My family had for many years run their own Scottish food produce business, Doigs, on the West coast of Scotland. Over time, and without the next generation showing an appetite for running the show, the brand and business faded away. I always wanted to revive it and after years spent in the kitchen perfecting dishes, cultivating new sauces and flavour combinations, I decided that it was time to put my cooking skills to the test. The question is: will the public like it?
Having effectively let the brand die, my project was not only to start producing great food but to start a business up all over again from scratch. I might be confident in the kitchen, but how on earth do you come up with a new brand, logos, designs, funding and so on? Not only that – how do you register a business, register compliance with food regulations, and where and how to sell?
The first baby steps were easy enough, and mostly achieved online. Lots of forms, tests to complete, but decidedly straightforward. And insurance – very important for a food business.
Next, decide what to produce? Non-perishable food seemed the route to go. These would have a relatively long shelf life, be easily transportable and most importantly offer the chance to ‘reinvent’ a traditional product with a contemporary twist and look. I had some great ideas and recipes up my sleeve to produce a variety of jams and preserves: Sweet Ginger and Orange marmalade, Strawberry and Cracked Peppercorn no longer seem strange and fanciful combinations. Preserves are our only our beginning, we have ambitions to produce a much broader range of foods over time.
Wherever possible the aim was to help independent suppliers and support freelancers, but many proved wholly unreliable. It seems you often pay a freelancer the same daily rate, but for a reduced service and time commitment. So, turning to friends, and sometimes only very vague aquaintances, I set about creating a brand image to launch ourselves. Many an evening was spent rifling through old photos until the magical moment of deciding to feature the vintage family delivery vans. Using these as an outline, a new bold colourful logo was produced – we even gave each van a Scots Gaelic name.
That's the branding done, now for the stock. The list of start up materials required was overwhelming: labels, glassware, printed banners, a kitchen, equipment to stock a kitchen, ingredients sources - were all vying for attention. Worryingly, with no funding other than the salary from the day job, spare cash had become a thing of the past.
One thing was driving me on, though: to see the family name back on products, and to recognise the traditions I had inherited. Thus, the family name is that of the company and within that our original place of trading. Doigs of Troon was reborn, if in the somewhat unfamiliar surroundings of South East London.
Despite the lack of funding, and eschewing alcohol for six months in a determined effort to pull this off, somehow a tiny business emerged. Lots of tricks were learned like knowing who makes the key decisions at local markets. Persuading a local restaurant to allow day-time use of their kitchen during annual leave. Flexible working hours – like working throughout the night, early morning weekend stints, and keeping friends sweet so as to have access to their cars and vans whilst they recovered from party nights out. But the best investment of all – a trolley. Yes, the early days included many an early morning rise to deliver produce by hand, literally pushing a B&Q trolley up and down local streets.
Dollops of guile and thick skin should also have been on that initial shopping list...
So at the tail end of last year we had six weeks to cook like crazy, package products, dress market stalls, and wring every last favour from local friends. The time whizzed past. Nerves were overcome, and pride slowly emerged at the response to the new product range. By the end of the trial, we had made our first £3,000 in sales. That’s a heck of a lot of jam jars. And very little sleep.
But we were ready. People bought the products. They actually liked them. Some even raved about them. Before long we were running out of stock, had secured a semi-permanent market pitch, and had become an almost fully-fledged trader.
It’s difficult to remember what life was like before this project began. I have no idea how friends used to refer to me (nobody seems to have noticed my working in media for 15 years). Now introductions usually go along the lines of, 'Meet Jamie, he makes fabulous jams!'
Locally the brand has taken off and my life and that of the business became indistinguishable long ago. But this is just the beginning. Surely a long summer of sport, droves of tourists and nothing but ringing tills lay ahead? Find out in part two, coming soon.