Business is booming for Cumbrian entrepreneur Sally Phillips, inventor of the ‘Chimney Sheep’, a unique, environmentally friendly draught excluder which prevents heat loss from open fireplaces using felted Lakeland wool.
Sally, a working mum from Cockermouth, has sold over 40,000 units since launching the business four years ago. After experiencing its busiest year to date, the company is now on target to generate a £250,000 turnover in the current financial year.
With sales in the UK and USA growing exponentially and a rising demand from customers for larger products, Sally has her sights set firmly on expansion and export in 2017.
The Chimney Sheep is a unique design using thick wiry wool for stiffness and compressibility to fit and insulate a range of chimney shapes and sizes.
To develop the product range and streamline production Sally called on the expertise of Omega Plastics, a leading North East-based tooling and plastic injection moulding manufacturer with sites in Blyth, Sunderland and Hartlepool.
Sally explains: “I launched the business online in 2012 with no idea whether it would be a success or not. Fortunately it was a cold winter and sales took off thanks to excellent feedback from customers who said they got an immediate benefit from installing their Chimney Sheep.
“Many people are unaware that an open chimney is like having a window open day and night. Around 5% of household heat is lost when the fire isn’t lit which also creates those cold draughts we feel.
“Since we began trading the business has experienced a six-fold increase in orders which has also led to a surge in requests from customers wanting a bigger product for larger fireplaces. To meet demand we made a prototype in-house but it was clear the original handles and clamps weren’t suitable.
“It is absolutely crucial that the plastic components are precisely tooled to fit together tightly enough to give a firm hold, which is why I approached Omega Plastics following a recommendation. They teamed up with their partners at Fizikal Design to devise new concepts which improved the strength, functionality and style of each component.
“Working with the team at Omega Plastics has been hugely beneficial. Having the tooling and manufacturing on one site made the development and production process more efficient and cost-effective. Omega’s acute attention to detail also ensures that we always have a high-quality end product.”
The Chimney Sheep is designed to save customers money by preventing heat loss, stopping cold draughts and reducing energy bills. They’re manufactured using 100% wool from Herdwick sheep, a hardy mountain breed which is native to the Lake District. The plastic components manufactured by Omega Plastics have to be strong enough to cope with customers pushing, pulling and manoeuvring them around chimney flues.
Michael Winship, Business Development Manager at Omega Plastics, said: “It’s been fantastic working with Sally on the new component designs and tooling. Helping our customers to realise their concepts and get their products into the marketplace is what drives us.
“Working together we were able to provide a full solution for the project, taking Chimney Sheep from the re-design stage through to creating precise production ready tools and manufacture.
Looking to the future, Sally adds: “We’ve invested a lot in proof of concept and getting Chimney Sheep tested to demonstrate its value and efficiency. The design is patent pending and we’ve also applied for BBA product certification.
“In addition to marketing the brand more widely this year, I’m also keen to raise awareness of chimney draught exclusion, which seems to be largely ignored by the insulation industry. We’re a small business that has worked incredibly hard to create a reliable, robust and durable product that can be used as part of the raft of energy saving solutions that are used to insulate homes.
“There’s currently over 11 million homes in the UK with open chimneys, that’s a lot of heat wasted. I’d love to see draught-proofing chimneys as normal as insulating the loft or lagging pipes. It may sound ambitious but when you look at the payback, a Chimney Sheep will pay for itself in savings on heating bills more quickly than just about any other measure.”
The Chimney Sheep retails online at www.chimneysheep.co.uk, it’s also available on Amazon, B&Q online and in a selection of small outlet stores. The company also has a dedicated distributor covering the United States of America with sales averaging 2,000 units per year and rising.
During the last 18 months Sally has invested over £120,000 developing the business. This includes moving to larger premises in Maryport where the products are assembled, investing in new production equipment, product testing, re-design and tooling. The workforce has also grown and the business now employs a team of two full-time and two part-time staff.
“Our target market is anyone with an open chimney. When the weather is cold and windy, people are motivated to seek out a solution to their chimney draughts. We put a lot of effort into SEO so when people are looking for us they find us pretty easily. The customers that are harder to reach are the ones that are unaware of the fact that at least 80 cubic metres of air is flowing up their chimneys per hour (BRE),”says Sally.
To date Chimney Sheep sales equate to approximately 10,000 Herdwick sheep fleeces. The company orders 1km of Herdwick felt at a time which is one tonne of wool. To find out more go towww.chimneysheep.co.uk.