Shaving brushes firm in Isle of Man at cutting edge with plans for expansion

Mark Watterson

Mark Watterson

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Managing director Mark Watterson is bristling with excitement at the success of Simpsons Shaving Brushes as it continues to grow in the island.

Manxman Mr Watterson, 43, a father of three, says the successful business has never been busier because of the amazing demand for men’s grooming products worldwide and especially in the United States.

And there are major plans to expand over the next five years as turnover has more than doubled.

The company only moved to new, bigger premises in Cronkbourne last September but already Mr Watterson is looking to expand with an even bigger base in the island.

Around half a million brushes are handmade at the factory every year and Mr Watterson said the business is a success story in the world of small to medium sized enterprises in the island.

Mr Watterson told Business News how Simpsons Shaving Brushes, worth up to £350 each are going down big in the gentlemen’s barber shops and tailoring stores in upmarket parts of London and in America there has been an explosion in demand.

A well-known Hollywood actor is known to be a regular customer and the Isle of Man company is regularly praised on a host of social media sites and ‘shaving’ forums, particularly in the United States.

Speaking from his office Mr Watterson told Business News: ‘These are very exciting times. In the last 10 years male grooming has been through something of a renaissance. Today there are shelves and shelves of products. It’s a huge market and shaving brushes are at the forefront of it really.

‘Gentlemen are spending more time grooming themselves and a lot of them are enjoying the olde worlde facets that go with it. Shaving brushes have become fashionable and in vogue again. It is retro grooming, that’s a good way to describe it.

‘I think people are realising that if you use a good quality product in the way that it is designed to be used it is going to be better for your skin care.’

Business is booming. ‘Just to give you an idea of numbers in 2009 we were turning over £750 ,000 and we are now turning over £2 million. So it’s a substantial jump in sales in

just a few years.

‘It really is a success story. Here we are, we have built our own premises, we have expanded the business over 100 per cent, we’ve got big plans to expand over the next five years, so we are a success story for Isle of Man Plc.’

The Cronkbourne premises are 5,000 square ft in size and the plan is to triple the size to 15,000 sq ft premises. Mr Watterson said: ‘We have earmarked a parcel of land in the island.’

Eighteen people, mostly women work on the ‘shop floor’ producing the handmade brushes. From start to finish the process takes a week. ‘The staff are very loyal and very skilled,’ said Mr Watterson.

The plan is to take more people on when they eventually move to bigger premises.

Mr Watterson’s father Philip bought the company brand in 2008.

Simpsons Shaving Brushes started life in the east end of London in 1919.

The business was started by Alexander Simpson and moved to Chard in Somerset in 1941 after factory was destroyed by German bombs.

In 1990, when he could not find craftsmen for its ageing workforce, David Carter, one of the owners, approached Mr Watterson senior for advice, as he ran a manufacturing operation in the island for Vulfix, a German maker of brushes for other brands.

Eventually Philip Watterson bought the brand, the ‘Rolls Royce of shaving brushes’ from Mr Carter and integrated it into the his factory.

His son Mark took over in 2010 and he loves to extol the virtues of the island at trade shows and in his dealings with people around the world.

Mark told Business News his father Philip has since retired but still keeps a keen eye on business. ‘There’s nothing my father does not know about this business,’ said Mark.

Mark Watterson is married to Sarah and they have three sons Lucas, Zak and Oscar.

He is a keen fan of Everton and plays for Braddan Football Club. He also coaches Corinthians under 11s side and managed the island’s veteran football squad.

He told Business News he is immensely proud of his island and is full of praise for the island’s Government. He said the Department of Economic Development has been excellent in contributing a percentage of the costs of moving last September from Spring Valley to Cronkbourne under a scheme to encourage manufacturing.

The whole business, including the production of Vulfix and Simpson, comes under the umbrella of Progress Shaving.

Mr Watterson said the island business was not standing still and is also expanding with a range of shaving creams and oils made by a third party.

Business News was given a first-hand insight into the techniques to make Simpsons brushes. It’s been pretty much the same for years, using badger hair bought in bundles, selected, trimmed and tied together and then glued into a handle. The handles are turned on a lathe then vibrated in limestone chips to smooth the finish before being engraved and then buffed.

Mr Watterson said: ‘It’s a very interesting niche product. I maintain that in some ways this is one of the island’s best kept secrets.

‘It’s a business that lots of people, when they hear of it, are extermely interested and wonder why they’ve never heard of it before. We don’t as a rule advertise locally because so much of our business is overseas. The majority of the Simpson shaving sales is in the US.’

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