EP2 Meet the Business - TTK Confectionary
H: Hello and welcome to SCAYL Meet the Business, I’m your host, I’m Henry Stephens. Everybody welcomes our business guru this week, Jess Barnett from TTK Confectionary. Jess, how are you?
J: Really good thanks Henry, how are you?
H: I’m really good thank you, all the best for chatting with you.
J: Excellent looking forward to it thanks for having us.
H: Excellent, so Jess let's start of this conversation, tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
J: So, my name is Jess, and I'm one of the owners at TTK Confectionary along with my brother-in-law Tom and my husband Martin. My background is in sales and marketing, Martin's background was in buying for large retailers. After we had our son we decided to start TTK Confectionary and combine our two skill sets and bring our brother-in-law on board as well. Martin has a background in confectionery, his family has had a sweet factory in Nottingham since the 1890s. It all seemed to come together really using our contacts in the confectionary world, also our skills that we obtained in retail and marketing, as well so that's kind of how we got started really.
H: Awesome so you know what sparked the idea to begin your company?
J: Confectionary's got a bit of a reputation or some of it perhaps previously had as being a bit traditional, so you kind of have that image of a traditional sweet shop with all the glass jars which is lovely and evokes lots of memories and nostalgia. We wanted to kind of take the best bits of that and bring it into the modern age. Use trending prints packaging flavours, to kind of encourage confectionery to sit along with other gifting categories like cosmetics and stationery things. So that it could hold its own in amongst sort of high-end retailers and department stores.
H: Yes, so going on from that, if you can tell me more about the opening you found in the area of your market. Where was that?
J: We did a lot of research looking at the kind of things that were already out there in terms of confectionery and where confectionary was being sold, and we just felt that to add another layer of interest to make it more of a giftable option rather than just a sort of pick up treat. It needed to take a step up in terms of what packaging was used, and what kind of flavours were being used. We sort of spotted a gap there for us to use our design capabilities to create something that looked beautiful and tasted amazing.
H: So, you know I've got to ask this question as well Jess, in your opinion what makes your company different from everybody else?
J: I like to think that we offer a certain extra level in the design world process, where perhaps our competitors have outsourced their design, everything with us is in house. We have our design team built up of graduates from Nottingham Trent University who've kind of grown-up within the business. They have a passion for what we do and what we're trying to achieve, and I think buyers see that and recognize that and enjoy being a part of that creative process. We bring them into our facility or we do it on zoom these days and get them involved, choosing the flavours they want choosing the packaging options they want and putting that all together as a range for them.
H: Tell me, you know a lot of people when they're coming up with their business obviously comes up with the idea and brand, though one thing everyone talks about a lot is the name of the company, so how did you create the name for your company?
J: Well, TTK stands for The Treat Kitchen, which was the original idea of treating yourself because people often used to say to us when we were first starting all sweets are bad for you, you shouldn't have too many sweets, but in our minds that everybody deserves to treat. It also allowed us to not just stick with sweets, we could go into fudge, biscuits, gingerbread and so it allowed us to kind of really widen the scope rather than just stick to sweet.
H: I want to talk about imagery and company identity now, If I may swerve the conversation on to that Jess. There are many different ways to approach this. A lot of people sometimes they have an initial idea and they run it all the way through, or, they're developing that and they realize actually, if we move in this direction this could be a lot better. Did you find one was better than the other? Did you change direction, or did you keep with the original concept?
J: We started out looking at being a retailer ourselves and creating a sort of a high street presence but, we found that that was quite stifling in terms of creativity. We had to wait for a range to sell through before we could look at designing new ranges, it was quite constrictive in terms of bulk ordering and things like that. We won't be able to get the best prices for our packaging and our stock, so we converted over to a wholesale model, which was been the best sort of direction for us because it's allowed us to develop our team, especially the creative side and utilize the skills that they've brought to the business.
H: Can I sort of add on from that if I may because that was interesting, did you find that one way is better than the other?
J: Yeh, I think everybody's aware of how retail is at the moment so, it does take a certain element of the risk out of it. Wholesale was much more of a sort of solid kind of area to take the business into. Again, for us, it was the perfect answer to how we could utilize the creative team that we've been building up and also enable us to develop our production team. So they could undertake things like, getting ourselves to accreditation and things like that where, if we'd stayed small and stayed in a sort of just individual retail I don’t think that would have happened.
H: So how long did it this whole process take? How long did it take to create the identity of the company?
