The strange thing about the job is that I have virtually no routine and I often wonder what is going to happen next. I live in Shrewsbury in the Midlands, but the offices are in Bath and I sometimes have meetings in London, so I don’t even know where I’m going to be working some days.
I had had a couple of unsuccessful business projects before PomeGreat, and then ended up going into the City to train as a stockbroker. It didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to do something else, and eventually I got a call from a friend who was out in Pakistan, talking about this fruit juice opportunity. He said he’d found a great source that I needed to check out. So on my way out to see him, I stopped off in India to speak to a sort of food professor to talk about pomegranate – in India it is a better understood fruit and used as in the same way that we have apples and bananas in the fruit bowl.
So having learnt a bit from him, I then spent some time in Pakistan with my friend looking at juice as a concept. I came back to the UK and went and studied in the British Library for six months to research on ways I could bring the product to market. We eventually did some manufacturing trials in India, but they were not successful, and we eventually settled on sourcing the fruit from Iran. We got started mainly by presenting a business plan to friends and friends-of-friends, and managed to raise £150,000 to get going.
Now, the ball is definitely rolling. This year we will turnover £6m, with around £200,000 profit. We’re competing with a lot of larger international competitors, and since we first had the idea in 2004, pomegranate juice has become more of a commodity and is more widely available in the sort of Western ‘commodity-countries’. To give a sense of perspective, my first production run was 24,000 litres of juice that took three months to sell. But with the growth and a bit of management restructuring work, we’re now producing 600,000 bottles of juice per month.
So, what about this week? On Monday, I was in London for meetings about a new project I’m working on – it’s to do with a new product for the PomeGreat Brand, but no details as yet! On Tuesday I was in the main office for a management meeting with the head of operations and CFO. We outsource many elements of the business, including all manufacturing, so there is often a lot to co-ordinate. Then on Wednesday I had a sales meeting in the morning. Outside of the office-based stuff, I’ve just come back from Sri Lanka where we’ve been working on another project we’re expecting to bring to market (again, that’s not public information as yet), so I’ve been very busy.
The best thing about the job is that there is a huge amount of variety in my role, and I’m incredibly challenged in that role every day. I need that variation otherwise I get bored very easily. I’ve got a good team that I work with and I feel very confident in their abilities – it’s a very capable and reliable workforce. If I disappear for a week now, I can turn my phone off and not worry about the business – this is a new thing for me as I always felt I had to be permanently in touch with the business.
The toughest thing about the job is trying to create and take forward a new premium brand in such a cutthroat recessionary environment. We want to be premium, but at the same time you have to be relevant. In the market we’re operating in, price has become key. Trying to ensure that you’ve got a carved out, defined, credible, well-understood, branded proposition is much more difficult today than it was five years ago.
But there’s not point complaining about the recession – everyone has to deal with that. This year our revenues will be ‘flat’ as they’ve been for the last couple of years, but as some retailers are now saying, ‘being stable is the new growth’. We’ve got some international expansion in the pipeline, and a couple of new products we’re trying to add to the portfolio.
In terms of work-life balance, I’m a married man with three kids aged seven, four, and one. My one-year-old hasn’t slept since the night she was born so I have to support my wife as best I can, too. I do spend less time with my family than I’d like, but I’ve got plans in place to change this in the near future.
If I did it all again, I wouldn’t necessarily change anything, to be honest. The lessons I learnt from starting a brand from nothing, I’m now applying to the new projects I’m working on. Sometimes you have to make mistakes to learn the lessons – it’s the only way to become truly experienced.