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Challengers Business Club welcomes Tom Joule

L-R: Laura Sercombe, Tom Joule, Moira Martin, Gail Bedding

On Thursday 5th October, the Challengers Champion Business Club met for their third event of the year at the Guildhall in the centre of bustling Guildford. The Business Club gathered to hear from Tom Joule, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of premium British lifestyle brand Joules.

Challengers is a charity which provides play and leisure schemes for disabled children and young people in Surrey, Hampshire and the surrounding areas. Their Business Club brings together over 40 local businesses and hosts four networking events a year with first-rate industry speakers to share their business expertise and industry stories.

Guests gathered for a drinks reception and networking in the Guildhall, before taking their seats to hear from Laura Sercombe, Challengers CEO, who welcomed the room and gave an update about Challengers since the club last met in June. She talked about the recent fire at the Guildford Playcentre and thanked the Business Club for their continued support throughout 2017. Laura said: “It really is lovely to see you here tonight, you all represent such a lovely community around Challengers and as you know we’ve had a really tough year. The Business Club is an extraordinary group of businesses that get behind Challengers and enable us to do so much, that we just couldn’t do without your help. You have all made that decision to support your local charity, and we couldn’t be more grateful, so thank you.”

Laura then invited Nathalie Bellamy, Challengers Parent Ambassador, to speak and she told her family’s story and how Challengers has impacted on her life. “When Sam arrives at the session, he is treated like a long lost friend by the team leader. Sam has the choice to play outside (football is always a favourite), he has the chance to cook in the specially designed kitchen, he can paint in the messy area, or he can go to the soft play. One of my greatest fears was the impact of having Sam would have on my two other children. All three of my children are important to me, and I did not want having a disabled child to mean that my other children would not have my time and attention. This is where Challengers does so much for me, they have eased that fear.”

Gail Bedding, Challengers Parent Trustee, then stood to thank Nathalie and made the exciting announcement that Challengers are welcoming two new patrons to the team, Larry Sullivan and Moira Martin. Both have been supporters of Challengers for many years and have done a lot for the charity, we are incredibly grateful to them for officially joining the Challengers family as patrons.

Challengers was then thrilled to introduce Tom Joule, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Joules, to share his experiences since founding Joules almost three decades ago. Tom explained that he began the business by selling at country shows, before Foot and Mouth led to the business launching a wholesale channel. Catalogue and eCommerce channels swiftly followed, as well as bricks and mortar stores (of which there are now 125 across the UK). Today the business is a true multi-channel brand, operating through retail, ecommerce, shows & events, wholesale and catalogue channels.

The key message Tom shared during his talk was the importance of getting to know your customers and being a person that they rely on and trust. From the very beginning of his journey right through to now, Tom has been at the forefront of Joules, getting to know his customers and caring about the products he is selling.

Tom said: “I came from a retail background, my father had a shop, and I thought it would be a great idea to try and buy some knitwear and sell it at a local trade show. I didn’t make much money, but I learnt a lot. The business has since developed into what Joules is today.”

Tom then went on to tell the room about how he developed Joules’ unique personality. Tom said: “My customers were happy and fun with big personalities, and there was a bit of a movement of people moving out of the cities and into the country, and not everyone wanted to wear green wellington boots – that was my first idea. I went to a manufacturer and said that I wanted to create some pink wellington boots with some flowers on them – they thought I was mad!”

Joules’ carefully designed collections include clothing, footwear and accessories for women, men and children, as well as an expanding range of homewares, toiletries and eyewear collections.

Tom’s down to earth personality and business expertise captivated the room as it was opened up for questions:

Q: There is a movement to bring manufacturing back to the UK, where do Joules source your materials and do you feel there is a movement back to the UK?

A: We source our products from all over the world including in the UK. We’re proud to be able to say that all our products and prints are designed here in the UK, at our head office in Market

Harborough, which is quite unique and ensures we keep our British style and personality in everything we do.

Q: How far in advance did you see your vision? You’ve come an extraordinary way since those first few country shows and now have an amazing brand. How far over the hill do you see?

A: As soon as I put my name on a product, that’s when I knew I would have a successful brand that would have a positive impact on others’ lives. From the beginning, we have always been closely connected to our core customer and this hasn’t changed. I think that’s the great thing about Joules, we like to innovate, we like to think about our customer’s lives and we try and envisage where they are going to be in a year’s time. So, maybe a couple of years after I put my name on a product, then I thought – how big can this be?

Q: You started with a flowery wellington boot, is that still your top selling product?

A: The Wellington boot is about 5% of all of Joules sales. I call it my ‘Trojan Horse’, as it has been our route to market. When we first entered the US market, you wouldn’t believe the appetite for our flowery Wellington boots. We sold them in places that never see rain! From garden centres in California to places in Texas.

For more information about the Challengers Champion Business Club, please contact Susie Jewell on 01483 230 060 / susiejewell@disability-challengers.org. Alternatively, please head to the Business Club section.