Business & Economy
Five minutes with…
March 3, 2023
It may be known for its soft seating, but with a European expansion complementing high calibre boardroom additions and gold Investors in People accreditation, Cramlington-based Bazaar Group is very much a company on the move. Here, chief executive Mark Dolder tells Steven Hugill about the firm’s progress and why its growth trajectory is far from slowing down.
You co-founded the business with your wife Jayne in 2005. Explain a little about the company and its development.
Jayne founded the business in 2003, and it was incorporated in 2005.
It is a genuine cottage industry business.
Jayne wanted a bean bag she had as a child, but couldn’t afford one, so her parents helped her make one on the kitchen table.
They were quickly admired by her brother and friends, who placed orders.
This was when eBay was starting out.
Jayne, with her technical background as a PA, was able to undertake the complex process of listing on eBay, and so the online business began.
Initially, Jayne and I moved into a barn conversion in Denwick, Northumberland, with Jayne setting out the spare room to cut and make bean bags.
Her mum and brother visited and, as demand outstripped the ability to supply, her mum stayed for the following 18 months with her brother, who worked a shift pattern over weekends, commuting from Nottingham for a similar period.
The business got to a point where commercial premises were required, and we took a lease on a 2500sq ft site in Cramlington.
In the first year, we totally outgrew the base, turning over nearly £1 million.
With the help of my family, we were able to procure a long lease on a 15,000sq ft property, and used the money we would have made going forward to fund the management team.
The business grew strongly over the next nine years, and we made the decision in that period to create a values-driven business, reinvesting a lot of the profits with a view to selling further down the line.
In 2016, we occupied our current 42,000sq ft premises in Cramlington, which includes the capacity to expand polystyrene bead from the raw material and to pick, assemble, pack and dispatch products across the UK and most of Europe.
January 27, 2021, was an important time; the business had done well over COVID-19, and we judged it was a good time to sell.
We are extremely fortunate that, after an exhausting process, we found Comhar Capital.
We received private equity investment from an experienced entrepreneur and a corporate finance professional, which has transformed and accelerated our plans.
We opened a 40,000sq ft manufacturing and distribution site in Hamburg last year, which will enable us to efficiently serve the pan-European market, an area we judge to be double the size of the UK.
You mention the company’s new German site. Just how important is the continent to Bazaar Group’s future?
We have known for several years that European customers like our product, as we sold around 20 per cent of our business across the continent pre-Brexit.
There is no getting away from the fact that Brexit substantially damaged business, but there are also exciting supply chain opportunities in Eastern Europe, particularly with the situation in the Far East currently volatile.
By internationalising our website with iterations in several countries, and increasing the already large number of channels we trade with – including third parties such as Amazon and eBay – we see great opportunity.
If we do a good job, Europe will be transformative to the business in the next three years.
Remaining on the topic of growth, the firm now counts experienced trio Mark Short, Helen Svensson and Dan Pinchard as board members. How is their insight and knowledge being harnessed to further catalyse the business’ expansion?
As a founder manager, I am excited and delighted to have an executive board with the skills and potential of Mark, Dan and Helen.
They know exactly what ‘good looks like’ in their respective fields, and we share a common set of values that are replicated throughout the business, which guide a collegiate approach to achieving our very ambitious objectives.
The acquisition by Comhar Capital and private equity ownership was key to attracting senior professionals of their calibre.
It is 20 years since Jayne founded the business, and as I approach the early evening of my career, I am excited and confident the longer-term future of the company is in capable hands.
The company was recently awarded gold Investors in People (IIP) accreditation, with assessors particularly praising it for cultivating an accessible working culture, wherein employees feel valued and a key part of its future. What plans are in place to build on that success?
We have found IIP to be a brilliant framework to develop our HR policies and philosophy.
The information we gain from audits is often with anonymised feedback, which has helped the business deliver excellent HR practices while adhering to our strong values and healthy culture.
Where do we go from here? Onwards.
We were introduced to one of the leading business psychologists by Comhar, who has adopted us as a pet project across processes such as individual personality profiling for an overall assessment of the team’s strengths and areas for development, and individual 360 feedback linking to KPIs and appraisals.
We are looking to create the ‘holy grail of business management’, and it is the key reason why I’m so excited about the future.
The business will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2025. What are your hopes and ambitions as you approach the milestone?
They are many and great.
We are reviewing our three-year plan with an exacting approach around improving the range of products we sell, the brands we trade and the distribution channels we operate.
We also have half an eye on further territorial expansion.
We are a business that has always moved at pace.
Around half of our current team have joined since the acquisition, and have complemented our long-held competitive energy with focus and experience.