Organic Growth Masterclass: Barber, backed by RJD Partners

Frank Bulman, partner of private equity firm RJD Partners, explains how their portfolio body art business Barber became a leading ecommerce platform in the European tattoo industry.

Barber is a major distributor of body art consumables and tattoo studio accessories in Europe. RJD invested in the company with organic growth being a critical strategic component, as it became the top ecommerce platform in the European tattoo supply space.


Frank Bulman explains: “When RJD invested, the company had a basic web store and some of its own brands. However, operating out of South Yorkshire, Barber was still reaching the continental European market through its web store run and fulfilled out of the UK. A key aspect of market access was rapid delivery to the end customer base. A lot of smaller tattoo studios don’t have enough liquidity to buy in bulk and do not plan far ahead, so often need more stock including ink and needles at short notice. It was clear that next day, low cost delivery would be an important differentiator and driver for Barber’s growth and this was achieved with new logistics partners during the investment period.”

He adds: “We made significant investment in enhancing the e-commerce platform, which previously was quite basic visually and not mobile optimised, which made for a slightly cumbersome customer journey. Similarly there was organic growth potential from within Barber’s acquisitions; two suppliers with a significant continental presence. They had strong brands with loyal followings, so the brands were retained whilst the process was started to streamline and enhance everything running behind them including their back office, management and product offerings.”


Frank Bulman says: “Barber’s largest market was in the UK, but its nascent presence in Europe presented the major growth opportunity. At the time, the penetration of tattoos amongst adults in European countries was far behind the UK yet catching up fast. There was a strong incentive to invest heavily in the big European markets; Spain, France, Germany and Italy.”

He explains: “We tailored digital marketing strategies to each of these markets alongside expanding the number of language formats that the website was presented in. While there are a lot of commonalities in terms of the use of social media and Google, there are key distinctions between these markets. Many of them are intertwined with the local subcultures and creative communities.”

“For instance in Germany and Italy, we had to adopt a hybrid between a digital and on the ground strategy which included travelling sales resources for trade shows and exhibitions in these geographies. There was significant investment in our own branded products and we focussed on growing the proportion of sales coming from these items. There are standard products that tattoo artists use such as gloves and ink cartridges and Barber was able to create its own brand and value for money versions of these products. We also developed a higher end brand proposition for tattoo pens and various higher value ancillary products. Overall, our organic growth strategies were integral to delivering CAR growth of 362% in Germany, 111% in Italy 75% in France and 52% in Spain.”