Chapter 1: Wiggle, the ‘Beginning Game’ (1999-2007)

A Case Study in Entrepreneurship and Digital Marketing – Wiggle and my journey!

The secret to success in all walks of life is continuous reinvention. The Wiggle story exemplifies this and my own approach to Digital Marketing.

Darwin is often misquoting as stating that ‘the fittest survive’. He in fact said, ‘It is the one that is most adaptable to change [that survives].’[1]

Dean Maskell – Head of Online Marketing – Wiggle

Chapter 1: Wiggle, the ‘Beginning Game’ and a rising tide floats all boats.

Summary: 1999 to 2007. From zero to £12m turnover, and sale of 42% of the business founders to LivingBridge LLP (formerly ISIS LLP) for £12.3m.

Wiggle, is today a £500m leader in on-line sports. But back in 1999, when your browser was Netscape and your internet connection was a dial-up, Wiggle sold anything and everything. They sold fine wines to walkie-talkies and from solar eclipse glasses to contraceptives in a market trader fashion.

Wiggle’s founders, Mitch Dall and Harvey Jones, did not know what they wanted to sell, they just needed a brand name which would not limit market choice. At the time, and were available domain names. They chose ‘Wiggle’.

Wiggle’s Founders – Mitch Dall (left) and Harvey Jones (right)

Wiggle Solar Eclipse Glasses

Mitch Dall bought a flat in Portsmouth, as a buy-to-let investment. Below the flat was a cycle shop, Butler Cycles, which came as part of the purchase. A comical, life-changing moment, came when someone suggest to Mitch why doesn’t he sell bicycle inner tubes online along with the condoms, as they both made of rubber! Indeed, bike inner tubes soon became the most successful line of the many unrelated products on the website.

Mitch Dall (middle) and Butler Cycles

Mitch and Harvey latched onto this growth opportunity by hiring Paul Bolwell, from Gill, a marine clothing company. Paul proceeded to rapidly increase the breath and range of available cycling products – Wiggle the online cycling retailer was born.

Before the phrase ‘customer first’ became commonplace, Mitch and Harvey were building a business that put legendary customer service at the core of the offering with huge discounts, free delivery, no quibble returns and even free Haribo sweets in every order.

“The philosophy of the business was important. We always said that it should be the kind of business we would use if we were customers.” Harvey Jones

Wiggle quickly acquired a loyal following amongst the cycling fraternity and sales sky rocketed, way beyond the founders’ original £1m turnover dream.

Wiggle advert in MBUK 1999 website in 1999

By 2006, Wiggle, now with all staff based out of a local Portsmouth warehouse, was turning over £12m and LivingBridge (then ISIS) bought a 42% stake. LivingBridge began to professionalise the management team, with the hiring of David Cox as Chairman, Andreas Panteli as FD, and the promotion of Paul Bolwell to Merchandising Director.

And I, Dean Maskell, joined on the 1st of June 2007 as their Pay-Per-Click Executive – with the mission of opening up the Google potential – adding 2m keywords and rapidly increasing yearly PPC spend from c. £50K to c. £500K.

The keys to Wiggle’s success 1999-2007 were:

  • The founders focusing on cycle, run, swim and not branching out to other sports
  • The founders understanding their limits and recruiting outside help
  • Super customer focus – offers, fast, free delivery, quirky Wiggle brand and Haribo sweets!
  • A young, energetic, close-knit team – all diligently working on their own mission
  • A perfect storm was brewing – Tour de France started in the UK in 2007, a nation starting to become health conscious and online shopping migration
  • Technology (the internet) is competitive advantage and Google was an untapped cost-effective channel
  • The development of the dhb, own brand

“Our ‘own brand’ product strategy has also been a big success. It began when Mitch and I met a Chinese sunglass supplier at a show and bought 500 ‘unbranded’ pairs of tinted cycling glasses. But before we put them on sale, we wanted to brand them, so we created dhb.” Paul Bolwell

Paul Bolwell and Andreas Pantelli website in 2005

A rising tide raises all boats; some boats were beginning to bump into each other. However, the good old ship, ‘Wiggle’, was strongly and confidently sailing on to foreign lands.

Click here to read – Chapter 2 of the Wiggle Story (2007-2012)


The Wiggle Sweets

Butler Cycles Shop – Portsmouth

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