Sock Club Review: Treat your Feet!

In this digital, omniscient, incessant age of retail you can get almost anything delivered straight through your letterbox these days. You can order anything from a cheese toastie to a fully iced and decorated cake and it’ll slide through your letterbox just as easily as some dubious character could slide into your DMs on the social. It’s a sign of our evolving shopper behaviour and it’s being fuelled by rapidly advancing technology. One-hour deliveries are not fantastical but now seen as a consumer rite. What a time to be alive eh?

So, what’s so great about subscription boxes and why are they so attractive to the modern entrepreneur?

Let’s be clear: mail order and subscriptions are not new things. However, it’s clear that we’re experiencing a bit of a golden age; but why is that? Well subscription boxes have enjoyed surfing the wave of the ‘hypertechnology’ and exploded into our homes tapping into our increasingly busy diaries and the need for convenience over cost. We need subscription boxes because we forget to buy shaving cream, or we need someone to curate our fine food collections. It’s not viewed as luxurious but savvy.  The other key macro trend that subscription boxes feed off is our penchant for the personalised shopping experience. When we’re signed up to a subscription that we believe in we feel empowered, looked after and like we have our finger on the pulse. Subscription boxes are able to react quickly to trends and deliver with gousto (pun not intended…well maybe a little) which is a dream for any early adopter.

As for the entrepreneurial populous, they seem to have fallen head over heels for subscription boxes for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it’s the attraction of disintermediation. We want a personal relationship with brands and the brands have been desperate for us to accept their friend request for years! Secondly, it’s quite easy to get started. You only really need an idea, some boxes, minimal stock and a website and you’re away. Finally, and most importantly, subscription boxes give a platform for the most coveted of marketing territories: loyalty. Brands crave shopper loyalty like a dog in the park craves its shiny red ball. We’ve been pretending to throw it for years and watching brands chase off into the distance only releasing it for an exclusive, salivating minority. Subscription boxes are the equivalent those fancy plastic throwing arms – catapulting our loyalty across the sunny park for brands to eagerly chase and retrieve.

Trends wax and wane in subscription boxes, as with all industries, but one that has caught my attention as being resistant to change is the male fashion trend; in particular: socks! So, when the opportunity presented itself to review a sock subscription box I jumped at it! Thanks to Sock Club Co for thinking of me…

Review: Sock Club UK

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: trend hunters, business bods, those-needing-a-bit-of-colour-without-a-clue (me!)

Price: £9 per pair or £49 annual subscription

Delivery

Fantastic! I’ve been trying to find a simile that does these socks justice without sounding over the top and, dare I say it for a blogger, disingenuous; so here goes: putting on these socks feels like you’re dipping your legs up to the shin in a soothing warm jacuzzi. The design on the two pairs that I received were spot on and, if I’m honest, not something I’d pick for myself which is exactly what I’d be looking for in a curated box. In my opinion a good pair of socks shouldn’t steal the show but just add flashes of brilliance – these socks definitely deliver against that.

Verdict – in a word, socksessful! Sorry, but I do love a pun! Most sock subscription boxes are pretty outlandish on price whereas Sock Club comes in at the right level yet still delivering the quality you’d expect. I can’t wait for my next parcel to drop through the letterbox.

If you like what you’ve read or even if you didn’t please leave me a cheeky comment below.

Northern Munkee.

How to Avoid Badvice

This post is written for foodpreneurs but is really for anyone with a dream, a vision, an ambition or just an idea. It’s a post that will resonate with anyone working towards a goal or an end point. On the surface this is all about advice and support but it’s a really specialist area of advice and support that I want to talk about. It’s the area of advice and support that nobody asked for, that nobody really wants and that usually comes from a position of ignorance, arrogance and an over-inflated sense of self. The advice I want to talk about is advice that’s imposed upon you and is usually bad, oh so bad; so bad that it definitely falls under the category of Badvice. All is not lost though, I think I’ve found a way to deal with Badvice, or certainly one that is working for me so hopefully you can take it into your life and never have to politely nod and smile ever again!

I think we’ve all been in this situation before but imagine the scene: you’re meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen for years. The conversation is flowing and you’re reminiscing about old times. All is good. Then comes the precursor to the Badvice stream as they ask, ‘so tell me what’s new, what are you working on?’ Now, at this point you’re really excited to share your new project with your old friend. You’ve just started your own food business and you think you’ve found the next big thing. You’ve built your brand and sales are going really well at local shows and online. Your next step is to scale up to take the business to the next level. As you’re answering the question you can see that your old friend isn’t really listening and just looks like an opportunity to talk; and then they hit you with it:

‘What you want to be doing is…’

Boom. The Badvice Bombshell.

