Well hi lovely people of the D2C Community!
This is your host Berkay writing. In our recent podcast episode, we sat down with Ben Ridding, founder of ULU OX, talking about his endless love and passion for the ocean and how he turned it into his dry bag brand!
One central theme I have been noticing throughout the entire podcast experience is successful brands mostly come out of problems creative people have. And ULU is no different!
Truly enjoying open-water swimming and hiking on the coastline, Ben was frustrated when he found out there were no good quality dry bags in the market. So he decided to start his own brand, and after getting a small amount of investment from a local investor operator, he got to work! The journey that truly captivates the essence of this process, however, revolves around Ben's remarkable 6-week trip to Asia to find the best supplier for his business. To me, THIS IS MESMERIZING!
Without further ado, here is a recap of our chat with Ben. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!
An ocean sports enthusiast finds his own watersports equipment brand
Based in South of the England, in Cornwall, Ben's been all about water sports and the ocean since his teenage years. He kicked things off as a lifeguard while riding waves in South Africa. He moved up the ladder to become a senior lifeguard, keeping the beaches safe. Then he opened up an adventure spot where he taught surfing and coastal exploration, all about spreading that coastal love. And guess what? This journey led him to create
ULU Dry Bags, making gear that's totally ready for ocean and outdoor action.
Start with your own problem
ULU's inception occurred during a summer in Cornwall when Ben and his friends explored open-water swimming as an alternative to surfing when the waves were flat. As experienced lifeguards, they embraced the opportunity to see the coastline from a fresh perspective. However, there were no suitable products on the market to aid them during these swims, especially when they wanted to hike along the coast with all their gear.
This sparked the idea for ULU's waterproof inflatable backpack, allowing them to keep their belongings dry while swimming and hiking. And the rest is history, as they say…
But how did he actually start?
Through his Adventure Centre leadership, Ben learned the value of durable equipment in tough environments like saltwater and rocky terrain. He stressed living the brand to grasp product intricacies. This drove him to meticulously research, develop, and iterate ideas, crafting up to 15 backpack prototypes for each launch. Ben detailed rigorous testing, including water trials and collaborations.
This hands-on journey delved into manufacturing, enhancing stitching, and component strength. By pushing products' limits, he identified weaknesses and boosted durability, greatly impacting ULU's research and development.
ULU’s product line
ULU's product range has expanded to cater to different needs and preferences. They started with a seven-liter dry bag, ideal for storing small items like phones while on a boat or stand-up paddleboard. As their product line grew, they introduced larger dry bags and backpacks, offering increased mobility.
The Aqua Track backpack stands out as a versatile ocean exploration solution; it's fully submersible, ensuring complete dryness for your gear. The backpack even features a removable harness for swimming. This diverse range caters to a wide audience, with products ranging in price from £20 to nearly £300, making sure there's an option for everyone who enjoys water-based activities. ULU's aim is to provide a comprehensive selection, accommodating various preferences and budgets for those who love being on the water.
ULU's product line
Test, test, test!
Ben employs a thorough testing method, personally subjecting products to demanding conditions to ensure their dependability in extreme scenarios. This hands-on assessment assures reliable performance.
ULU also collaborates with the factory, conducting lab tests such as loading shoulder straps with 25 kg and drop tests to identify weak points. These precise evaluations ensure the product's strength and suitability.
Community and sustainability
ULU focuses on fostering a community around its products right from the start, despite facing some challenges. They were on the brink of launching when COVID-19 hit, causing delays in production. Initially, they catered more to the open water swimming market due to the circumstances. However, their direction has gradually shifted back towards a more comprehensive range of ocean-based activities.
Ben also addressed ULU's commitment to tackling plastic pollution. He acknowledges the importance of genuinely contributing to sustainability, not merely greenwashing. They use recycled materials and ocean-bound plastics, but before implementing these practices, they underwent a rigorous examination of the entire supply chain, ensuring transparency and traceability. This approach ensures they can confidently identify the origin of the materials used and their environmental impact.
Talking about plastic pollution, what about the sustainability part of it? What does Ben think of big words like “carbon footprint”?
Ben's approach to the marketing and buzzwords surrounding his products is refreshingly grounded. He doesn't get caught up in sales tactics and trendy terminology. His focus is on addressing real problems on a personal level. As someone deeply connected to the ocean, he values its importance in his life and strives to maintain its purity. For him, this mission is not driven by marketing angles, but by a genuine desire to eliminate plastic pollution. His motivation stems from a personal connection to the environment and a commitment to preserving pristine areas for himself and others to enjoy.
The first sale was on Instagram
The journey began with a first sale through Instagram, which funded the initial stock batch. Ben secured a loan from a local investment group called Swig, allowing him to purchase the initial stock. The first batch consisted of tow floats, and their popularity soared due to the surge in open-water swimming during the COVID-19 period. While their focus had been on developing backpacks, the market direction led them towards the tow floats for a while.
