Mulch ado about new product
It’s often a big step from the world of university research to the gritty reality of commercial success, but a West Yorkshire company run by a former academic and his wife is going from strength-to-strength after cornering the market with a unique horticultural product. Their small company is taking on the multi-national giants who dominate the gardening products market. Strulch, based in Burley-in-Wharfedale, was launched in 2004 by Geoff and Jackie Whiteley, who have since achieved a six-figure turnover. The organic mulch developed by Geoff, a former soil scientist and biology lecturer at Leeds University, is now used and endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, including at its Harlow Carr Gardens site near Harrogate; along with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Eden Project in Cornwall. It is also used in several ‘own label’ gardening products and sold through several leading horticultural websites, one of which recently reported that sales of Strulch had overtaken traditional cocoa shells. Growth is testimony to Geoff’s ingenuity and Jackie’s tough and self-taught sales and marketing approach after inventing the peat alternative which is building sales among discerning gardeners at home and abroad. The labour-saving mineralised wheat straw mulch reduces weed growth by up to 95 per cent; retains moisture, so conserving water; and enriches soil and its structure. Jackie was recently voted the 2009 Yorkshire Woman of Achievement, partly due to the success of Strulch, but also for bouncing back after a breakdown following a family tragedy. The former university careers specialist says: “Developing the Strulch product and launching the company has been a life-changing experience for us both. I have always been a keen gardener and Geoff’s interest was through science. “We have had to adapt quickly and learn to compete in a market dominated by huge companies.” Geoff says: “Many small businesses are facing a difficult time in the current economic climate. We’re doing well because we have a competitive, high-quality product and we have been very disciplined in keeping our borrowings, cash flow and expansion plans under control.” As sales of Strulch continue to grow, the university takes a licence fee, under an intellectual property licensing agreement. And the Whiteleys, who describe themselves as an innovative research and development company, now hold patents for Strulch in many countries in addition to the UK. Now they are poised to take their growing business to another stage with the launch of a unique new pelleted compost while plans for a bio-degradable plant pot are well under way.