For a good old entrepreneurial David & Goliath story you need look no further than the milk fridge at your local Sainsbury’s. Chances are, as well as finding iced coffee made by giants like Starbucks and Illy you’ll also find a few cartons of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, a brand that employs a team of just 10 (and growing) in the Dorset seaside town of Christchurch.
It’s the creation of former labourer Jim Cregan who discovered iced coffee on a trip to Australia. Founded six years ago, the business has secured deals with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and several other national chains and is on track to turn over £3.5m this year. MT picked his brains and found out how the brand has become an (almost) household name.
Was there a definitive point in time when you thought ‘right, I’m going to start this business'?
There were a few catalysts. The first was getting out of England when I was hating labouring – I was staring at an old guy’s bum and thinking ‘Jesus Christ what am I doing with my life?’ The second catalyst was drinking iced coffee in Oz, which made me think ‘Holy Crap – this is the most amazing thing in the entire world’. And the third was a combination of not being able to get good iced coffee in the UK, and also not having a job to fall back on to.
I think a lot of people want to come up with a good business idea but when they actually look at their job, they might have their Bupa healthcare and their house and their car and a nice well-paid job and it’s really hard for them to take the leap. But I didn’t really have anything to fall back on – I was jumping out of the fire and into something new.
What sets you apart from the rest of the market, like Starbucks Discovery?
We have less ingredients than everyone else. We’re not as sweet as everyone else. I found all of the existing products really sickly and I quite liked the idea of having something refreshing with a nice rounded flavour.
Starbucks don’t pay tax (or at least not as much as some think they ought to...), they’re a massive company and they’re hugely corporate. Though having said that they’ve been good at paving the way for people to drink iced coffee. We just find ourselves being the kind of tight British family unit that’s been doing something for ourselves and we really champion the fact that we’re a small company and we like challenging the bigger dudes.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs pitching to supermarkets?
Persistence is completely key. You’ve got to be 100% in it to win it and not whinging if you’ve sent an email to Sainsbury’s and not got a response. These buyers look after a lot of products and that job alone, looking after existing suppliers, is a big deal for them. You need to grab them by the balls and do something really amazing to get their attention, prove to them that you’re willing to put your arse on the line. Keep smashing it. But also listen and try to make their life easy. If they ask loads of questions and you’re not prepared then you’ve wasted a golden opportunity.
you outsource the manufacturing of the product - why is that?
Some people will say, in food and drink you've got to make it yourself – then you’ve got full control of exactly what goes on. But at the same time people will say look, there are specialists out there who can do this kind of thing for you. When we realised we wanted the product to be in a specific type of carton we realised we weren’t going to be able to just buy those cartons ourselves and fill them up manually. There are huge barriers to entry for making product yourself.
You started the business with your sister. Is it hard working with family members without getting into an argument?
We’ve fallen out. Sometimes it’s just because you’re so tired. But we haven’t properly fallen out for the last three years. At the beginning you’re learning how to develop a proper business relationship with your sister or brother, but then you’re also learning how to do business overall, how to pitch to retailers and everything else. You get incredibly tired. But once you’ve got all your systems in place and everything under control it’s much easier to be very calm and cool in your approach to scenarios that might have caused a lot of problems in the past.
You use social media to promote the brand a lot, including your rap videos. How important a part of your marketing strategy is that?
It is really important. The good thing about online, if you do something offline you should be able to just put it online and show people what you’re doing. It’s not just pack shots of our cartons on Instagram all day long. It’s about the van that we’re converting, or some of our ambassadors. And we take photographs of the sea each morning, just so that people who can’t see the sea can see the sea. Lots of things that just mean a lot to us, that we like talking about.
You’ve been approached about a takeover by big drinks companies in the past. Were you a little tempted to say yes?
It’s only happened a couple of times and it’s always tempting. You go on a little romantic business journey with these guys and for one reason or another things don’t work out. And then you come back to the business and you realise how great it is and you go, actually perhaps it wasn’t right in the first place.
But it’s always good to go through the motions because I think one day something like that will happen and you need to be emotionally ready and semi-experienced in it – things like due diligence, what to say in meetings, and how to take stuff and not ‘showing too much skirt’ as some people would say.
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting up?
That I should probably consider things a little bit more. Actually it would be to learn to say no... I used to say yes to everything but I don’t do that anymore. I used to be presented with stuff and say ‘yeah that sounds like the best thing ever’ and now I go, ‘actually is this going to be worthwhile, what are we going to get back from it?’
What’s Dorset like as a place to do business?
It’s rad as balls. I’ve just stepped off a speedboat in the sea. I cycled to work in six minutes from the quay and we’re going down to Bournemouth Beach in a moment to set up our van for the air show this weekend. The New Forest is about 8 minutes drive from our office. You’ve got everything here, you’ve just got to find the time to enjoy it.