They have a lofty goal – to be bigger than Walkers and as loved as Lego. However, Nick Coleman and Snaffling Pig are big fans of getting there through one small business improvement at a time.
This interview features on “It’s The Small Things”, a Be the Business podcast series providing the inspiration small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) need to take a step-by-step approach to business improvement. Hear Nick’s interview, and others, by subscribing on your favoured podcast platform.
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The pork scratchings business was very different to what you’d done before. Tell us how you started out.
Absolutely. About nine years ago, I co-founded a company called Medical Supermarket and we supplied everything a doctor’s surgery would ever need. It’s a great company and it’s still going today. But it didn’t excite me in the way that food does. Food’s very emotive. I started Medical Supermarket to make money, but I started Snaffling Pig because I wanted to have fun. It’s like a hobby.
I said to Udi, my business partner, let’s take £500 out of Medical Supermarket and see if we can start a business. If we can grow it to a million-pound turnover, then you have to buy me a steak dinner. It’s not about winning the steak dinner, it’s the principle of being able to start something with £500 and see where you can take it. You don’t need a huge amount of money to start a business today, you just need that drive and ambition. You need something different – you need to be able to provide your customers with something they can’t get anywhere else.
Did you feel more confident about Snaffling Pig because it was your second business?
Definitely. Medical Supermarket was a great platform for me to learn how to start a business, to learn the art of HR – I’m still learning that today – to learn how to do sales, marketing, finance. It seems a shame when you have such a steep learning curve to never lose those skills again. So for me, it was really important to apply those skills to a brand-new business.
And yes, Snaffling Pig is very different in its approach, but there are some fundamental ways of business that are very similar. And I do believe the reason Snaffling Pig has grown at the rate it has, is because we missed out some holes we could have fallen in if we hadn’t had Medical Supermarket in the first place. We’ve learnt from those lessons and we’re always learning from new lessons.
So with no experience of running a food and drink business, how do you get going?
I didn’t know who to call. So I went onto Google, found a supplier and got a big sack of crackling. I took it to the local pub and sold it to them. I didn’t know about health and safety or food regulations. I didn’t quite appreciate that there were lots of regulations in place. Looking back, the most important contacts I made were other people in the food industry. If you just look at the EU regulations on food-based products, it’s enormous. So find yourself an outsourced consultant who can help you and, for want of a better phrase, dumb things down for you.
But don’t be afraid to speak to people outside of your category and ask them how they do things. For example, we share a small industrial estate in the countryside with seven or eight very different businesses. There’s a shoemaker, a party company, a brewery, a marshmallow company and Snaffling Pig.
Why pork scratchings?
There’s this huge trend in health that’s happening at the moment, where so many brands are trying to do vegan alternatives or sugar-free alternatives. What people forget is that, alongside a health trend, there’s also an indulgence trend. That’s the kind of wave that we’re riding. I’m very passionate about scratchings. And I know from the customers we are selling into that there’s a demand for this.
As we grow it’s about seeing the different flavours and thinking, is that realistically going to work in the market? We learn our customers. It’s important to hold true to your values as a business, but you have to be willing to give up on ideas that the consumer just doesn’t want. For example they do not get fennel-flavoured scratchings. So we’ve parked that idea.
So it’s four years on now from when you started. Are things where you expected them to be? Did you have a five-year plan?
I’d love to say that we always stuck to a phenomenal business plan. But we didn’t start with a business plan because it was a passion project. We just thought, we’ll sell some scratchings and if worse comes to worse, we’re sitting on lot of stock, we’ll just eat it. As we’ve grown and employed staff, we then have to make sure we’ve got a strategy and a sustainable, secure business. So now we do have a plan. But it changes on a daily basis. It’s probably the only document on my laptop that’s always open. It’s very much a working document.
We do have a huge grand plan where we know we want to be the most charismatic and innovative food and drink brand in the world. We’ve got our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or B-Hag, which is to be bigger than Walkers and as loved as Lego. That ambition is so huge it might never ever come to be. But I’m surrounding myself with a very passionate team who are really excited about trying.
Take us through some of the dark days you’ve been through with the business.
Cash flow is always that thing that keeps me up at night. Most other things we can deal with, but no matter how good your business is – whether it’s sales, whether it’s profit, whether it’s the assets you’ve got, your intellectual property rights, the designs – if your cash flow is poor, then you’re going to go out of business. There’s been probably three occasions in Snaffling Pig history, so pretty much one a year, where we thought this is it, cash flow’s going to take us under.
