Clippy McKenna [left]

My Week: Clippy McKenna of Clippy's

Entrepreneur McKenna first got into making preserves from her kitchen. Now she's taking on the big boys with a home-grown, trusted brand.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

The company is called Clippy’s because that’s my nickname - I’ve always got a lot of hair clips in my hair and I thought using a nickname would be a good way of coming up with a unique brand that people felt they could trust. Back in 2008 I noticed that there were a lot of big global companies taking up the whole market for chutneys, relishes and jams, and I wanted to elbow my way in with something a bit different. 

It all started with the two apple trees in my garden. I started using the fruit from them to make the first few jams in my kitchen. The first time I took them to a farmers’ market, I sold out of everything I had made in that batch. That was when I decided I was onto something: so I then went to delis, and then to farm shops, and then eventually my stock found its way onto the shelves at Fortnum and Mason. 

By this time, I knew I had to start speaking to the supermarkets, and we managed to do a deal with Ocado which provided a great stepping stone to eventually getting my products stocked in Morrisons, Asda and then finally Tesco and Sainsbury’s. It’s been such a quick journey and in a way I can’t believe we’ve actually gotten this far with it.

Some time after I’d managed to get the ball rolling, I persuaded my other half to give up his very well paid City job to help me, thinking it would be nice to do something together, and work well when we wanted to start a family as we would both be at home. 

In a typical week, I spend a lot of time working on the PR and marketing side of things. With a limited budget it’s extremely difficult to get the word out and get customers picking your product off the shelf instead of any of your competitors. There are only two of us in the company so we both do a bit of everything.

This week I've been in the kitchen doing new product development. I go shopping to see what else is on the market, and then come home and work on my own textures, flavours, sauces and ingredients to try and come up with something original.

I used to work as a business travel consultant, so I had to be good at speaking to different kinds of people all the time - everyone from the CEO of a company to a bloke in sales. I think this has helped to make me quite good at communicating and not too fazed by dealing with the big supermarkets.

One of the hardest things about running the company so far is making sure that we can actually deliver on the deals we’re doing with the supermarkets. You have to get the products to them on time, with no excuses whatsoever. If you fail to meet the terms or order volumes exactly as agreed, you can get a massive fine, so that has been tough. We’ve funded everything, so making sure that we can afford to put in large orders with suppliers has required us to live frugally for the last few years.

Probably the hardest thing though is realising that you’ve got a child and you have to carry on working. Lots of women don’t go back to work, but I had a business on the go and didn’t really have a choice but to get back to work very quickly after my little girl was born.

The best thing about the job is seeing somebody pick your product off the shelf in the shop and put it in their basket. My four-year-old daughter often tries to drag me down the right aisle to see if we can see anybody doing it. It is amazing the first few times you see it.

In the future, I would like to get the company exporting to Europe and the US. We want to expand as much as possible, and we are looking for some investment to get us to the next stage. I think we’ve come a long way on our own - we’ve managed to get a £1m worth of media value just by asking, for example - and with some investment I think the business could really fly. 

If I had to offer some advice to other entrepreneurs it would be ‘always say yes to hearing new ideas’ - never close doors on an idea or be too stuck in your ways. That’s the best way to make sure you never miss any great opportunities.

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