J: I think it was a gradual process. We've always tried to involve all team members on our strategic planning and, get them on board. It does take time. I think we started out selling to independents, to small retailers and then over the last couple of years, we've been getting a lot more custom for people like high street department stores and chains both here and overseas. It's really kind of built to where we are now, where we're getting into supermarkets as well, so it kind of it takes it takes a while, it takes patience. For me, it's about getting all the team on board so that they're all invested in that vision and feel that they're going on a journey with us as directors.
H: Jess, when considering the modern day market, and especially where it is at the moment, did you want more of a physical or a technical presence first?
J: I think that's kind of ties into us developing the brand and developing the business as a whole. We started out at the very beginning doing everything ourselves and we've gradually incorporated more of a sort of technical element to our business. Bringing in more machinery more automation more technological advances more of a digital presence, so it really has been a gradual process. Whilst we've a gained a bigger business but, also gained more expertise as to how to use that sort of more modern element of technology within the business.
H: So, for the creation of your actual products, which service advice did you contact in relation to you know the design and the manufacture of it?
J: Well thankfully we've always had that design element within our own business. In terms of the manufacture, we have had a lot of advice and assistance from the “East Midlands food and drink Forum”. They've guided us through the whole sales process. They've given us advice and training, really helped us to create our food safe facility, develop it to what it is now, as well as help train our staff to that level as well, so been really, really helpful and definitely recommend businesses in our position contacting them to get that guidance.
H: If you decided, going back to what we were discussing earlier about having you know a real-life store, what strategy would you have in place for that?
J: I think now we would just see. It just creates a bit more of a buzz of newness and exclusivity for the customer. It means that you don't have to commit to long-term rent and rate sign ups, so yeah. I think a pop-up is a good one. I mean it would be helpful for us to kind of give some customer feedback and have us get some real interaction with our customers. Our B2C customers, but I think we would stick with a pop-up model from now on.
H: One thing people love to hear about Jess is customers. How did you become aware what your clientele was?
J: We started out doing a lot of research, so we went into stores looking at who was selling a confectionary. What kind of ranges they had, what kind of price points and what sort of size and silhouette, and that was the basis for where we started out. We were contacting those people initially and then we looked outside of that into places like, urban outfitters and new look more fashion retailers to sort of suggest the idea that they might like to have confectionery as a pick-up item to boost their average basket transaction. Maybe a till point something like that, or, at seasonal times like Christmas, Father’s Day that sort of thing. We've just kind of grown from there so, we do a lot through Linkedin. We try to build personal relationships with each of the retail buyers so that they're always aware of what we're creating and what we can do to kind of meet the need that they have in terms of creating new ranges. These days I would say it's about five percent paper ninety-five electronic. We don't use a huge amount of paper advertising.
I think that's generally because we're such a fast-paced business so we like to keep our customers informed of everything that we're doing in terms of design and creativity and innovation. We use our website a lot as kind of like a gallery page to show the different designs we're doing. We like to, use Linkedin to kind of highlight our good news stories and that sort of thing so social media in general is probably what we use the most. Also the good old-fashioned telephone as well we like to talk to our customers.
H: So, to sum this up really Jess, is there any chance to pass down the knowledge to the next generations. When it comes to marketing, do you have any advice and tips on what you do when you're developing your own company?
J: I think the first thing you need to do is look at what your USP is, what makes your company special and how you're meeting the needs of your customers. So that when you approach them, you've got that information ready and that's what you're highlighting to them of how you can help solve a problem or meet a need that they have. You don't have to spend a fortune on marketing there are so many creative ways that you can do it. If you've not got the skills or the time yourself and you can maybe get a graduate in or someone on placement from your local union or college. Don't be afraid to collaborate with other companies as well. I think, I get a bit like what you guys are doing. I think it's good to share advice and experience with other companies, and I think that works well because you can fill a skills gap. You can also share that innovation and creativity.
H: Awesome, so, would there be any events that you would recommend a sort of going to and why?
J: I think from in our niche area, we go to a big trade fairs for confectionery. Like ISM Cologne in Germany. I think at the moment, I would recommend companies to maybe join their local chamber of commerce or connect with federation support of businesses places like that. They are doing a huge amount to boost the economy at the moment and support businesses, especially small businesses with things like networking online, loads of webinars and you can really showcase your company. Also, connect with other business owners and get that support as well, so, I would start by going to those sorts of events as we are in the kind of Covid world that we are. Then, as soon as you make those connections, once the world starts to get a little bit more normal then you can kind of expand that to physical events hopefully.
H: Let's talk about obviously building the company when it comes to the workforce, what are the things that you look for when you're building your workforce?
