Riding the export wave to success – from South Devon to the world

24/03/18

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In 2007, professional windsurfer John Hibbard was the British champion. Yet having reached the pinnacle in his chosen sport, he wanted to do more. And he certainly did. Today John is managing director of Devon-based Red Paddle, global leaders in the inflatable stand-up paddle board market, with sales in over 60 countries. And the ride has only just begun.

Stephen Patey, PwC director spent with morning with John to hear more about Red Paddle's journey to date.

Asked what made him decide to launch Red Paddle in 2008, John talks about the market opportunity he had spotted as paddle boarding was starting to take off. “The original paddle boards  were rigid or hard boards made out of glass fibre – 12 feet long, really heavy, quite fragile,” he says. “So I could see there needed to be another solution to drive mass-market adoption of the sport and get people involved.”

Launching the business in the midst of the 2008-2009 recession, John found that initial progress was fairly gradual and it took a few years to get the sport adopted and accepted. However, this hiatus gave him a breathing-space to innovate to create the best possible product.

The big growth wave arrived in 2012. “We suddenly had a lot of competition arrive on the market,” John says. “When our rigid board competitors started to make inflatable boards, they were already four years behind us in terms of manufacturing techniques and materials – and we quickly became the benchmark.”

This status saw interest in Red Paddle pick up dramatically, and the business rapidly went global – driven by the pull of demand from countries around the world. As international sales surged, John recruited more engineering skills, and focused on ongoing product innovation to boost the boards’ performance and further extend Red Paddle’s market leadership.

Going forward, John’s goals are to continue to grow Red Paddle’s sales of its core products, and extend the brand still further. A branded clothing range has already been developed, and the Red Original accessory range is set to hit the market this season.

So, what would John say to would-be entrepreneurs looking to follow in his wake? He responds: “be very careful who you partner with – always meet them first – and don’t extend any credit to them.” And is there anything he would have done differently, looking back? “With hindsight, I would have built the team faster, and brought in more people and expertise, whether in manufacturing or design or logistic preparation or marketing. If I’d done that I would have had slightly fewer grey hairs.”

But, deep down, what does John feel has really driven Red Paddle’s global success? “We have never produced something and said it would do something it wouldn’t. Being honest and transparent like that is the way to win fans.” He’s certainly won plenty across the world – and the legions are continuing to grow.

For more information about Red Paddle:

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Red Paddle were shortlisted as a finalist for 2017 West of England Business of the Year - video from the awards ceremony above.

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