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Queen’s Awards Winner 2022 in International Trade

Head and shoulders above the rest

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Gail and Matt Waterman,  growing a business a customers' hair

Gail and Matt Waterman’s company is literally a growth business - it specialises in revolutionary products for hair loss problems.

A kitchen table business that has blossomed into something quite remarkable, so remarkable in fact that in less than a decade it has gone from selling two items a day to 500,000 each month and in the process won a Queen’s Award for international trade.

Based in Rotherham, the idea for Watermanshair developed after the couple suffered different variations of hair loss and after trying various remedies that failed to work they created their own formula. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

While both working full time – Gail as a hairdresser and salon owner and Matt in marketing – and raising two boys, they married their different skill sets and overcame their lack of expertise by hard work and passion and an understanding of what high salon standards needed to be achieved to make their mark. 

Armed with Gail’s knowledge of hair, they researched ancient ingredients and created their first product, Grow Me, which they tested on themselves and on Gail's salon customers where there were a range of different hair types, textures and hair problems to experiment on and to substantiate the efficacy of their products.

Gail said: “It worked so well that customers visited more often because their hair was growing thicker and quicker. When we took our formula, which was initially a cream, to a technical director to take it to the next stage he was astonished that people like us without a scientific background could come up with something like this that actually worked.”

Ploughing their own money and time into the business, they started selling in 2014 with Matt making daily trips to send out orders: “I’d go to the Post Office every day with a carrier bag of orders, two bottles and then that become bin bag and then it was 200 bottles a day and I was filling the car with orders. 

“It got to the point where the Post Office kept my bank card so they could be quicker and to stop their queues building up!”

Within a year Watermans became the most searched for haircare brand in the world and today they sell more shampoo and conditioner than any other brand on Amazon. Matt added: “I just wanted us to make 10 grand a month and we’d be happy. Our turnover now runs to £6m per annum.”

In 2019 they bought a 20,000 sq ft warehouse and moved their operation from their home and increased staff to a mere 11 people, including themselves.

Watermans now has distributors across Europe, Asia Pacific, UAE, and India. Using marketplaces such as Amazon has helped to build an additional international profile especially in USA, with one Amazon sale every 30 seconds. Overseas sales have grown by 102 per cent over the three-year application period and the proportion of sales exported has increased to 34 per cent of total sales. 

During the pandemic Watermans added hand sanitisers to its portfolio and donated over 10,000, resulting in a letter from 10 Downing Street thanking them for their generosity. Watermans have also given away £65,000 of stock to women who lost their hair through chemotherapy.

In the UK their products are now available on the high street but that has been hard fought. Matt said: “Because we came from nowhere as a small home spun business we were laughed at by the big retailers when we first started. The only one which ever believed in us has been one of the hardest retailers to get into, Boots.”

Gail added: “The Queen’s Award means the world to us because we have worked such long hours to get here driven by a determination to succeed and belief in our products.

“We’ve had no investment; we didn’t go down the Dragon’s Den route and have no big R&D teams and marketing budgets like others, instead we have just focused on putting our customers before profit. We have created this international growth ourselves organically and we are hoping that the award will help take us to the next level.
“We’d now like to be in more stores and be a household brand, especially in the US, and to that end we have recently employed a business development manager to knock on the doors of some of the big retailers. For us this really is just the start.”

Hair today and more tomorrow.

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