Indie interview: The Funky Appliance Company
Here we talk to Joe Sillett, chief executive of The Funky Appliance Company, about the business he set up with his wife Sadie.
Based in West Sussex, the company has raised a total of £1 million in investment to date and has three core products including the Funky Toaster, Funky Kettle and Funky Iron. It is currently in the middle of its latest crowdfunding round.
What were you doing prior to founding The Funky Appliance Company?
I have founded three businesses in the last 20 years, the most famous of which was Woodworm, which started out in cricket with Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen and later went into golf with Ernie Els.
What prompted you to set it up?
I went to an entrepreneur’s talk in Southampton where Mike Clare of Dreams Beds and Nick Jenkins of Dragons Den and Moonpig were talking about their experiences. I asked Mike and Nick how to go about finding an idea for a new business and Mike replied that you should look for something, a product which every household needs, which in his case was beds. He bought a transit van and just got on with it. Nick offered similar advice, whereby his business was greeting cards, a product which most people buy, but in his case, he offered personalisation for the first time. He said look for something which everyone buys and put your own twist on it.
Four days later, my wife Sadie and I were driving to our local hardware store and were discussing ironing board covers, with my wife commenting that they were not very funky and quite garish. I stopped her in her tracks and said “forget ironing board covers not being funky, there aren’t any funky irons in the world.” And that was the beginning of our business. We immediately went home and researched electric steam irons and they all looked the same, using the same standard shape. That day, we decided to design a new Funky Iron and four weeks later we launched the limited company in June 2016.
How have you subsequently developed the business?
We started working with two leading designers in the UK who helped us formulate our vision for our new Funky Iron. That process took three months and then we had to make sure that the new Funky Iron design was adequately protected from an intellectual property viewpoint. Once the IP was secured, I travelled to China to meet a specialist iron factory and we worked on the new iron for a total of two years before launching it in December 2018. We then started work on designing a new Funky Toaster and Funky Kettle as we didn’t want all of our eggs to be in one basket and it was the best decision we have made. The Funky Kettle and Funky Toaster launched earlier this year and have received great feedback from customers and industry professionals.
Since launching our new Funky Kettle and Funky Toaster in Q1 2021, we have received the following titles: “Best 4-Slice Toaster” – Ideal Home Magazine, “Best Matching Kettle and Toaster Set” – Ideal Home Magazine, “Number 1 Kettle and Toaster Set” – Real Homes Magazine. In November 2021, the Funky Toaster was awarded the status “Good Housekeeping Approved”. The Independent awarded the Funky Toaster “Best Toaster Tall Bread” in their Indy Best selections.
Alongside our three core products, we have already designed a Funky Microwave which has attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest appliance businesses who are keen to work with us. We also have a Funky Mixer and Funky Air Fryer waiting to go into development. Having partnered with Europe’s leading SDA and housewares distributor RKW in Stoke-on-Trent, we now have Funky products ranged in 81 stores in the UK and Ireland as well as online with several leading UK retailers. We also signed an exclusive global license with RKW for our Funky brand to go into housewares and cookware, and this will start in 2022.
You have benefited from £1 million in investment so far. Tell us more about your latest crowdfunding round on Seedrs.
We now have sight of a great business in 2022 and we need to make sure that we are well resourced both people wise and financially for next year. We are looking to raise a minimum of £200,000 and after two days, we are already at 50% funded which is great news:
Through RKW our distributor, we have sizeable forward orders which are currently being manufactured and will be delivered in quarter one and quarter two of 2022. The capital raised in this round on Seedrs will put us in a great position to execute our business plan in 2022, which should see us into multi-million turnover and six figure profits.
How do you market your products and keep customers engaged?
To date, we have operated on a relatively lean expense base and a lot of our focus has been around building the brand socially on Facebook and Instagram and delivering excellent customer service to everyone who buys direct from our website. We have advertised in select publications which we think fit with our brand and have also advertised our trade relationship with RKW through ERT Magazine. In addition, we have used national newspapers to advertise on an ad hoc basis when a good deal comes along. In 2022, with the Seedrs money, we will start to advertise on television for the first time and we are really excited about making this happen.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business? What is the impact of Brexit?
In truth, we have been quite fortunate in that for a lot of the time, particularly in the early days of Covid, everyone was at home using their kettles and toasters more and spending more money on household items to make themselves feel better amidst the doom and gloom. Fortunately, from a manufacturing and sourcing perspective, we haven’t really suffered, other than freight rates which did go through the roof and continue to be ridiculously high. As for Brexit, this has had an impact, in that previously we sold direct to customers in Ireland and after Brexit, the process became too labour intensive on the paperwork side, so we decided to concentrate on shipping to the UK only and letting our retailers south of the border pick up the interest.
How do you see the business developing in the future?
We have already had many approaches from distributors overseas and we are looking forward to activating some of these in 2022. Australia and New Zealand is likely to be first, followed by the USA and the UAE. By quarter four of 2022, I would expect that we would have some good coverage in Europe too. Beyond that, we are looking forward to launching the new products described above and helping RKW bring our licensed products to market.
How have you invested in technology and how has it helped the business?
We have tried where possible to understand where products could be improved and over and above the aesthetical look, we have focused on the performance of our products, as it is absolutely vital that people get to know our brand as a strong performing functional one as well as a brand known for producing stylish and unique designs. This helps to position our company as forward thinking and we will only launch a product into the marketplace once we are satisfied that the product will hold up 100% functionality wise. All of our products have their own bespoke tooling which we have invested significantly in and this helps to set our Funky brand apart from competitors who often share designs and put their own logos on them.
How do you think online retail will develop over the next five years?
Amazon has a massive advantage over most online retailers and still has a huge % of the online market, but I do expect the rest of the online market to fight back. Online retail will become more and more important as convenience shopping from your sofa grows exponentially. The winners in the online retail space will be those retailers who offer great products at sensible prices, but who back it up with brilliant customer service which will lead to repeat business.
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