That’s down to the fact that we have not foreseen when customers are likely to pay. Lots of customers say they pay on 30 days, but it never happens. They pay at 60 or 70 days. It throws your forecast. Now, we forecast based on how long we believe it’ll take customers to pay – and then double it. And when we land a big new customer like Tesco or Sainsbury’s, we never assume it’ll land on the day they say it’ll land. It could land two or three months later.
How do you personally deal with the difficult periods?
I’ve probably had five instances where I’ve had some tears, gone down the pub, had a lot of beers. You can get yourself very quickly into this negative spiral thinking you’ve done something wrong but in reality it’s just a fact of business. It’s really tough. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, not everyone has the ability to take those highs and those lows and try and flatten them out, but when you’re in that kind of mood and in that spiral, the most important thing is to talk to people.
Every entrepreneur out there is facing the same problems as you. I found that as soon as I start to worry, I give a few close entrepreneurial colleagues a call who work in the food industry and ask them how it’s going. And I tell you what, it’s sometimes worse from their side than it is from mine. It puts things in perspective.
Now I know you’re a fan of the lean management. Tell us how it’s influenced you.
I didn’t know anything about lean until about a year and a half ago, when we went on a lean management course. Essentially you want to get your business ready for the Olympics and this is what you have to go through. It’s not just about getting rid of the waste, it’s about looking at every element of your business and finding out where things can be done better and can be improved upon.
One thing I did when I got back from that course was look at our warehouse. Our warehouse and our office are in different locations. Every time a conversation needs to be taking place between the two departments, someone has to walk about 100 yards – and that adds up over the course of a year. How do you improve that? Get them walkie talkies!
Every couple of months I’ll go to the warehouse and I’ll just stand and observe. You start to see how people are moving around to pick and pack goods. I realised that we had our bestselling product stored as far away from our packing table as possible. We worked out that by moving the location of the bestsellers in the warehouse. Staff went from walking 60 steps to get something to just four. If you add that up over the course of the number of cases we sell a day, number of days we operate, number of weeks we operate, it worked out to be a mile a day. That means we can save people 20 minutes a day – or spend them doing something more valuable. You don’t want to be paying people to walk.
I also learned from just watching the warehouse that people were always shouting: “Anyone got a knife? Anyone got a pen? Anyone got any Sellotape?” So what we did is put Sellotape, pen and a knife on the packing table, you draw a circle around it, and you know that’s where those three elements will always be. You’re also reducing a lot of wasted time.
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What about reducing waste?
A while ago I noticed there would be boxes of little tags on the packing area floor. And I just spent the day going around saying, do you know how much that costs? It’s 70p! That’s a lot of money when you look at this room full of 70p tags. And then it dawned on them that it all adds up. I was probably a bit of a git that day, but I believe we got the message across. I think we’re going to take that a little step further and with everything we do, we’re probably going to stick on a white board and stick that there and then put “worth 5p” or “worth 10p”. We might even have a game on a Monday morning, where you’re trying to energise staff.
It’s about trying to create ways of making it fun and exciting and engaging, but also telling your staff that there is a value to everything we do. If you as a member of staff are spending 15 minutes looking for a pen, it means that pen has now cost me a couple of quid. I may as well if just bought 50 of them for a quid and just scattered them all across the warehouse, because that’s far cheaper than having you looking for one for 15 minutes. So I suppose it’s about getting staff up to speed with those kinds of things, giving them an idea of the cost of things, but not making them feel like a robot .
Be the Business mission is to help businesses make big improvements with small changes. Have you got any other examples?
Our average basket is £21, we want to get it above £25. The benefits of having an increased average basket is huge. It means you’re doing exactly the same work for four or five quid more money in the till, so it’s a win-win all around. So we asked the office team for any ideas. It was great because someone said, quick as a flash,:“Why don’t we sell a range of different gift packs with different occasions?” And I said, great, cool, let’s just do it. We stuck it on the site that day.
I don’t like the idea of spending thousands of pounds asking Nielsen what they believe is on my target market. What I believe is, get something on your website, sell it to customers and ask them for feedback, then constantly tweak it.
It’s about constantly breaking the big objective down into smaller and smaller chunks. Our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is huge, so we break it down into smaller goals.
How are we going to be charismatic? We need to have great copy on our products, because that shows charisma. How are we going to be innovative? We need really innovative packaging. And instead of just being sold on the shelves in Tesco, how are you sold in shelves that no one has ever dreamt of? We know there’s a cruise ship going around the Mediterranean at the moment selling Snaffling Pig. We think that’s so cool, because no one has ever sold pork scratchings on a cruise liner in the Med!