Business Irish

Friday 9 December 2016

Easydry brings innovation to the salon

Anne Butterly's frustration over her flatmates' messy towels spurred her to develop an eco-friendly world-beater

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Sean Gallagher with Easydry CEO Anne Butterly Photo: Arthur Carron
Sean Gallagher with Easydry CEO Anne Butterly Photo: Arthur Carron

With more and more consumers becoming concerned about protecting our environment, the market for environmentally friendly products has grown steadily in recent years.

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One such Irish company which is making an impact in this space is Dundalk based Vytal, which manufactures a range of environmentally friendly disposal towels called Easydry.

Company founder and CEO, Anne Butterly explains how it works.

"Easydry is a next-generation, super-absorbent fabric that uses the latest technological innovations in textile design to create luxurious disposable towels. These are recyclable and biodegradable while offering the highest possible levels of hygiene." The towels are made using eco-friendly processes and without chemicals, and provide a sustainable and convenient alternative to cotton towels. She adds: "Even better, they save money and are 25pc cheaper than laundering."

The towels come in sizes from small hand and face towels, right up to a large bath towel. However, the company's top seller continues to be their hair towel now used in many of Ireland's and indeed, the world's top hair and beauty salons.

At home, their customers include House of Colour salons, Aidan Fitzgerald's, Storm, Salon Tibo and Leonard's - while their international clients include such leading names as Ken Picton, Andrew Barton, Karine Jackson, Leo Bancroft, Anne Veck, and Hooker & Young. In addition to this market, the company also recently launched new products for the leisure sector - the Easydry sports towel range, which is now used in many of the world's most forward-thinking gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools.

As part of the company's expansion, Anne set up offices in the US and Australia and today 90pc of everything produced is exported. In addition to its own offices, the company also works with distributors in a wide range of territories from Malta and Finland to Iceland and the Middle East. Now well established in the hair, beauty and leisure sectors, they are now branching out into sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and pet care.

So just what is so unique about Easydry?

"They are neither a paper towel nor a cotton towel," explains Anne. "They are made from patented next-generation textile materials. And because we use only natural-based fibres, they are 100pc compostable and biodegrade within 12 weeks of being put into landfill. In addition, and because they are disposable, they offer massive savings and benefits when compared to the water and energy usage involved in laundering towels.

"Our research shows us that a typical hair salon saves on average 60,000 litres of water a year by using our disposable towels," she adds. "And from a user's perspective, they are three times more absorbent and stay strong and durable even when wet."

This year the company celebrates its 10th anniversary - and it's been an interesting 10-year journey for the Louth business woman.

Anne Butterly grew up in Dundalk in Co Louth. As a teenager, she remembers education and enterprise were important influences in her life. Her mother was a local primary school teacher while her father, a stone mason by trade, ran Butterly Stone - the family business, specialising in headstones and granite worktops.

"My father's advice was always to try and work for yourself," recalls Anne. However, that was something that had to wait. After school she did a degree in Business at UCD and later a Masters in Business. For the next six years she worked in a variety of marketing roles with finance and software companies in Dublin.

However, the desire to start her own firm never abated. By 2003, her brother Gerard was working in the family business - and the challenges he faced eventually created the opportunity for Anne to get started.

"At the time, he was struggling to source granite and other raw materials from around the world and was also paying a lot to importers and middlemen," explains Anne. "It gave me the idea to set up Global Partnerships and Sourcing to help Irish firms source raw materials directly from overseas manufacturers. At the time, I was working with a variety of Irish companies across a range of sectors, from building supplies to textiles and medical devices. The upside for Ireland was that instead of these companies outsourcing their production to low cost regions abroad, they could continue to manufacture their products in Ireland because we were able to reduce the cost of the their raw materials," she adds proudly.

The Easydry idea came two years later. At the time Anne was sharing an apartment with six other girls in Dublin. "I'd become increasingly frustrated with the endless piles of soggy, stained towels left by my flatmates after they had coloured their hair," explains Anne with a smile. "So I decided to go looking to see if I could find an alternative in the form of disposable towels."

Surprised at not being able to find any, she decided to invent her own. Thus the idea of an absorbent and disposable towel was born. While she initially targeted the consumer market with a home hair colour kit, she soon discovered that launching a consumer product proved more of a challenge than she had anticipated.

"Products in this sector usually start by being a success in the salon trade first, and then make their way into retail outlets," explains Anne. "It's costly to launch a consumer brand from scratch unless you are a very large company or have millions to spend on marketing."

She quickly realised that she needed to shift focus and began producing disposable towels for salons. Exhibiting at a trade show in the UK, she was fortunate when she landed her first trade customer - the L'Oréal Academy in London.

"They turned out to be an important customer, because hairdressers would come there from all over the world to train and to keep up to date with new products and emerging trends in the business. As a result, sales began to flood in from salon owners," explains Anne.

To add to this, the contacts she made in L'Oréal also helped her break into other markets - and by 2009 she had launched Easydry in Australia.

"Because Australia suffers regularly from water shortages, salon owners were particularly receptive to a product that could help them reduce their dependence on having water to wash towels," she explains.

Last year she opened a second office, this time in the US where she is already seeing sales take off. Canada too has started to go well. At the moment she is selling into 22 different countries.

Not one to sit still, she also recently launched the Easydry Sports Towel range for gyms - and it is now showing exciting signs of growth.

After the downturn in the construction sector in 2007, her brother Gerard also joined the business, bringing with him vast experience - particularly in the areas of sourcing, production and research and development.

The innovative nature of Easydry has won Anne and her business considerable recognition and accolades including a host of trade awards. So, what's next for the firm?

"We remain focused on expanding our share of the hair and beauty salon market and are continuously looking to break into new geographical markets. We are also keen to develop our gym and leisure market through our existing international network of distributors," explains Anne.

"And we are always looking for new distributors who can help introduce us to sectors such as food services, healthcare and age care," she adds.

Anne is convinced there is a market for Easydry in the NGO space, among agencies which work in developing countries or in disaster relief zones where water is in short supply and concerns about hygiene are paramount. She also sees lots of opportunities in the hotel and airline industries.

"We have the product developed. Now it's all about growth and scaling," adds Anne who is confident that she can reach annual sales of €5m within the next three to five years.

Anne Butterly is a quiet, modest but highly focused and competent entrepreneur. Having grown up in a family environment that promoted both education and self-employment, she managed to excel in both.

While the success of her first venture into entrepreneurship was limited, it did lay the foundation for her next venture.

Like most successful founders of start-ups, the idea for her new business came from responding to a problem she encountered personally and to which she could not find an alternative solution. So she developed one.

It is never easy to come up with a new product or to launch a new business. Anne Butterly has done both. Her success and achievement to date look set to be only the beginning for this smart and focused business woman.

For further information: www.easydry.com

Anne's advice for other businesses

1. Be resilient and persistent

"In business, you will receive a lot of knockbacks before you achieve success. This is particularly true if you are trying something that involves changing established perceptions and behaviours. You have to believe in yourself and your product and stick with it."

2. Research and know your market

"Research helps you understand your market and the needs of potential customers. You need to know their requirements and key characteristics and match your products and services to these. Tailoring your message also depends on knowing what your customers are willing to pay for."

3. Don't rest on your laurels

"Businesses need to constantly evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant in the market. This involves adapting your business, your products and your packaging in line with market feedback. To grow, you need to be continuously looking for ways to improve everything you do."

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