J: I think enthusiasm has to probably be top of my list and sort of a passion for the business. The kind of things that we work with in terms of creativity, innovation and just getting excited about the brand and just a general level of commitment and enthusiasm really for us.
H: Awesome, so you know in contrast to that Jess, what is the thing when you're interviewing people is just literally ringing those alarm bells like something's wrong here?
J: Well, we have a sort of inclusive recruitment approach. We use non-traditional methods to hire people. We go through local charities to offer work experience placements and whenever we get someone in for in terms of a new role then we do a trial shift. That's a really good way to spot whether someone's gelling with the team and that they're a team player and can get on board with everything that we're trying to achieve. I'm looking really to see if there's any kind of disagreements or any kind of breakdowns in terms of the team dynamic. I think mostly these trial shifts work well in terms of introducing the candidate to our business but, also the team to this new candidate to see that everything's gelling and working well.
H: Awesome, awesome, awesome. Now one of the things, just that it's becoming a bit of a topic every year, is the rates of pay. I mean as a company what is your rough rate to pay you give to your workforce? Are there more like financial incentives, is it minimum wage to people you know, what how's your business structured that way?
J: Well last autumn, so we're nearly coming to our 1 year anniversary, we became a real living wage employer and that's just focused around what the real living wage foundation suggests that you should pay so that people can live and not just survive. That's worked well for us, so the outside of London rate is nine pounds thirty an hour. I think enabled our team to feel that we're invested in them. That we appreciate the work that they're doing and hopefully lead the way in our industry which sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap. The kind of packing industry and as to perhaps a low paid kind of industry, so hopefully we're setting the standard for what we would hopefully expect other employers to be doing in our sector.
H: Jess looking back, looking with those nostalgia glasses. Back from day, one when the business started up to now, can you tell me some of the biggest issues that you've had to face and have overcome?
J: I think hopefully many other small business owners would agree with me here that cash flow and managing that can be a real challenge. It has been for us because we're trying to fund growth here we're trying to build and accumulate and establish the business but, to do that, you know, takes really hard work when it comes to managing the cash flow. The way that our business works are that we take orders but, to fulfil those orders we have to buy in bulk, we have to bring it all in advance, and pay for it in an advance way before we're going to perhaps pack it ,or, even get paid for it down the line by our customers. So, a lot of that takes a lot juggling, that's probably been the biggest challenge to our business as we've tried to grow.
H: In a world full of companies like yourself, what's the thing you feel that you do that makes you stand out, what is that USP?
J: For us, I think it's our approach to design where we can understand the customer get to know what they need, I think retailers are wanting to stand out from their competitors. We look around for the best designs and the best flavours. We source from all around the world. We have great connections in the confectionary world and the packaging world now. We utilize those and utilize the skills of our young ambitious team, and to bring the customer the best possible solution for them.
H: Excellent! just absolutely. Can you tell me now a story within the business, about what has been a really good time, when has it been a good time in the business?
J: I think it's funny, we've just asked our team members to actually help us on a blog, to write about their best TTK moment and it's been really exciting reading everybody's feedback. I think for me, winning the best small business in the East Midlands at the chamber awards was a really big high for me. It just sort of validated all the work that we've put in, and it's great to get recognized by a kind of a body like that. Then also taking nine members of our team to Germany for the big ISM, sweets and chocolate fare which is the biggest in the world was a real high. We just had so much fun and really promoted our brand and made some great connections both with suppliers, new suppliers and customers, so yeah. I think that was really good and then also getting into Sainsbury's and, establishing a presence there within their confectionary gifting and it's been a really proud moment for us.
H: Well, congratulations on that Jess very much indeed. To finish off this interview, can you tell everybody about the SCAYL machine that you got from us. How it has aided you in your journey and has it really been that great help to your business?
J: The two Phil 2500 and Seal 1000 machines have really helped us kind of take things up a level really. We previously used a lot of temporary workers at seasonal times and, with their best intentions, they're not as skilled as our regular team members. It really didn't allow the production to flow as much as we would have liked. So, bringing these machines in has really, really helped us to increase our productivity and expand the scope of what we can offer our customers. I know that the production team are enjoying using them, and the team at SCAYL have really helped them with adapting it to our particular needs as well so it's been a huge hit, I'm really glad here.
H: Well, I want to say thank you so much for joining us today have you had fun?
J: I had great fun thank you, yeah, it's always nice to talk about our business. I love hearing about other businesses, so I'll be watching the rest of the series.
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