20 QUESTIONS: Siân Holt, Fudge Kitchen

The fudge seller talks about Fleet Street misogyny, her passion for Paris and the genius of velcro.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 12 Jun 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I started off in marketing consultancy, but I got very fed up of having all my thoughts and reports and ideas filed away in the bottom of clients’ drawers. 

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

When I started, I seriously contemplated creating a whole new word for fudge - a new confection in its own right. I spent a long time brainstorming and we just couldn’t think of another word. Other than a named fudge like Sian, Fudge Kitchen kind of sums it up, so it seems silly to have named it anything else.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Paris, because it has a passion for all things. It’s got great food, it’s got great architecture and it’s got even more great food. I just love the Gallic mentality.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

I considered all sorts of crazy ways to raise money that meant you didn’t pin yourself to the devil, but I actually raised the initial amount from the bank. Back then you had local bank managers with whom you could really establish a rapport and they actually had power. It was easier then.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

The most important and risky decision was to develop products to sell in locations beyond our eight stores. We established our own production facility last year and we probably have 100 stockists across 12 countries. So it’s been a huge leap for us.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I went through a period of thinking that, because we’re in retail, we could make and sell other things. We’ve made cookies, natural lemonade, frozen yoghurt.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Velcro - it’s one of those things that nobody thinks about that actually has multifaceted uses. 

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

First and foremost, a healthy-sized glass of sauvignon never goes amiss. Then a good brisk walk with the dog and the family usually blows the cares away. 

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first ever job at 14 was planting cabbages in a market garden. I wasn’t very good at it at all. As we turned at the bottom of the field I realised I had planted the whole thing entirely upside down, roots waving in the air.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

My worst job by far has been working in a pub on a 10pm to 4am shift when the print workers finished their shift on Fleet Street. They’re very male and misogynist and I was a young barmaid. I used to have to catch a taxi home because I didn’t dare step out of the pub. 

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

I think I have to say what I do now. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. I’ve always known I was going to be an entrepreneur in some shape or form, it was just a question of finding the opportunity and the product. 

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

I feel that if I was on The Apprentice things would have gone terribly wrong and I would call my team something like I’ve Totally Failed And I’ve Lost My Integrity. But that’s my opinion - I really don’t like the thing. 

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I’d invest in technologies and software that link bricks and mortar and digital retail, because the lines between those two are definitely fading.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

Probably Fudge Kitchen, which I bought from Jim Garrahy, the American who first owned it, for something like £50,000 in 1990.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

We’re pretty relaxed in the office, so mostly jeans and PJs and even shorts in the summer. We all scrub up if visitors are coming or we go out to face the wide world. 

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

All hours, but flexibly. 

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

I currently have a 2-minute commute to work, which is kind of hard to beat, and our offices are in a really idyllic rural location set in the rolling countryside. But probably the best thing is the people that are in it, and Skippy the dog of course.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Social media apps, because these days our customers want an instant response and communication across a variety of media. On a personal level, it’s my Ocado app for shopping on the move.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Definitely my father. He’s always been my mentor and my business hero and a sage. Sometimes being an entrepreneur can be very lonely, and it’s good to have people who are there to be supportive, but also to play devil’s advocate. If I had to pick a well-known person, I’d say Anita Roddick, because she was feisty and entrepreneurial, but she also had a huge amount of integrity and passion that is visible in her products.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE? 

In this really busy period in the last few years, we’ve been helped by a loan through the regional growth fund. So I would create more such initiatives to support startups and growing SMEs, but I would ensure there were less boxes to tick and hoops to jump through. I would also make Fudge Friday compulsory.

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