were more savvy with their money and we had created a product that looked more expensive than it was. With mortgage rates going down people were affording themselves the odd treat.”The intensity of demand was starting to build, but the Morris’s still ran the entire business themselves, from cleaning the “bear-house” to presenting on QVC. They were so focused on dealing with orders that they did not foresee the looming production crisis.A combination of problems hit the company simultaneously. After every QVC show Charlie Bears’ 120 stockists would be inundated with enquiries and suddenly at trade shows they were shunning the advances of QVC in Germany and the like.Training up skilled workers to manufacture the bear could take up to two years and the Thai factory did not have the capacity to grow with the company. As a result customer waiting times slid from 30 weeks to 62.“Our warehouse became a transit shed and we were so busy trying to get the product out of the door that we were not trying to solve the longer term problem,” he said. “And then the complaints came.”So the pair turned to Growth Accelerator - a UK based service which provides small and medium sized businesses with a coach to help create a long term business plan. With experience of setting up manufacturing operations in Mexico and Puerto Rica, Paul Duffy identified the need for a team of staff, a senior management team that was properly incentivised, and led them in an urgent search to find more manufacturers. “Adding more offshore suppliers was never going to have an immediate impact so we also sat down to help the current manufacturer continue to work with Charlie Bears,” said Mr Duffy.The solution to their long term supplier issue lay in the villages of Sri Lanka, where they found four production partners and initiated training programmes from the outset, using young female hairdressers and art students to shave the bears’ faces and complete the intricate face work.“In many cases these girls [from the ages of 18 to mid-20s] were the first female family member to work outside the home or village,” said Mr Morris. “We also worked with Government to put a facility in Kandy to provide employment for people living in the outlying villages.”The Charlie Bears team communicated with customers throughout its turnaround, “we used social media imploring people to bear with us - excuse the pun” said Mr Morris.The business is now generating revenues of £8.5m with 500 stockists, it supplies 37 different countries and has its beady eye on Japan and the Middle East with their appetite for western heritage brands.“We have never sold out to volume,” said Mr Morris, “We could have turned to the likes of China to mass produce teddy bears and get us out of a hole but we stuck by our original brand values of quality over volume, and it’s paying off.” "
Quote of the Day - "Dreams and dedication are a powerful combination." - William Longwood