They go off into a monologue of how you should be proud of what you’ve done but if you could do these three things differently it would really make a difference. They also suggest trying a load of things that you probably looked at doing in your first week but realised very quickly that they wouldn’t work. They will talk at you with such confidence that it will leave you wondering why you never realised that the person you’d known for over half your life was a reclusive Richard Branson. Who knew that a Teaching Assistant would be so knowledgeable about running a food business?! Arrrghh!

That’s not the only form that Badvice can take though; the other type comes in the form of feedback and usually opens with something like: ‘can I just give you some feedback..’ Well you’re clearly going to anyway so don’t let me stop you! In my experience, this statement-disguised-as-a-question most commonly occurs after someone has tried a FREE sample of your product and tends to go a little something like this:

THEM: ‘Can I just give you some feedback?’

ME (outwardly): ‘Yeh, sure it’s a gift!’

ME (inwardly): ‘Go on…’

THEM: ‘I mean it’s not for me but if you could swap the cherries for raisins I think it would do really well.’

ME (outwardly): ‘Oh, nice one. I’ll give that a go. Thanks!’

ME (inwardly): ‘Cheers dickhead! Not already thought of that one. I’ll look forward to seeing whatever it is your business does and offering my expert advice on that!’

Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in these situations more times than I care to count (I cringe to think about it but I’m sure I’ve been the Badvisor at some point too), and I get that most people think they’re being helpful; however, more often than not it just acts as a little seed of doubt or annoyance that can grow and flourish. So, it needs dealing with, right?

Here’s a method that I’ve started using and it seems to be tackling the Badvisors before they can get into their full swing. It’s quite simple so maybe you could also get some success from this too. It goes a little something like this:

THEM: ‘What you want to be doing is…’

ME: ‘Can I just stop you there for a second?’

*walkaway and never come back*

Job done! Give it a try!

Now, on a more serious note, I’m not advocating rubbishing all advice out there. Entrepreneurship can feel like a very lonely world and I am a big ambassador for gathering opinions and success stories to build into your own world. Books, podcasts, consultants, family and friends are all fantastic sources of advice and support. I think it’s a good thing to surround yourself with people and resources that you trust. They’re great as a sounding board or to help coach direction or just to bounce ideas around because saying them out loud sometimes gives them arms and legs. However, if you are to take just one piece of advice from me, let it be this:

You don’t need anyone’s advice. It might help to substantiate what you were already thinking or to provide a different perspective but have the confidence in your own thoughts and convictions. You’re probably much much better at what you do than you give yourself credit for. Take a run at it.

Northern Munkee.

Food Brands Paying It Forward

On the whole capitalism and business in general get a bad press. It’s viewed by many as a ruthless, Machiavellian world where it’s dog eat dog and I’ll eat your dog! Now, please don’t be alarmed, I’m not about to stand on my soap box but I do want to shine a light on some of the positivity that emanates from the Food and Drink industry and how some of the preconceived ideas are misconceptions

Firstly, let’s be frank: people are in business to make money. Unless it’s a not-for-profit organisation you need to accept that it will never be completely altruistic. However that doesn’t mean that it’s every man for himself; in fact, with the new wave of foodpreneurs, it’s far from it. Many successful new businesses will attribute some of their fortunes to the advice of other business leaders or a well-placed mentor. In my experience of the world of foodpreneurs I have been surprised at how open people are to share contacts, ideas and resources in a symbiotic bid for success. If you ever peek behind the curtain of foodpreneurship you’ll find an amicable, humble and transparent bunch willing to help, listen and advise. Some people call it karma, some people sat it’s ‘paying it forward’ whatever the term used it can be a great help.

There are thousands of examples out there but let me share one example of this positive light that I came across recently…

This example involves two businesses not selling in the same category, not geographically close and not even at the same stage of business development however they do share a passion: producing great food with a brand that people can get fanatical about.

FunkyNut5

Funky Nut Company was founded in 2014 on The Wirral by Julian Campbell and Vigor Foods in 2017 by Paul Rampal in Broxbourne. Julian is currently into his 4th year building distribution and sales of his nut butter brand empire and business is booming with plans to expand production facilities in early 2018. Paul is just beginning his journey with a range of cold-pressed protein balls that he plans to sell to gyms, coffee shops, cafes, farm shops, fine food outlets and direct to his adoring fans.

