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Interview with Andrew Dowley, founder of dinghy-rope.co.uk

by Mark Jardine 23 Feb 2017 12:51 GMT 23 February 2017
Andrew Dowley sailing his Tornado at Stokes Bay © Eddie Mays

We spoke to Andrew Dowley, founder of dinghy-rope.co.uk, about how he started the company, his own sailing, his time at Marconi Sailing Club, cat sailing, and balancing running a business, sailing and his family life.

Mark Jardine: How did you first get into sailing?

Andrew Dowley: I think I was about 6 months old when I first went on a boat; my parents owned a Westerly Tiger yacht on the River Medway and were sailing out of Hoo Ness Yacht Club, so I've been sailing for most of my life.

Mark: Was your introduction to sailing through racing or just messing about in boats?

Andrew: We spent most of our time on the yacht taking family trips up the East Coast from the Medway, going as far as the River Deben and finishing off at Woodbridge. We did various trips until I was about 10 at which point we moved house from Kent up to Essex. At that point we moved clubs too and joined Marconi Sailing Club, that was really a turning point in my sailing. With more dinghy sailing available we persuaded my Dad to buy us dinghies so that we could dinghy sail instead of going on the yacht.

Mark: This is where you became a Marconi Cadet?

Andrew: Yes, Hoo Ness was very much a yacht club and there was really no dinghy sailing, so it was really when we joined Marconi that the dinghy scene came alive for us. Seeing the other kids out there sailing their Toppers was a turning point for my brother and I and we didn't want to be on a yacht anymore. This was really unfortunate for my Dad as we essentially bullied him into selling his lovely Moody 30 he had at the time and into buying us two Toppers! It was great for us but looking back on it now I think it was a bit painful for him, the yacht was lovely.

Mark: You've been a member of Marconi ever since. What is it about Marconi and the East Coast that you particularly like?

Andrew: We live in Benfleet near Southend, and it is a 30-40 minute drive over to Marconi, but on the East Coast there are only a few places like Marconi where you can sail at all states of the tide which makes a real difference. We've also grown through the club, taking part in Cadet Weeks, then tutoring in Cadet Weeks etc. I also met my wife there and we've now got two kids and she's also the Commodore of the club. It really is a family-orientated club with everything from rowing to paddle boarding, windsurfing to dinghy sailing with a large cruiser fleet too.

Mark: A truly active club. What made you make the decision from being just a sailor to someone involved in the marine industry by starting dinghy-rope.co.uk?

Andrew: At the time I was looking at buying some dinghy items, I was working in digital in London and I saw a hole in the market for people who couldn't get to the chandlery every week. For those leaving home at 7am in the morning and getting home at 7pm on the train there was really nowhere to go for blocks and ropes. There was definitely a market for those who ordered something on a Monday morning and wanted it delivered for Tuesday or Wednesday for midweek racing with no hassle.

Mark: What is it in particular which differentiates dinghy-rope.co.uk from other outlets where you can buy rope from?

Andrew: We have a massive range of ropes, across the Kingfisher and Marlow ranges. We have great prices and we try to keep them as low as possible whilst also providing fast delivery. You'll see from our customer reviews that we always get orders out quickly and customers are surprised as to how soon their order arrives on their doorstep.

Mark: I see on TrustPilot you've had over 400 reviews and you're averaging 5 stars. As the business expands, how do you maintain that customer service level?

Andrew: For us customer service is key. We do find we speak to a lot of customers on the phone when they're not quite sure which is the best rope for an application or have a question on a piece of Zhik clothing, or a Harken block. We're always open and happy to help by giving impartial advice as to what product is right for a given purpose. We do find that customers we've spoken to over the phone or on email are appreciative of that and they tend to be the ones who leave the majority of the reviews. As we've expanded it really has been about having the stock on the shelf ready and getting the orders out and on time; that is key for us.

Mark: So making sure there's someone on the end of the line to talk to, so that it's not just a website, but also making sure that the expansion doesn't outgrow the resources you've got.

Andrew: Definitely. If we're struggling to get orders out within 24 hours then that would certainly be a business problem.

Mark: This year, for the first time, you're going to be exhibiting at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show. Could you tell me a bit about that?

Andrew: I'm really excited to go out and exhibit dinghy-rope.co.uk. It's our first show and for the last three or four years I've walked around the show thinking 'We should be here', but haven't quite been at the size where we've had a good range of stock to bring along. Now we've got lots and lots of products across the range of ropes, shackles, blocks, accessories and we're going to be taking a big range of Zhik clothing as well - wetsuits, trapeze harnesses, boots, gloves and the majority of the new range from Zhik, everything essentially. We're really excited to go there and mix with customers face-to-face, spreading our name in the sailing community.

Mark: With a growing business, how much sailing are you managing to get in yourself?

Andrew: Last year was a real struggle as our second child arrived in March. We went to the Tornado World Championship in Lindau, Germany and I think we did a bad job of spending time with the kids while we were out there and a bad job of the sailing! This year for us personally I think is going to be a bit of a quiet one, just the Tornado Nationals at Thorpe Bay in June. Obviously our sponsored sailors are out there helping to spread the dinghy-rope.co.uk message too.

Mark: Will you still be doing some local sailing at Marconi?

Andrew: Yes, we'll get in as much as we can and we'll definitely be racing in the club's flagship event, the East Coast Piers Race, which is the first weekend in July. We also tend to do quite well in it as it's a really good course for the Tornado. I won it a few years ago with my brother-in-law, and we came second last year, so I'm really looking forward to that and racing alongside the good mix of dinghies and cats that take part.

Mark: Andrew, many thanks for your time and I'm very much looking forward to seeing your stand at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show. All the best with balancing business, family life, and a bit of sailing!

Andrew: Hopefully we'll get our feet wet a little bit this year!

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