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Sales - 5 min READ

Garden box retailer WoodBlocX overcomes setbacks to build a thriving e-commerce business

How the Scottish company went from shuttering its doors to expanding across the UK

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Author photo: Christina Scannapiego

Christina Scannapiego

Director, Content Marketing

All small business owners strive for success. And we envision our success stories as linear journeys to greatness — but the reality isn’t usually that simple. Most thriving small businesses grow in fits and starts at first, experiencing periods of setbacks before ever reaching sustained success.

And the evolution of business for the Blake family, owners of WoodBlocX, followed anything but a predictable path. Let’s retrace their rocky journey lined with pivots and hard lessons-learned terrain.

From humble beginnings to roadblocks

WoodBlocX, a manufacturing company specializing in modular kits for building wooden flower beds, above-ground ponds and other garden furniture — no power tools required — was born from a sawmill in the green Scottish Highlands.

Nursery owner Norman Fawcett first sparked the idea for WoodBlocX in 2001. Norman envisioned raised flower beds in his nursery, so he bought some lumber from the Blake family’s sawmill, Munro Sawmills Ltd, and went to work.

With his new materials, he drilled some holes in the pieces of wood, and stacked them on top of each other. He inserted broom handles into the holes, creating an initial, rough prototype for WoodBlocX.

Pleased with the outcome, Norman brought the idea back to Philip Blake at the sawmill, and Philip saw an easy-to-assemble, versatile product with strong potential. They worked on the prototype together and launched WoodBlocX into the UK market in 2002.

Off the bat, their fledgling company landed contracts with Wickes and B&Q retailers across the UK, and in around sixty hardware stores throughout the country. Understandably thrilled at first, the pair’s initial excitement soon dimmed.

Incredibly high retailers’ margins rendered the cost of WoodBlocX too steep for customers. Plus, each product required a specialized set of instructions for assembly and customization, and communicating those specialized guidelines effectively proved difficult, to say the least, in a retail environment.

So after two years of struggling to move their product, the duo made the tough and disappointing decision to call it quits. Philip and Norman closed WoodBlocX in 2004. Still, they never stopped believing in their dream’s potential.

Reimagining business for the internet

In 2012, when the internet and e-commerce flipped retail on its head, Philip Blake and his son Henry decided to revitalize WoodBlocX and shoot another shot — this time through online sales.

They created a website to sell directly to customers online and on the phone. The pieces fell into place with an affordable product and top-notch customer service preventing specialized instructions from getting lost in translation.

Finally, WoodBlocX took off.

Henry typically pitched the product as “Lego for your garden.” He could barely count the number of times people urged him to take the idea to “Dragons' Den” (the BBC version of “Shark Tank”).

He finally took the advice. That same year, Philip and Henry decided to apply for the show to see if they could land some extra funding to take their business to the next level.

Entering the Dragons’ Den

The father–son team got a call from producers two days later. The Blakes went down for filming, and after three hours of pitching WoodBlocX to the investors, they landed a £75,000 investment (around $82,600 US dollars) from Peter Jones for a 25% stake in the company.

With this investment (and ten minutes of screen time), the Blake family launched WoodBlocX to a wider audience. Since the funding, Philip and Henry have expanded their team, and the company has grown between 50-60% every two years after that. “With a team of twelve people in a very remote part of Scotland, it’s pretty incredible, really,” says Mike McManus, Digital Marketing Manager.

So, how has this small, family-run business been able to handle the growth?

Handling explosive growth while maintaining an agile team

The WoodBlocX company has made a number of strategic moves to stay small while sustaining explosive growth. For one, they used the cash infusion to purchase a new storage and distribution facility, hire new employees, buy new equipment, and create an EU subsidiary.

WoodBlocX has also added B2B to their strategy, serving individual customers and large commercial companies alike. Today, thanks to a streamlined delivery process and the pallet network in the UK, they’re able to deliver products to most areas in the UK within 48 hours.

Henry credits a lot of this growth to establishing brand recognition, which helped foster people’s trust in the product before ever landing on their website to purchase. Prioritizing customer support and unique offerings like free design services included with certain purchases helped WoodBlocX build rapport with potential customers and position themselves for e-commerce growth.

Fast forward to 2018 and they launched websites in Germany, France and Spain. Now they’re exploring expansion opportunities to bring WoodBlocX to the United States.

The main takeaway

One of the most impressive feats of the Blake family’s experience is their initial failure and decision to completely close shop before exploding into success a decade later. They pivoted, evolved, and resurrected a once dead idea, breathing new life into it.

In doing so, they’ve been able to expand beyond Scotland and grow across Europe, finding both B2B and B2C success while maintaining a very small team.

We’re honored to have contributed to facilitating the company’s growth. WoodBlocX has used Copper to streamline their service pipelines, stay connected, automate workflows, and handle customer data more easily.

Our seamless Google integration and easy-to-use platform make it easy for small businesses like WoodBlocX to keep their customer information organized and prepare to scale and grow without limits.

Try Copper free for 14 days.

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