So, on the surface, two exciting young brands operating independently of each other with their own designs on being the next big disruptor in the market place right? Well, not quite; allow me to explain why…

So you know the fisherman analogy? Give a man a fish and he’ll feed his family for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll feed them for a lifetime – that one? Well this brand of foodpreneurs takes that one step further because this man will not just feed his family, but he’ll teach you how to feed yours. Then he’ll let you borrow his rod and net. Then he’ll tell you where the best places to fish are and when he’s done all that he’ll fry up one of the fish he caught and invite you and your family round to feast. It’s kind of beautiful isn’t it?

So, with that extrapolated analogy in mind, look out for the symbiotic relationship25008907_154533361836501_4181817344659554304_n between Funky Nut Company and Vigor Foods blossoming in 2018. Now it’s only a simple step but it’s a brilliant gesture because this year will see collaboration between the two brands with a mass sampling campaign of Vigor’s cold-pressed protein balls with orders placed of Funky Nut’s nut butters. The beauty of this is that more people get to try Paul’s beautiful balls and get a cheeky reward just for being fans of Julian’s phenomenal nuts. It’s almost poetic isn’t it? The team at funky nut have done the same in 2016 with the Magnificent Marshmallow Company and the customer feedback to the unexpected squishy treat was great.

There may be some naysayers out there questioning motive but this is how the foodpreneur world works. You start out in business and at some stage you’ll be blown away by the kindness of an apparent stranger. It’ll be someone you admire, someone that’s been there and done that. However that stranger will have had their own apparent stranger just a short while ago, when they were in your position. Fast forward a short while into the future and you find yourself in a position to be a kind apparent stranger and thus the cycle perpetuates. It’s kind of nice that.

So here’s my plea…if you’re a new business: don’t be afraid to talk to your peers, promise they’ll surprise you; and if you’re forming your opinions of corporate fat cats in the Food and Drink industry: please challenge them; there are some awesome brands and people doing some amazing things. Oh, and of course, make sure you check out the collaboration between Funky Nut Company and Vigor Foods…who doesn’t love a freebie and new food forage?

Northern Munkee.

Do you have any great examples of the food industry working together? Why not give a cheeky comment below because if this has taught us nothing more…sharing is caring!

 

Big Ideas for Small Businesses

So the first thing I need to do here is come clean because I am a massive nerd. I love a good business book and I’ve read a good few. My book shelves are littered with frogs to eat, purple cows and moving cheese and my Audible account looks like an MBA lecturer’s wet dream. I have amassed a multitude of other regurgitateable business speak; but I don’t care. I am fully aware of the stigma that some of these texts carry and they are the root cause of cringeworthy conversations in board rooms across the world as big wigs play buzz word tennis as they seek to understand.

If you’re already in business you’ll know that everyone has an opinion. Everyone will believe they’ve got that silver bullet that you’ve missed in your business. Everyone will have something to say. So you need to be really cautious about who’s counsel you take and a lot of very successful business people will tell you that collecting advice is a road to indecision which can be true. However, I believe that knowledge is power and it’s that pursuit that keeps our ideas fresh and relevant. So, with that pursuit in mind, here’s my review of John Lamerton’s Big Ideas for Small Businesses.

northernmunkeebites.bigideasforsmallbusinessesBig Ideas for Small Businesses: John Lamerton

Rating: 9/10

Key Themes:

  • Ambitious Lifestyle Business
  • F*ck Fear
  • HIIT

Synopsis:

This isn’t about stealing John’s thunder…because you should just get the book…but let me give you my humble opinion on why you should get the book.

Can I be honest? I was sceptical. I’ve read my fair share of books claiming to herald ‘advice’ for small businesses and, more often than not, they fall well short of the mark. However this book really delivered. It is full of simple, succinct and actionable advice and it’s not told from a pedestal. John Lamerton’s book combines a biographical narrative with sufficient breathing room for business advice relayed in a no nonsense fashion. This approach forges a bond between mentor and mentee that creates a sense of togetherness which is not apparent in other business literature I’ve read.

I chose to read the book as a linear narrative (starting at page 1 and working through to 236) however it’s structured in a fashion that allows the reader to dip in and out as appropriate. This book represents the opportunity to do the smart thing and learn from someone else’s mistakes and reap the benefits of insight from someone who has been there, done that and probably made profit from selling the t-shirts.

Verdict: in a word – inspiring! I read this book in one evening. I genuinely couldn’t put down. Now I’m not going to say this book will definitely revolutionise the way you conduct your business but what it will do is provide a tried and tested framework that you can implement today.

Northern Munkee.

 

Foodies in The Den (15:8)

I love Dragons’ Den. There, I said it. I know some business folk are a dismissive of the show because it can glamourise the investment process and potentially mislead around the rigor involved in securing funding – but I just love it! You can also accuse the show of sensationalising some of the issues which could literally make or break a young business but we’re all adults here so surely we know what we’re letting ourselves in for?

