Why would you encourage people to nominate?
“There’s a typical military trait of keeping your head down and maintaining a low profile. It took me years to realise if I didn’t learn to shout about my achievements and be proud of what I’d done, then nobody else would know. So, by nominating someone for the Soldiering On Awards, who is worthy of the recognition for whatever they are doing as individuals, teams or a business, it will perhaps bring them out of the shadows and give them an incredible boost from the media attention, and rightly award them for their efforts. It’s also a massive ‘thank you’ from a huge community of well-wishers. It’s really helped my business and led to all sorts of new ventures I would otherwise have never known about.”
You were also a finalist in NatWest’s 10k pitching challenge, and now have a place on its Entrepreneur Accelerator
What was this experience like for you?
“The NatWest 10k pitching challenge was great fun to be part of and there were some brilliant entrepreneurs that took part. Being on the Accelerator Programme will hopefully give us the confidence in decision-making and planning our growth. Running a small business can be lonely and you are never sure if what you are doing is right, so having independent guidance as we take the next big step is something I am excited about and very grateful for.”
How has Covid-19 impacted your business? Have you adapted in any way?
“Covid made us take a critical look at some of the things that we hadn’t gotten around to whilst we had been open. By the time lockdown started we’d introduced an interest-free monthly payment scheme to help customers buy, and focused on our online presence. This paid off quickly by generating sales revenue through several new online channels we simply hadn’t had time to investigate previously. It’s taught us that our future lies in greater online growth and less reliance on sales in our retail space.”
What advice would you have for anyone looking to launch a business at this time?
“I would recommend a few things: firstly, a good product that is not easily available anywhere else. The businesses I have seen suffer have either not had anything to sell that was unique, or similar products to theirs were being sold more cheaply by large online retailers. Next, you need a smart website or online platforms where customers can buy easily, and investment in the infrastructure you need to grow, both physical and back-office software. Finally, a personal touch – people love to see the face behind the business and understand who they are buying from, so sell yourself.”
As a Fairtrade-accredited business, would you say that having a greater societal purpose is important for businesses?
“Having Fairtrade as a central element of our business model is vital. Not because it looks good, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the same reason we are accredited Living Wage employers and the same reason we donate thousands of pounds a year to the vital work of Afghanaid – we give back to the communities that support us. Funnily enough, if you look after your staff and people, they look after you. If doing the right thing costs us profit, then so be it. Yes, it’s a careful balance, but I wouldn’t do business without these core principals. Fortunately, these days people won’t buy products that they do not know the origin of – having ethically sourced products is essential.”