Design, Interviews
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Interview: Stewart Rose and his giant cork products

Today I’m talking with a man who is an amazing example of true entrepreneurship. A man who freely admits he didn’t do the best at school and has no qualifications but clearly has the drive and the courage to take risks and make things happen. His dad may have thought him bonkers when he decided there was a market for upcycled giant cork products but he wasn’t deterred. He knew people would love to own – and sit on – giant wine cork stools (and the rest!). And so did we because we’re going to sell them in store! But more on that later.

For now, meet Mr XL Cork himself …

Founder of Cork XL, Stewart Rose

Founder of Cork XL, Stewart Rose

Please introduce yourself. What is your background and how have you ended up where you are today?

My name is Stewart Rose, I’m 37-years-old and I did very badly at school! Qualification: Zero. I feel I have the ability to look at any situation and/or problem (including product designs) in a different perspective and don’t give up once I have an idea in my head.

I have been floating around the gift industry for more than 10 years but prior to this, I worked for Cadbury’s (confectionery and biscuits) in the UK and in international trading departments. Being part of a large organisation gave me training and confidence and I rapidly grew within the business and ended up holding various senior positions in sales and marketing.

After four years at Cadbury’s I felt I had achieved a lot and wanted to experience making my own money and working for myself. I heard about the sale of a small food-gift company that designed and produced products such chocolate fondue, pestle and mortar gift sets in my home city of Gloucestershire, England (the owners wanted to live in Spain). I purchased the company and sold the products to small independent retailers. The product concept was good and I saw an opportunity to take this business to the major UK high-street retailers. After a lot of ups and downs, this was achieved and in the first 18 months we had a turnover of over £1 million.  The company grew and I was able to sell it in 2007 to a rival food gift company.

After the sale of the business, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a year out and enjoy the birth of my son, Max Rose, whose name is actually on the Giant Wine Cork! During this time I also travelled to various parts of the world thinking about I wanted to do next.

I have an interest in wine and knew it was a lucrative industry so I looked at products that existed but could be done better. I created The Wine Journal which is now sold throughout the world.

I then thought about how I could make the business bigger and started to explore gadgets and gizmos and, after a few bottles of wine in 2010, XL Cork was born.  In the early day it was very difficult to convince people that they needed a giant champagne cork in their lives but after several newspaper and TV appearances the product took off and I was lucky to win Gift of the Year.  We have now sold to more than 40 different countries and have official distributor set-ups in the majority of Europe and the US.

Why cork and why furniture?

Cork is a great material to work with. It’s 100% natural and eco-friendly. Cork is a little different to the norm and we like being different.

Where do you source the cork from?

All the cork is sourced from Portugal.

What was the first product you made? How long did it take to get it from concept to product? What challenges, if any, were faced along the way?

I am an ‘all or nothing guy’ and after a year of development the designs for a whole range was created. We had our usual teething problems at the start but we’ve overcome these now, thankfully.

What inspires you or where do you go/what do you read/watch for inspiration and motivation?

My ideas are relatively spontaneous and random but I love design in all meanings of the word. I visit and exhibit at trade shows, read interior and design magazines, go to museums and art galleries.

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought?’ moment? Tell me about it.

Yes, a ‘who’d have thought’ people would love over-sized champagne and wine corks but they do! My father told me at the very start of this project: “Stewart, you’re mad thinking this will work!” I used those actual words in my acceptance speech of winning Gift of the Year.

What other ideas – if you can tell me – do you have for cork and new products?

I have various custom projects using the material of natural cork and in 2014 a new range will be developed. Watch this space!

Thanks so much, Stewart, for sharing your story! 

And for anyone in Australia keen to purchase some of Stewart’s giant cork innovations, we’re going to be selling them in the store very soon. You can keep up to date by checking (or liking!) our Facebook page.

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