There are many reasons to love The Den and if it is used correctly it can be the perfect platform to propel a small business to the next level which is a fantastic gift to the small business world. However, I love it for one reason: the business lessons. It’s a marvellous microcosm for the business world and emphasises some of the amazing abilities and frustrating failings of the entrepreneurial world.

I have watched the show all the way through but this series I decided not to be a passive observer and get stuck in to offer my thoughts on any foodie that makes their way passed Evan’s lair in the basement and through those ominous sliding elevator doors. So this series I’m going to pull out some of the business lessons gleaned from any brave foodie to enter The Den. I’d also like to point out that what follows is not a criticism but a critique; even if it goes badly wrong, anyone that demonstrates the stones to go on TV to bare all has my respect!

northernmunkeebites.dragonsdenbtemptedSeason 15: episode 8

Entrepreneur(s): Sarah Hilleary

Company: B-Tempted

Elevator Pitch: great tasting gluten free cakes with 9 flavours in a range of formats

Asking For: £75k in exchange for 5% equity

What Went Well?

The Product: it’s on trend. The feedback from all the Dragons on taste was very complimentary, which is clearly a must. It’s well packaged and well thought out in terms of market positioning and pricing (which is usually out of kilter with reality on ‘artisan’ foods).

The Plan: the foodpreneur was very clear with her reason for entering The Den: the opportunity to launch in Tesco Express. Not only is it a great selling point but it shows very clear direction which is quite often lacking from pitches.

The Brand: I can’t say it loudly enough: YOU LIVE AND DIE BY YOUR BRAND. This brand was very well joined up; even down to the Temptation Officer living and breathing the brand assets with a cheeky wink every now and again.

What Could Have Gone Better?

The Numbers: Tuker said, ‘rule number 1 in The Den: you’ve got to get your figures right’. Well unfortunately she didn’t. However, Tuker did launch a bit of a financial assault on the foodie. You could argue it was a bit unfair and most people would crumble under that kind of pressure.

Business Valuation: now this is always a contentious issue – it’s the battle ground in an investor/entrepreneur relationship. For me the ball was dropped when the foodpreneur admitted that the valuation was delivered by a third party. Terminal Value calculated on hugely successful (and ultimately very different) business models was a faux pas.

‘Artisan’: I’m sorry but this is a bugbear of mine. The ‘artisan’ label has become far too manufactured and I fear it’s designed to hoodwink shoppers. If this business has designs on expansion that label cannot carry through.

What Other Lessons Can We Learn?

The Power is in the Plan: I truly believe that this pitch was saved because of the strength and clarity of the entrepreneur’s plan. For an investor it’s absolutely paramount that they understand where their money is going and how the entrepreneur is going to deliver the (usually) ambitious numbers. These elements were evident today!

Outcome: Success! 30% given to the new Dragon Tej Lalvani with a buy back option.

Would Munkee invest? Can I sit on the fence? The business proposition and branding are fantastic. However my nervousness is in the product category. It’s a crowded market and scalability isn’t easy without lowering quality or principles. However, if this is possible then B-Tempted might be onto a winner. So would I take a punt? Yeh go on!

Northern Munkee.

 

When Brands Re-Brand!

Who remembers when Opal Fruits crossed the picket line and became Starburst? When Marathon Bars left the track and became Snickers? Or when Oil of Ulay shocked us all by becoming Olay? Brands rebrand all the time. Sometimes it’s a simple refresh to remain relevant or signal a slight change in direction and sometimes it’s a complete departure from the name and the established brand. I’m sure that none of these decisions were made lightly and I’m sure every concept and subtle nuance were focus-grouped to within an inch of their life – it’s a big deal right. Businesses can spend vast sums of money building brand assets and equity so it’s not an easy decision to go back to the drawing board; however sometimes it may be absolutely necessary.

This post takes me back to the theme of brand building for food businesses. I’m not going to talk about the food itself (although it is awesome) because I’ve written a number of posts in the past about my love of jerky and biltong; instead this post is going critique the decisions on rebranding that Meat Snacks Group recently implement across their range…enjoy!

Wild West Jerky & Cruga Biltong

northernmunkeebites.wildwestjerkyoldWhat was wrong with the old branding?

Well, nothing really. It has good shelf impact. It’s simple. It has traditional and trusted cues that are relevant to the food. It has a window to allow the shopper to see the food. The brand has been careful to call out important nutritional information: protein and no nasties. So, what’s the big deal? My criticism of this platform is that it’s a bit brash, bold and dated. Although it does a lot of good things a brand needs to remain relevant to its audience and if there’s a shift in who that is then the brand needs to address that.

