On paper, it looks like home appliances firm SharkNinja should have been hit hard by Covid-19. It manufactures in China, its focus is European growth and it sells its products in shops that have been closed for three months.
Yet sales across its two brands are up by 25 per cent, it’s kitchen brand, Ninja, has never been stronger and the Leeds-based company appointed 30 staff during lockdown.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, the firm’s European president Matt Broadway said: “We lost eight weeks of production in China at the start of the year, which was really difficult, particularly as the business was so strong at that point. We were overselling versus our forecast so it was quite a challenge.”
He added: “But then we recovered from that and then the UK went into lockdown and since then sales have just got stronger and stronger.”
There are two sides to the business: vacuum cleaners (Shark) and kitchen worktop appliances (Ninja).
Last year, Shark overtook Dyson as the best-selling corded upright vacuum cleaner brand. Meanwhile, sales of Ninja products have grown dramatically during the last few months.
“We’ve always been about 90 per cent Shark about 10 per cent Ninja but that’s really turned around this year,” Mr Broadway said. “Our multi-cooker is now number one in the UK. We’ve also got three or four new Ninja product launches between now and the end of the year.”
The company employs 130 staff at its European headquarters in Leeds and about 100 engineers in London. It also employs 60 people at a call centre in Newcastle.
SharkNinja has a retail distribution warehouse in Sheffield and an ecommerce distribution centre in Gateshead.
It hopes to return head office staff who have been working at home over the last few weeks to the office in September.
SharkNinja didn’t furlough any staff apart from 100 Shark brand ambassadors who work in Currys PC World.
Mr Broadway said there were two effects of the pandemic on the company. “Firstly sales have gone up – people need more of the things we sell when they’re based at home,” he said. “Sales of cleaning devices have absolutely sky rocketed and demand for cooking devices and kitchen appliances went up.”
He added: “Secondly, we saw some pretty seismic shifts in where people were buying from.
“Obviously sales through traditional retailers went down and there was a huge shift to online channels through retailers like Amazon and AO. Argos did pretty well because of their click and collect service in Sainsbury’s.”
A few years ago, SharkNinja was predominantly a North American-focused business. It was founded in Canada by Mark Rosenzweig. The UK was one of the first international markets it invested in.
A major focus before the pandemic was replicating its huge growth in the UK and North America in mainland Europe, including France Germany, Spain and Italy, a strategy led by Mr Broadway from Leeds.
The company was previously based in Wakefield where it started out with 20 staff in 2014. It had grown to 90 employees when it made the decision to relocate to Leeds last year.
SharkNinja said it needed a bigger site which could support its continued growth, attract strong talent from the region and represent its European head office as it drives its EU growth moving forward.
The 16,021 sq ft deal at Thorpe Park last October was one of the biggest out-of-town office deals in Yorkshire in 2019.
SharkNinja invested £1m in the office fit-out to enable staff to work closely with its US group using video conferencing and provide a platform to showcase its products to retailers.
The business sells more than 150 products through more than 100 retailers across eight countries.
The company’s ambitious European expansion plans have slowed down over the last few months but the company has made progress over the last year with subsidiaries now in France and Germany where it also has ecommerce sites.
“Covid may have slowed down our plans for a couple of months but fundamentally we still see those as key economies where we want to be successful, and where we think our products will be successful with consumers,” Mr Broadway said.
The company is still launching new products, albeit a few weeks late due to the challenges of working globally.
Mr Broadway believes the firm’s ‘obsessive’ testing process before launching a product is a key part of its success so far. “That’s been a particular challenge during lockdown but we’ve just had to be creative in finding ways of getting products to people,” he said.
The main challenge for the company, particularly at the start of lockdown, has been around logistics. “We’ve had products in the wrong place in the wrong warehouses for the wrong retailers so we’ve had to be extremely agile at getting stuff to where it needs to be,” Mr Broadway said.
“Our planning has gone from a monthly or quarterly cycle down to a daily cycle to understand where we need stock and where we don’t need stock,” he said.
But Mr Broadway believes that even with the recent challenges, the company is in a strong position.
He added: “It could have been really different. If you’d told me a year ago that we would be going through the first half of this year with UK retail shut down, my initial reaction would have been this is going to be a complete disaster, how can we cope with that?
“But we have coped with it and the remarkable thing for me is that demand has not slowed down and we’ve been able to respond to that.”