Paddleboarding and fitness fans steer Bluefin Trading to top spot

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Best known for its inflatable paddleboard kits, designed in-house and with competitive price tags, the west Yorkshire-based online retailer has been in the fast lane since Charlotte Smith, fresh out of university, founded it in 2013 with business partner Will Vaughan. From plastic kayaks that became too difficult to ship, the company innovated, progressing with vibration fitness plates, hoverboards, portable fridges and the paddleboards keenly focused on affordability.

Now it has matured into a four-seasons business with the goal of a £35 million turnover in the next couple of years for its three brands, Bluefin Fitness, Bluefin SUP and Bluefin Active.

Sales, once primarily through Amazon, are now split between the giant and Bluefin’s websites.

“E-commerce and online hugely influenced us in the beginning. In hindsight it was a very good move when we decided to keep selling directly to the consumer. It has put us in good stead, we own our customers and listen closely to them,” explains Smith.

“Social media has helped us grow communities and trust in our products. Committing to an online advertising budget made a big difference, helping us get a well-above-average return on investment.

“Now Covid has had a direct impact on the fitness sector and sales of home gym equipment. Black Friday has always been very important for us and it’s the same this year.

“The eco-friendly focus has driven paddleboarding as a low carbon sport, especially within the watersports sector.”

Manufacture is in the Far East to Bluefin’s specifications although Smith says she remains on the look-out for UK production opportunities.

Staff numbers have grown in the past two years from four to more than 30 with another 10 hires, primarily graduates and apprentices, on the cards as the company expands.

“We recruited later than we should have in the past,” reflects Smith. “Now we have a programme for this and a middle management team. Being reactive does not work. I wish too we had started sooner with the paddleboards.”

Germany is Bluefin’s biggest market, generating 50 percent of sales. “HSBC and its global trade team have been incredible helping us deal with the working capital pressures that come from this success,” adds Smith.

To buffer any Brexit hold-ups Bluefin has taken extra warehousing space both in the UK and The Netherlands.

“We’re ready for what Brexit throws at us,” she says. “In terms of challenges though it’s right up there.”

Expanding sales to Australia, the UAE and South America feature large among Bluefin’s plans.

And if anyone knows or has invented a more sustainable form of PVC or an eco-friendly equivalent for Bluefin’s next generation of paddleboards, “get touch,” urges Smith. “Our aim is to become a household name and innovation makes it happen.”

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