A well-respected firm acquired by a 21-year-old entrepreneur has won a major distribution contract for its boat repair kits following support from a business innovation centre in south Hampshire.
Blue Gee, founded in 1985 and now owned by managing director Tom Farrugia following a buy-out, specialises in resins and hardeners for a range of repair-and-paint kits for glassfibre yachts, canoes, dinghies, catamarans and kayaks.
Products from the firm, based at Fareham Innovation Centre, near Fareham, are popular with DIY hobbyists needing adhesive, coating and laminating kits for bumps, dents and holes.
Epoxy resin and polyester solutions, as well as paint pigments, other chemicals and repair tools, are sourced by Tom from quality-assured suppliers in Europe.
They are then repackaged at one of the innovation centre’s 15 light manufacturing units into kit sizes to suit a variety of customer budgets and DIY requirements.
Fareham Innovation Centre has 24 offices and 15 light-manufacturing workshops and is run by UKSPA member Oxford Innovation on behalf of owner Fareham Borough Council.
There are 43 businesses at the award-winning centre, which opened in April 2015 and is fully occupied.
Bought by Tom last year, Blue Gee has now been awarded a sole distribution agreement which sees its products stocked in chandlery stores across the country.
Four new jobs have been created as a result, taking the workforce to five. There are also plans by Tom, now 22, to develop new products to complement Blue Gee’s 180 lines.
The five-figure deal, for an initial three months, was the result of business growth coaching by Richard May, the innovation centre’s Innovation Director.
Tom, from Portsmouth, said: "I was a one-man band, from a building background, with a Blue Gee legacy customer base of some 200 to 300 customers, having acquired a great brand last year. I could see the commercial potential but I was all at sea, if you pardon the pun.
"Thankfully, Richard spent various sessions with me pulling apart my business plan and starting from the ground up.
"For example, he identified the need for an e-commerce solution, given Blue Gee’s impressive range of products, and the need for Blue Gee to have a sole distributor to vastly increase market penetration.
"The e-commerce site is due to come on stream any day now and the sole distribution rights agreement has meant substantial orders instead of piecemeal ones of between £100 to £1,200 from various retailers.
"Thanks to the deal, I’m free to spend a lot more time on developing the Blue Gee brand rather than trying to sell in to individual chandleries and boatyards, which is time consuming and costly in fuel.
"I was also walked through legal and supplier agreements and helped with negotiations and pricing strategies – Richard even made sure that I knew the true cost of each unit, even down to how much it costs to buy and print the kit labels."
Richard said: "The reason why Tom is doing so well is that he seeks out advice, listens and implements that advice.
"He is very much an 'Honest Joe' - his customers and suppliers see and respect that.
"They can also see how Blue Gee is growing in brand stature, with customers buying more and more of the firm’s products.
"One of the key things Tom did was recognise that customers dislike paying for liquid solutions they have to discard because there was too much – Blue Gee’s repair kits range in size so that there is little wastage."
Three part-time staff have been brought in through the Solent Jobs Programme, a cost-free service funded by Southampton and Portsmouth’s City Deal agreement and the European Social Fund.
Two interns from the University of Southampton are also helping develop new supply chain efficiencies and automation.
New products are also in the pipeline, moving Blue Gee on from its roots of 32 years ago.
As well as fibreglass vessels, there are commercial opportunities in aircraft, vehicles, construction, baths, swimming pools, furniture and industrial and domestic products.
Blue Gee’s core products relate to epoxies, resins, gelcoats, catalysts, release agents, fibreglass, fillers, acetone, pigments and chopped strand mats which harden with mixes to form a rigid sheet.
Many of the centre’s occupiers are from the marine, automotive, aerospace and engineering sectors, with dozens of other businesses regularly using drop-in facilities, including hired conference and meeting rooms.
An extension, more than doubling the size of the centre, is due to open in spring 2018, with 33 offices, five workshops and two conference rooms.