Sugru, the fix-all product invented by an Irishwoman, is growing up

The magic rubber product Sugru is one of the most successful Irish inventions

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 01:00

That still means conquering the world of retail, rather than just online. So far, Sugru is sold by hardware store, B&Q, a sports chain and a computer store.

In Ireland it’s available in places such as Dublin’s Science Gallery and Maplins.

“US retail is on the horizon. We sold on (the shopping TV channel) QVC in UK last year. Now, we introducing on QVC in the US, which is about 10 times bigger.”

However, she is cagey about some plans, particularly about where the company will be in a few years time given that it exists in a world where it is a minnow.

“I don’t really want to talk about it. Our strength is building the market and brand. The vision is for it to be a 21st century brand that is in everyone’s kitchen drawer.

“We, as a tiny company in London with the creative skills, are not going to have the huge distribution to take this global. We will at certain points be looking for partnership opportunities,” she says.

She spoke with the industry giants – the 3Ms and Henkels, all multi-billion companies – from the beginning: “We do have a continued dialogue with most of those companies,” she says, hesitantly.

“I think they are very interested,” she continues, the hesitation lasting longer, “We meet people . . . We keep them informed.” By now, the silence of the hesitations fills the room.

If anything, the giants are intrigued: “Normally they would do all of their market development, brand development before they launch. We are doing it in quite a 21st century way.

“We put it out there and said to people, “We think it is useful, what would you do with it? We had no idea at the start of all things that people would find it useful for.”

Everywhere, there are signs of a company growing up; its new chief operating officer (COO) comes from retail. New automated filling machines are planned for later in the year. Paraic Begley’s arrival as COO is “really huge”. Already a shareholder, Begley worked with Australian company Sola in Wexford before it was bought by Carl Zeiss: he has years of experience.”

Ní Dhulchaointigh the inventor has had to become a manager too: not always easy: “I’ve learned that the wrong people, even if they have experience, are the wrong people. I have made mistakes in hiring people and have had to deal with it. The times where I haven’t dealt with it quickly enough have been painful, but they have to have the right cultural fit.

‘You can’t have people floating’
“I have had to do it quite a few times, and you just have to do it,” she says. “You can’t have people floating, who aren’t delivering, because everybody works so hard. It becomes blatantly obvious.”

Meanwhile, Sugru may make the journey from the kitchen cupboard to industry, in time, following interest from automotive engineers. “That is really exciting, they are making millions of parts per day, but that is a way-off.”

Then, there is the toy market. Sugru has passed all health-and-safety standards and are working on a new development that will pass toy regulations, “safe for kids, a permanent play dough. “Everything with children is super, super strict, so we are sponsoring a PhD in Queen Mary University locally, Mile End, one of the top materials’ universities in the country,” she says.

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