Despite the twists, Ben built a community around the backpacks. He offered them at a discounted rate for the first production run, gathering valuable feedback from users to refine the product. This feedback not only revealed user preferences but also played a pivotal role in securing a second round of funding.
Recently, they secured match funding grants, boosting their plans to accelerate production using new materials. Ben anticipates an exciting two months ahead, concentrating on perfecting the new material, finalizing testing, and expediting the entire production process with the newfound financial support.
Traveling and connecting with people His lifestyle takes him between Cornwall and Portugal, with the latter providing a warmer climate during the winter months. He's passionate about networking and connecting with people, a facet that aligns well with his love for outdoor activities. Given that ULU's products cater to his favored environments, Ben's interactions within the water sports and outdoor community hold immense value. Engaging with water sports instructors, expedition enthusiasts, and like-minded individuals in these settings allows him to form connections with people who share his passion for the ocean and outdoors. Unlike the formal corporate networking scene, these interactions occur in more relaxed and inviting settings, fostering a warm and genuine atmosphere. Ben says he finds “a lot of sort of like-minded attitude” when he travels.
Back to the business: Travelling across Asia for six weeks for finding the right supplier “So what I did is I went out to Asia and spent six weeks travelling around every single dry bag factory I could find”
One significant learning experience for Ben was not fully understanding the manufacturing process and supply chain early on. This became apparent when there were issues with products, such as stitching problems, due to a lack of familiarity with the manufacturer. To rectify this, he embarked on a six-week journey to visit multiple dry bag factories in Asia!
This hands-on exploration allowed him to establish a strong relationship with a reliable factory, which proved to be a pivotal step forward. This newfound partnership has been invaluable, as it ensured a trustworthy manufacturer and a productive working relationship.
The manufacturers there took Ben seriously for two reasons:
He went all the way to China to actually meet people face to face Ben was very aware of the language manufacturers speaks “ ..My father was involved in manufacturing my grandfather. I had picked up a lot of the terminology and also manufacturing processes.”
Newsletters and Instagram Audience
ULU's marketing efforts are gradually taking shape. They've initiated email newsletters and have garnered around 4,000 subscribers. On Instagram, they have a following of approximately 2,500 individuals. Recently, they've brought onboard a skilled marketer named Peter, who is adding much-needed structure to their marketing approach. With his guidance, they are beginning to strategize, organize, and create a more streamlined and effective marketing plan to advance the business. This step marks a transition from the initial chaos to a more focused and structured marketing approach.
Social media “FB and Instagram but we have just started LinkedIn at the beginning of this year for B2B.”
ULU's Instagram approach involves focusing on lifestyle rather than sales. By showcasing the brand's values and way of life, they aim to create a deeper connection with their audience.
In terms of
email marketing, ULU seeks to offer subscribers insights into the brand's inner workings, exclusive offers, and a means of direct communication. This approach adds a personal touch and opens up a channel for customers to interact with the brand on a more individual level.
LinkedIn, ULU aims to provide a professional aspect to its outreach efforts. This allows potential partners and customers to access a business-oriented profile, offering a more comprehensive view of the brand's operations and endeavors. This multi-faceted strategy encompasses different dimensions of the business, ensuring a well-rounded and authentic approach to engagement.
ULU has found meaningful connections are achievable through Instagram's features like stories and posts. This year, one of ULU’s key focuses is measuring engagement metrics, mainly experimenting with various types of posts to see what resonates most with our audience. Ulu has recognized that people are drawn to the aspirational lifestyle content that reflects our brand identity.
So ULU’s strategy involves expanding beyond open water swimming to encompass sailing, kayaking expeditions, and more. This broader approach is aimed at reaching a wider audience, enhancing our market presence, and facilitating deeper connections with enthusiasts across various water-based activities.
Check out ULU's Instagram! How about content creation? “Well, that's me, my phone, and my drone.”
Plans for the future
ULU envisions its brand evolving through a strong sense of community engagement. This approach involves fostering connections with customers and involving them in the product development process. By listening to their input on technical details and desired features, ULU aims to create products that align with their community's needs and aspirations.
A key source of satisfaction is witnessing their products in action, being utilized in outdoor environments. Their commitment to tackling plastic pollution remains steadfast. ULU's dedication involves not only their own supply chain practices but also exploring innovative ways to prevent plastics from entering the ocean.
The prospect of growth is exciting, and the company's focus on community input highlights its commitment to collaboration. As a smaller entity, they have the flexibility to explore various directions, and they look forward to seeing how the brand's journey unfolds based on the feedback and aspirations of their community.
“We got a new website that's about to go live, having his guidance on those areas and also on how we're communicating with people through email lists and Instagram.”
“So I think one of the biggest issues when you are sort of in the brand all of the time, it's very easy to get stuck in the trenches.”
In fact, they already updated their website,
check it out!
If you reached this point, well, thank you! Please consider following D2CVille on social media and contacting us if you’d like to be a guest in one of these podcast episodes! And if you’re into ocean sports, go check out ULU! They have pretty cool stuff...