Was there a need to rebrand?

Yes. The meat snacking market in the UK has moved on significantly in the last three years and the target audience has shifted. When I was still active and playing sport I was the typical jerky and biltong consumer: a gym junky with a need for a high protein (yet tasty) snack. Although this consumer still exists there is a swell of early-adopting foodies that are coming to the table. So if the paradigm has moved brands need to move too.

What’s so good about the new branding?

Well, firstly it’s being considerate of the new paradigm with dialled down but still northernmunkeebites.jerkyrebrandappropriate imagery and colour palette. Big tick. Secondly, it’s kept all the good parts of the old branding and it’s managed to maintain a sufficient number of the old brand assets that it won’t completely alienate the brand’s existing fan base. Finally, the branding has morphed subtly into being more appropriate; what was ‘solid strips of marinated smoked beef’ has become ‘beef silverside marinated, smoked and cooked’. Lovely stuff!

Could they have done anything differently?

No, I don’t think they could. If the aim was to develop a brand that didn’t completely alienate existing users but would excite and intrigue new users then: job done!

Verdict – in a word, boom! If you’re Meat Snacks Group you’ve got to be really chuffed with this. It’s been a bit under the radar (much like the new imagery) but it has reacted to competition in the marketplace and stolen a march at the front again. Well played!

Northern Munkee.

Foodies in The Den (15:5)

I love Dragons’ Den. There, I said it. I know some business folk are a dismissive of the show because it can glamourise the investment process and potentially mislead around the rigor involved in securing funding – but I just love it! You can also accuse the show of sensationalising some of the issues which could literally make or break a young business but we’re all adults here so surely we know what we’re letting ourselves in for?

There are many reasons to love The Den and if it is used correctly it can be the perfect platform to propel a small business to the next level which is a fantastic gift to the small business world. However, I love it for one reason: the business lessons. It’s a marvellous microcosm for the business world and emphasises some of the amazing abilities and frustrating failings of the entrepreneurial world.

I have watched the show all the way through but this series I decided not to be a passive observer and get stuck in to offer my thoughts on any foodie that makes their way passed Evan’s lair in the basement and through those ominous sliding elevator doors. So this series I’m going to pull out some of the business lessons gleaned from any brave foodie to enter The Den. I’d also like to point out that what follows is not a criticism but a critique; even if it goes badly wrong, anyone that demonstrates the stones to go on TV to bare all has my respect!

northernmunkeebites.dragonsdenbkdSeason 15: episode 5

Entrepreneur(s): Adelle Smith

Company: BKD

Elevator Pitch: children’s baking brand with an ethos of fuelling children’s imagination

Asking For: £80k in exchange for 20% equity

What Went Well?

The Product: it’s on trend. Baking and crafting has grown exponentially over the last few years and any activity that brings the family together is bound to resonate with a large audience.

Branding: the products all look fantastic, polished and very clean. It’s easy to see how the range would stand it out in major retailers. It looks premium and fits the premium price point and will certainly offer a point of disruption on shelf versus the beige competition currently on offer in supermarkets.

What Could Have Gone Better?

Subscription Sales: subscription offerings are another rapidly expanding market and brands like Graze have demonstrated that it’s a fantastically effective way to build a brand. However, this entrepreneur failed to capitalise on a potential USP that could support the brand in commanding a premium price point.

‘Strong’ Interest: unfortunately this is a trap that a lot of entrants to The Den fall into. Entrepreneurs are very keen to tell the Dragons which retailers have shown some interest in placing orders; but this isn’t something you can put in the bank. It’s a great encouragement but it’s worthless until the invoice is paid.

What Other Lessons Can We Learn?

Negotiation is a Game: I appreciate that emotions must run high in The Den but Adele’s poker face slipped when Peter Jones made his offer and weakened her negotiation position with both Dragons. I admit that I’d probably get a bit giddy and it must be really difficult not to react on the spot but it’s not a strong stance unless it’s a professional flinch!

Outcome: Success! 35% given to the serial foodie backer Peter Jones!

Would Munkee invest? I wouldn’t usually want to disagree with Peter Jones but did I mention I’m risk averse? The market for baking kits is evolving with the continued success of GBBO but I’m not convinced that the high volume retailers would back a premium offering in a big way. I’m sure this brand will have a lot of success in premium outlets but I’m not sure we’re going to be overcome by a sea of black and white, so I’m out – however I’d love to be wrong!

Northern Munkee.