A reputation for procuring high quality materials for diabetic test strips was the unlikely catalyst for the creation of fast growing heat transfer company, Dae Ha UK
Tape Specialities is an established UK company that is renowned for supplying the raw materials for diabetic test strips to the medical industry. One of the company’s older generation products was heat applied tape – a material that is effectively the same as the heat transfer films used for decorating textiles, explains director Michael Overy. “If you break heat transfer films down into their basic form, they’re a heat applied tape, but just coloured differently and with slightly different characteristics. The actual manufacturing of them is extremely similar, as are the tolerances used.”
A company that provides names and numbers for football leagues across the world recognised there was a synergy between what they needed – a high quality product that was extremely stable – and what Tape Specialities was providing for the medical market, and so approached Tape Specialities to make a bespoke product for them.
Samples were ordered from Dae Ha in Korea – a family-run business, like Tape Specialities, established in 1986 – and in February 2013 Michael visited the Korean company to meet the people running it and ensure the company was indeed manufacturing the films itself. It was at the end of this mini audit that Michael was shown the heat transfer films, which are the mainstay of Dae Ha’s business. And so Dae Ha UK began.
The venture was not a complete step into the unknown, explains Michael, thanks to the similarities between Dae Ha UK’s parent company’s tapes and Dae Ha’s films, but they had no experience of the textiles and garment industry. The initial plan was to sell Dae Ha’s films solely through distributors in the UK. “We weren’t geared up for online sales or going to exhibitions,” explains Michael. “It soon became apparent, however, that to make the business work properly in the UK, we needed to go it alone and forge our own path.”
They launched a website at the beginning of January 2014. “Dae Ha’s main interest is in making the highest quality product that they can, and the price comes after that. But when we looked at fitting into the market, starting with effectively zero customers and with a brand new name that no-one on the street had heard of, we needed to be attractive price-wise and then let the product speak for itself.”
It’s a strategy that’s clearly worked, with growth of more than 100% last year and a projected “large double digit growth” for this year, more than 11,000 sales since 2014, and two new customers each day. They also now sell through numerous distributors across the UK and also export to Europe.
“We’re very competitively priced for the quality nature of the products. We know in other markets around the world that Dae Ha products are going for a lot more money, but competition in the heat transfer film market in the UK is quite fierce, probably more so than in any other country. The products speak for themselves; typically, once people have bought the product, they use it again and again. We get very good feedback and mentions on social media platforms. Word of mouth is growing year on year.”
The most popular product from Dae Ha UK is its Premium PU, an everyday printing film. “We’ve purposefully tried to have an uncomplicated range of products. A lot of the manufacturers produce four, five or six types of PU film, which all do a very similar job. A customer is then presented with four whites, four blacks, four red, four blues… of products that are quite similar, whereas we have one white, white black, one red etcetera. The focus is on the quality and making those products right time and time again.”
Another very popular product is the glitter film, says Michael. “Because of the unique manufacturing process Dae Ha uses for the glitter film, it retains its deep sparkle wash after wash after wash. There are some other films that are similar, but none of them quite hit the mark like our film.”
The company has expanded its range of glitters from 24 colours, which Michael says was the largest in the UK, to 40, with five launched in May alone. “That’s set us apart and given the customer choice. Where our competitors may have a few more colours in other products, they have only six or eight colours for glitter, holographic and metallic films. We have 20 colours in the holographic range and 15 in the metallic. That alone has helped drive sales.”
The team at Dae Ha UK closely follow colour trends, keeping an eye not only on what is happening in universities but also in the fashion shows. They also closely track what customers are asking for, which allows them to request bespoke colours from Dae Ha Korea that appeal to the UK market. Rose gold has been a very popular shade amongst Dae Ha UK’s customers for first four months of 2017, which is why Michael asked the Korean company to make them a rose gold glitter, which launched in May. Bespoke colours can also be created for customers, subject to minimum quantities and lead time. “We’re always open to anybody contacting us for a specific colour in a specific film type.”
Other new films launched in May include three animal print Stretch Metallic films called snake, cheetah and leopard, plus four new glitters to join the new rose gold: a granite white, a dusky pink, a pink confetti and a silver confetti.
Customers range from printers who use the films to enhance screen prints on garments that are headed for the high street, to sportswear manufacturers, and from high street print shops to fashion designers such as Jonathan Saunders, whose clothes are worn by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and who is now the chief creative officer for Diane Von Furstenberg.
Along with the films and a number of small accessories, Dae Ha UK also sells Graphtec plotters. “I would say they are the most popular, mid-range type of plotter that our customers use,” says Michael. “The Graphtec is just a superb plotter cutter; they’re excellent value for money machines that will go on and on.”
The Dae Ha U/K site was relaunched in May this year along with an updated corporate logo. The old site was already a streamlined, clean-looking affair, but Michael says he always intended for the order processing to go fully automated once the company reached a certain number of orders each week. The new site and improved back office processes allow Dae Ha UK to run an even more slick and efficient operation than before.
As well as making it even easier and quicker for customers to place orders, the new site allows them to track their orders and also request ‘ship-to-shop’ – ideal for one-man bands that want to pick up their orders from the local shops rather than have them delivered to their home address.
Dae Ha UK has brought a completely different outlook to the family’s wider business, says Michael.
“I’ve worked on the medical side for a long time where if you get a problem with the materials, it’s extremely serious. That’s where the synergy with Dae Ha came in, because our focus has always been on high quality. Now our films are going on to fun things. It might be a hi-vis jacket or workwear, but a lot of the time, whether it’s sportswear or fashion, it’s fun stuff. It’s an exciting project, and it’s growing more quickly than we had hoped.”