Setting up in Somerset - A joy and a challenge

In this article we look at the problems faced by small, independent businesses, in particular rural-based enterprises. One of our fabulous customers, Timmy’s Chillies sets the example today with valuable insight from Luis Warrener, market stall trader with the marmalade makers and chilli connoisseurs.

Why Somerset?

Glastonbury. Cider. Bristol. Need I say more? Unless you’ve been living under a straw bale for the last 10 years, you’ll know that the South-West is now one of the UK’s most active and press-happy startup zones. With an established music and cultural scene, centuries of tourism and a gone-global food and drink output, everybody seems to want a bite out of the Somerset apple.

But what makes it such a knock-out, and what challenges do businesses like ours face and overcome?

What needs fixing?

Typically, poor funding. A lack of funding and financial support is massively detrimental to a small-time business (no matter how fruitful), and in the last decade or so we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of honest folk – often friends and family – risking it all, in order to go it alone.

Another common issue is a lack of business expertise/experience. Similar to everyone thinking they can sing like Sinatra, everybody thinks they are capable of running their own profitable, small business. It is for this exact reason that so many fledgling ventures fail. However, due to the economic climate these businesses have had to survive in, we have seen so many of them fall by the way-side, as banks and financial investors are not overly keen to play the ‘Hail Mary pass’, especially when there are so many small businesses vying for this investment like puppies in a shop window.

Keep it simple

With Timmy’s Chillies, the premise for the product is actually incredibly simple: take a classic, familiar taste and infuse it with something a little more exotic and unexpected. All made with fresh fruit and chillies locally sourced in Somerset, the range of products is intended to accompany a whole host of foodstuffs. Although still lovely with toast, the products go great with cheeses, meats and fish and can be used as a table accompaniment, or in the cooking process.

Chillies

Be prepared to graft

From a personal perspective I have seen for myself the hard work and genuine graft that goes into such businesses, having worked alongside Tim for several months helping him to produce and sell the range of marmalades and jellies. Learning to make and, more dauntingly, sell these products is a huge learning curve for anyone. Despite this, the feeling you have at the end of a hard day’s work at market can’t be rivalled. I can only assume it is for this exact reason that so many of us are waving goodbye to the 9 to 5, a thrill-seek for the foodies among us if you will!

Funding, funding, funding

I hate saying it, but money is the key! And I wish I could get the message to the powers that be, because the products and passion are there. Having seen the workings of the business from the inside, I can understand the potential such produce has, but also the challenges it faces. These challenges more often than not eventually circle back to money. Money is what grows a business, and money is what distinguishes a poor enterprise from a thriving one. Regional producers such as Timmy’s Chillies cannot realistically expect to progress without financial support, hence why it is essential that investors begin to roll the dice more, and that existing funding programmes continue to provide financial support as well as expertise and advice, like Business Angels.

Prioritise passion

Having passion and enjoyment for what you do is only half the battle. Small businesses are ever-dependent on forces outside their control. However, having pride and belief in what you are doing goes a long way towards growing a business. Having spent time working at various markets, I can see a clear divide between the people trading alongside me. There are those who are financially secure, generally slightly older, and do it almost as a hobby. On the other hand, there are those trying desperately to grow a business, often living off very little in order to keep the fire burning within.

Despite these differences a genuine passion and love unites both parties and to have been along on the journey myself is genuinely wonderful. Due to the self-belief and imagination of small business owners such as Tim, there’s huge demand for investment - without supporting them, we’ll see an ever more concentrated market.

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