County Down company Denman International has invented the world's first scented hair brush.
The Bangor manufacturer, whose brushes are used by professional hairdressers across the world, has developed the scented version of its ionic hair brush for the retail market. It comes in a range of fragrances, including strawberry, lemon, apple, coconut and others.
The company also produces a leopard skin-effect brush and a diamante encrusted special edition. These are just some of the 60-plus brush variations Denman manufactures at its County Down factory.
Denman brushes were the brainchild of Ulsterman John Denman Dean (Jack Dean) and were first patented in 1938. The brushes initially featured boar bristle, implanted in a natural rubber cushion, but Jack's work for the US government in WWII brought him into contact with a new polymer, nylon, which enabled him to develop the Denman brushes of today. Dean used leading hairdressers of the day to help him design and develop new Denman brushes.
The present owners of Denman, the Rainey family, purchased the company in 1972. By this stage, the original Denman patents had expired and cheap imitations were flooding the market, so the company focused on product development and improved product quality. The strong brand image based on quality and innovation remains critical to the company today.
At present, Denman's senior design engineer, Marcus McCay, is working on the development of a new ergonomic handle for the company's iconic D3 brush. This work follows some important improvements to the D3 in recent years, including changing the brush's rubber pad from natural to synthetic material.
"Customers can react to changes to products they have been loyal to for a long time, so we don't make changes to our core product range lightly. This is particularly the case with the D3, which is our best-selling brush and the product people would most associate with Denman," says McCay.
“When we changed the rubber in the D3 to a synthetic version, we did so after very careful consideration and substantial product testing. The switch from natural to synthetic makes the product much more durable and allows us to streamline and speed up our manufacturing process. The cost-savings from doing so have enabled us to remain highly competitive in the marketplace and the change as a whole has been a significant success," he continues.
"The proposal to introduce a new ergonomic handle is also being given careful consideration. It's something that will improve the brush, but doing so would have large implications for the manufacturing process. At present, the handle is simple and flat and therefore easily manufactured. An ergonomic handle would require a very significant investment in new tooling and a much larger manufacturing time per unit. It's something we'll continue to look at in terms of cost/benefit."
Marketing manager Jonathan King talks about the history of Denman International
Newly introduced Denman brushes conceptualised by Denman's marketing team and designed by McCay for the retail market include an ultra-soft baby brush; a kids brush with chunky handle and a clever detachable comb; and a ladies travel brush, with a flip up cover to stop the bristles from interfering with other items in hand baggage. Each of these new brushes has been designed in Bangor and patented but with the manufacturing outsourced to China.
"It's a case of balancing the cost of tooling and manufactured unit cost with retailer margin expectations and the price that the market will pay. The complexity of design means that the cost of manufacturing them here in Northern Ireland is prohibitive. We've therefore identified quality manufacturers in China who are making them to our specifications," McCay explains.
Senior design engineer Marcus McCay talks about how the innovative company develops new products
McCay spends most of his time using computer aided design (CAD) packages to develop new and existing products. He then commissions models of the designs to be prototyped, before injection mould tools are developed. It's an ongoing process and is important to Denman's success.