Profile – Tom Farrugia, Blue Gee
The phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ was coined by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Modern day scholars suggest if necessity drives invention then ambition is the mother of, or force behind, innovation.
This certainly appears to be the case at Blue Gee, where chairman and CEO, Tom Farrugia is brimming with ambition - ready to take his business to stratospheric heights.
Portsmouth-born Tom bought Fareham-based Blue Gee in 2016, aged 21. His goal is to create thousands of jobs, be a well-known mass British manufacturer and establish a global brand.
Blue Gee manufactures and sells build and repair materials for the marine sector. Founded in 1985 by David Benoy, its first product was Epoxy A (today’s Super Epoxy); developed specifically to sell in small quantities to the marine retail market (previously only available to bulk buy).
Even then, the company ethos was to produce low-toxicity products and reduce waste - something Tom wholeheartedly embraces. So how did he end up buying Blue Gee?
“My dad had RIBs when I was younger so I had an interest in boats. However music was my main hobby and I sang in a band and played guitar/drums.”
When Tom was 14, a family accident left his older brother, Jack, with brain damage. “He was a semi-professional footballer and two weeks before his accident was on the bench to play against Liverpool. He’s badly disabled, however he smiles and is happy, which teaches us all a lesson about putting things into perspective, never giving up and turning negatives into positives.”
Tom has dyslexia, which made it hard at school and when he left he took an apprenticeship with Virgin Media. “I liked the way Richard Branson treated his employees, but after a year I realised I wanted to work for myself.”
At 18 Tom used some family inheritance to fund a career move, learning about property investment/development and property redevelopment. A period of networking helped raise funds and for two years he bought and sold houses, before moving onto bigger developments and commercial properties.
“While networking I met David and realised I could help Blue Gee reach its full potential.
“What I lacked in knowledge - which I knew I could acquire - I more than made up for in drive, determination and self- belief.”
First step was to scrutinise Blue Gee’s 200+ product portfolio, learn the systems used to produce them, cull the poor sellers and out-sourced areas, manufacture in-house and make products more profitable. The firm now produces around 180 products, using supplies from the UK and Germany.
Next was to launch an e-commerce platform enabling people to buy online, secure a sole distributor deal with EP Barrus and increase staff levels from three to seven, employing a new operations manager, warehouse technician, picker/packer and admin sales support person.
“Because we’re flexible, we can be innovative. For example, we recognise our customers may only want a gel coat to cover a scratch or nick so we sell pigments in 20 gram packs, making them cost effective and minimising waste. Boat owners usually have to buy several kilo packs from boatyards.”
Tom says his best sellers are the gel repair kits, where everything that’s needed is in one pack and he has his sights set to grow the marine business and move into other sectors. “For over 25 years Blue Gee has been a marine provider and while this remains a key focus, I’m keen to explore the retail and industrial sectors and become a leading manufacturer of British composite products.”
Undaunted by the Brexit debacle, Tom plans to export to Europe and copy his UK business model in the US. “My mentors believe I can indeed create more jobs and become a global brand and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do so. I love the fact I can pay people wages and create a great working environment for them.”
“Success is all about being proactive. For example, during our quiet season we contacted customers to ask what deal we can do for them. We achieved our best ever sales during this period and in year one, improved profits by 145%.”
Tom views networking as crucial to success: “If you endeavour to help others and not expect anything in return, you’ll end up being repaid.” In contrast to his mantra to ‘smile more’, Tom’s a blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu, demonstrating the same steely discipline he applies to business. “It’s the most difficult martial art, but I will get my black belt.”
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