Tangle Teezer is paving a way for the Internet of Hairbrushes. The brand, which enjoys a cult following, including Cara Delevigne and internet darling Emma Watson, is about to embark on a new traceability project. Using QR codes it will trace hairbrushes from UK factory floors to shop shelves across the world.

Like many manufacturers, the company lacked product traceability, opening it up to counterfeit crime, IT manager at Tangle Teezer, Dan Nicholson explains.

Emma Watson is a fan of the UK hairbrush brand ©iStock/EdStock
Emma Watson is a fan of the UK hairbrush brand ©iStock/EdStock

“This is completely changing the way we package our products. Once something has been sold it's difficult to find information on that product.”

Now, every Tangle Teezer will be given a unique code. With billions-upon-billions of QR codes, the manufacturer can track where the products are travelling internationally and when it has been sold, and whether an opportunistic criminal is cross selling.  This both eliminates counterfeit crime and gives Tangle Teezer marketing data for its international reach.

Similar digital tracing is often used in the pharmaceutical industry, to ensure medicine has not been tampered with. While fraudulent hairbrushes don’t carry the same health issues as counterfeit medicine, Tangle Teezer is keen to stamp it out.

“You can’t estimate counterfeits but the reason we are putting so much investment into this project is because we know it is an issue,” Nicholson explained. “It’s a problem everywhere, but our CEO was quite keen to say ‘we’re not going to let this go’”.

Investing in technology across the entire business is important to CEO Matt Lumb, who took over the reins at the fast-growing UK company when he met founder and hairdresser Shaun Pulfrey at accounting software Sage's conference in 2010.

From small beginnings

Concocted in Pulfrey’s bedroom in 2007, Tangle Teezer was refused funding by the BBC’s Dragon’s Den investors, but has since doubled its sales year-on-year and won several accolades for its export and financial successes.

Despite these success, it didn’t “spend one penny” on advertising until this year. Avid social media fans and celebrity endorsements across Twitter put the hairbrush in the hands of not only the British public, but Europe and the US too.

But this exponential growth has left the company dependant on a robust technology stack. With its commitments to manufacturing hairbrushes strictly in the UK, organising supply and demand  takes “quite a bit of planning”, Lumb says.

“When we scaled so quickly, one problem was ensuring supply could meet demand and we always had to think one step ahead. In 2010 we were selling 50,000 units a month, and now it's nearer 850,000. To manufacture that many products and keep it in the UK takes quite a bit of planning. Using a Sage 200 out of the box and a Dexterity WPS warehouse management system Lumb has good visibility of stock so he can order what he needs in good time.

Growing the team

“We’ve run out of space in our office,” says Lumb. The same room housed just three employees in 2010 and is now filled a staff of 21. “It’s loud, it’s noisy, it’s busy and there is no room for anyone else.” Now, to allow it to employ more people both on the business and technology side, Tangle Teezer is swapping its 1,600 square foot office in Brixton to a 7,000ft property.

Lean principles

However, the company does not want to lose its 'startup feel' and lean principles. With less of a hierarchy, IT is able to make decisions quicker. For example, an American customer refused to place an order unless Tangle Teezer had an EDI system, Nicholson tells Techworld. 

Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI is a means of sending files electronically, eliminating the need for paper pushing. 

While the company had already planned to implement an entirely paperless system including EDI and OCR (software that converts PDFs to digital files) at the end of this year, a quick phone call meant that the system was purchased and deployed within days - and the customer could place their order.

Tangle Teezer's entirely paperless system, which Nicholson believes will reduce admin time by 60 percent, combines ReadSoft OCR, a workflow data decision engine and cloud-based NetEDI - all of which integrate with Sage 200. 

Microsoft Office 365

Nicholson is also moving all employees over to Office 365 which can support Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management system to streamline and centralise communications. It will move from Sharefile to Sharepoint and use Linkedin for communications while out of the office, to cut costs on roaming while abroad.