Owain Williams and I began selling ice-cream and our home-made frozen yogurt from a trike in Tenby while we were still at school. We each put in £60 to buy the trike, a licence and ingredients. We have since funded each stage of the business with proceeds from the previous stage. Our business practices have become more professional over time but it still feels more like hanging out with a friend than work.
Since we started our business aged 17, our biggest challenge has been to appear credible.
Our age was the initial barrier, which was overcome in part by conducting as much business as possible over the phone using our deepest voices. The second barrier turned out to be the product we’d decided to sell. Frozen yogurt wasn’t well-known when we opened our store, Lick, in March 2008, so for the first year we had to spend an average of 10 minutes explaining to each customer who came into the store what frozen yogurt was. Occasionally someone would say “sorry, I am just not convinced”, but thankfully the majority became loyal customers, who still visit our store today.
After two years of continual product development, we began selling take-home tubs of our frozen yogurt into the retail market. The first six months or so were very difficult. We would meet with buyers, who before even tasting our product, would want to debate the legitimacy of the frozen yogurt market – which we were in no doubt about. It could not have been any more obvious to us that there was demand for a product that was indulgent but healthier than ice-cream and had a real yogurt taste.
It took one of the ice-cream industry giants to launch a frozen yogurt, supported by huge publicity spend, before buyers started taking the idea seriously. At first we felt hard done by because we weren’t the first frozen yogurt in a supermarket. But then after trying our competitor’s products we felt confident that ours was much better, and that it had to just be a matter of time before everyone figured this out. We decided to pay for some independent consumer testing to confirm this and we were pleased, although not surprised, when our product was judged best in every category. This meant we were less dependent on the personal tastes of any one particular buyer. This impartial evidence, and a growing stack of positive press, finally helped us to convince buyers that our product was worth consideration.
The next big credibility challenge was a delicate balance of convincing retailers that we had the manufacturing capacity to provide a reliable supply and convincing manufacturers that there was sufficient demand for our product to justify the use of their equipment while negotiating a competitive price. When we started selling our retail tubs in local independent stores, we were able to meet demand by making the product in the small production plant underneath our shop. Soon after, we began making gentle steps between stocking larger retailers and working with manufacturers with greater capacity, accepting the pace of progress that was set by the decision-makers. It has taken longer than we had planned, but for the first time we are now in a position to reliably supply any size of retailer at a price that works.
In the absence of huge reserves of cash and a proven track record it has taken imagination and persistence to get where we are today. In order to stay relevant we have needed to be significantly better than the competition, who have tried to follow us. For them it is just a business opportunity, but for us, our product and brand are indistinguishable from the whole of our lives – and it seems like our customers, some of whom seem to genuinely love what we do, appreciate this and connect with it.