The UK has been on shaky ground since the vote to leave the EU. But US household appliances giant SharkNinja hasn’t let that stop it from swimming across the pond
When you think of vacuums in the UK, the likelihood is that Dyson will spring to mind – even if you don’t own one. After all, it’s a British brand and founder James Dyson is rather vocal on matters of UK plc. So vocal, in fact, he was keen to champion Brexit ahead of the vote on June 23 2016 and ever since.
Three months after the decision to leave was announced, The Guardian reported the billionaire tech entrepreneur wasn’t phased. “I don’t want to be arrogant about this, but I don’t understand why people are uncertain,” he said. Fast-forward to January 2019 though and it was revealed the Dyson headquarters was being relocated from its UK hub in Wiltshire to Singapore. Chief executive Jim Rowan claimed: “It’s to make us future-proof for where we see the biggest opportunities.” Of course, this did little to convince spectators Brexit wasn’t the real trigger.
But when it comes to the biggest opportunities in the eyes of Dyson rival SharkNinja, the American manufacturer of Shark vacuums and Ninja kitchen electronics, it’s sunk its teeth firmly into the UK. This much was demonstrated last year with a £150m investment promised over three years to grow the London R&D base in Victoria, where a new floor was opened in November 2018. “This growth will contribute to our unique 24-hour engineering cycle whereby engineers in the company’s three international hubs in London, Boston and Suzhou work collaboratively and continuously around the clock in different time zones to allow new products to be developed from concept to completion within weeks,” says Matt Broadway, SharkNinja’s European president.
The expansion showcases that innovation doesn’t just come out of the mighty US and China but the UK too. Broadway reasons that, in terms of product development, British engineers are on the ground and know what Brits want as a result. But the £150m pot will go beyond innovation to help support overall UK growth too, with TV advertisements and social media strategies among the plans to spread the word of SharkNinja. “We’re continuing to invest in marketing in the UK and our field-based team,” Broadway details. “In 2019, our brand ambassador programme of in-store product demonstrators will grow from 80 to 150 in stores across the country.”
But just why exactly is the UK so appealing to SharkNinja? Well, the numbers speak for themselves. “In 2018, 50% of SharkNinja’s global growth was provided by the UK subsidiary,” reveals Broadway. The North American omnipotence of the business means its existing scale can only come from new verticals like heated cooking, which Ninja has entered with its Foodi line, and new markets. “The UK is very well placed to act as a foothold for wider expansion into Europe in the future,” he adds.
With 1,200 staff globally across ten offices in eight countries, the UK is currently home to 200 staff, with a 50/50 split between sales and marketing workers in Wakefield and engineers in London.
Broadway notes that the vision was “to make better products for our customers” when SharkNinja launched in the US in 2003. And that objective was similar when setting its sights on Britain. “The main vision for setting up the business in the UK was to have a permanent base here so we could build a significant sustainable share of both the floorcare and the small kitchen appliance markets,” Broadway details. A third-party distributor relationship was previously in place but the business realised the chance to do well with both Shark and Ninja brands was in its reach with its own dedicated UK premises. “Looking back, setting up was undoubtedly the correct decision, given the brand awareness, loyal following and market share we have grown since establishing ourselves,” Broadway says.
As the nature of the business is so laser-focused on the end user, consumer research is essential for insights and Broadway defines this as “the heartbeat of our business,” which means finding out their pain points and collaborating closely with the consumers themselves. “All our products are put in front of real people in real homes so they can be tested and reviewed in real life environments,” he explains. “This allows us to understand the needs of the customer at every user interaction point, which includes every button, knob and screen.”
This approach, of course, suddenly makes it much clearer why the R&D investment is such a key part of the business plan. “We design products we know are going to be well received by the end consumer,” states Broadway, adding that products are tested at each step of production for the best possible outcomes. “This allows us to predict incredibly accurately how competitive our products will be and only launch products we know will be given five-star user reviews,” he says.
To that end, there’s a clear-cut goal in place to make the UK and European division of SharkNinja thrive. “For every year over the next three years we aim to have 25% of our revenue come from products which we’ve launched within that calendar year,” says Broadway. In other words, the company has no intention of standing still and resting on its laurels with goods of the past. “This means that we’re not relying on legacy products but fostering an environment which encourages innovative thinking and builds innovation as an important aspect of our brand DNA,” he continues. “You might expect that in consumer electronics but not in household appliances. That tells you how we operate and think.”
And when it comes to sharing its thoughts, SharkNinja doesn’t try to sweep the fact Dyson is a Shark rival under the carpet. Quite the opposite actually. And having already diluted the British brand’s presence in America, the goal is to do the same here. “Dyson had been equally strong in the US and Shark had been able to successfully compete with Dyson there,” says Broadway. And it was that previous battle that paved for way for a UK invasion. “This previous experience gave us the confidence to go head-to-head with Dyson in the UK market as well.”
Aided by the commitment to engineer new products and obtain consumer insights, the business believed it “would be loved by British consumers.” “Since entering the UK, SharkNinja has grown market share and become the number one brand in corded uprights – a £250m market in the UK,” claims Broadway. “We also continue to be the clear challenger brand for cordless stick products with a 25% market share achieved over the last year.”
But with SharkNinja eager to drop anchor in the UK and Dyson looking to Singapore, will that make things easier for the former? Broadway is seemingly indifferent to the shift. “We’ve successfully competed with Dyson all over the world and, wherever they are based, we’re confident of achieving commercial success in every market so it doesn’t make a huge difference to us,” he declares.
Diving deeper into his assessment of the move, Broadway noted Dyson’s eyes have traditionally been fixed on North America and Europe but looking to the east makes Singapore a logical step. His second point had a bit more fire behind it. “Dyson used to focus on floorcare as their primary product category but we’ve outperformed and outsold them in many areas and they have since expanded into other areas of innovation where they have product superiority, such as electric vehicles,” says Broadway. “For Shark, this means that we can continue to lead in the markets Dyson is leaving, and the product categories in which they’re not innovating.”
Although Dyson claims not to be worried about Brexit, the Singapore shift has raised eyebrows and question marks. Broadway says SharkNinja has taken the required steps to ensure it continues to navigate the treacherous waters of Brexit as smoothly as possible no matter what waves the UK exodus make. “We’re working with our retailers, logistics providers and supply chain, taking the necessary precautions to ensure we can keep providing our technology and innovations to customers in the event of a hard or soft Brexit,” he says. “We’re fully prepared for any difficulty the anticipated political changes may impose.”
Looking ahead, SharkNinja has a three-year plan in place. But where exactly will that lead it over the course of the period? “Over the next three years, we expect to become the dominant player in the UK floorcare market and to have grown in new areas of technology by creating new markets in kitchen appliances which currently don’t exist,” concludes Broadway. “We’ll grow not just as a key subsidiary of SharkNinja growing sales in the UK but because we will be the head office for Europe.”