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The Salami Game: 10 Things I learnt or Re-Learnt in May

by Alex Mugan on June 03, 2024

Hello, it's Alex, the Founder at Bray Cured. I've toyed with the idea of diarising what's going on at Bray Cured for a while now. I have a few suspicions:

  1. People would be quite interested to find out what goes on in a salami business.
  2. Some of those people would like a warts and all account, of the good days and bad days of running a British food start-up.
  3. Some people, though, don't want to know about our guff. They just want good news.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, the number of people who will ever read this is vanishingly small. If I even get around to writing a second edition, it will probably be buried in the nether regions of our website.

I don't know where that leaves us, to be honest. Torn between two possibly non-existent constituencies who variously want the blood, toil, tears and sweat, and a sugar-coated ode to British food entrepreneurialism.

Let's assume it doesn't matter. If you read it and want something different, you can always ask.

And so, to May. May finds us nearly 3 years old, running a reasonably big charcuterie factory in the woods. Established, you might say. Producing a few tonnes of lovely British charcuterie per month, with room to spare for more. Sounds quite nice, when you put it like that.

10 Things I Learnt or Re-Learnt About Running a Charcuterie Business in May

  1. Attend to the funnel.
  2. Get your hands on the product.
  3. Time-boxing is a good way to not go mad.
  4. It's nice to meat you.
  5. Big companies are too slow and independents are great. 
  6. Certification is annoying, but the discipline of going through it is valuable.
  7. Collaboration is one of the best things about running a food business.
  8. The lyrics to Ghetto Superstar.
  9. I am uncomfortable on video.
  10. While it isn't always easy to sleep, it is never hard to get out of bed.

Attend to the Funnel

This is one of those "too many priorities" things. We mix manufacturing, an e-commerce website and a trade/wholesale business. It's a lot to keep track of. From time to time we should focus more closely on the mechanics of the customer funnel in each of those areas. In May we re-worked online bundles, order add-ons and delivery for our direct customers. It's worked really well, and people are now picking up lovely wines and cheeses with their charcuterie, or selecting express shipping when they need it. Better growth for us, better products for customers.

Get Your Hands on the Product

Maybe the biggest challenge for a food entrepreneur (when you make as well as sell) is keeping your hands on the product as you expand. It's not so much about quality, because our people here at Bray Cured have a phenomenal commitment to quality. It's more about me getting a real experience of what works and what doesn't, so we can make things work better. With that in mind, I've taken over the management of our drying room, working on cycling the stock, perfecting drying times, mould, etc. I have been called "the Drying Room Gremlin". I might embrace it.

Time-Boxing is a Good Way Not to Go Mad

I'll admit that I have no idea what Time-Boxing, as developed by the Harvard Business School, actually is. Nor have I confirmed that it was developed by the Harvard Business School, come to think of it. I might have made that up. Hearing about it does, however, coincide with something I'd started to do anyway, so I've adopted the term for convenience. There are too many different types of priorities - finance, sales, marketing, product, people, etc. When I don't make any progress on one for a while, I start to get stressed out and the company works worse. Instead, what I'm doing is blocking out an hour or two each day for the top priority tasks, covering all of those areas. E.g. I'll do an hour of priority sales. When I've done that, I'll move onto something else. It seems to coincide with the 80:20 principle, too, in that a good hour or two gets most of the juice out of most things, on a day-to-day basis.

It's Nice to Meat You

If I ever again write something without a meat pun in it, I'll be surprised. Here's today's. One of the great joys in running a food business is getting to meet (I've stopped) customers. We see them at food festivals, which is nice, but on our courses, where we spend a few hours together talking about the craft and the company, making things and eating them, it's so much quality time that we really value and, I think, our customers do too.

Big Companies are too Slow and Independents are Great

When you're trying to scale quickly, you're always hunting the deals. Some big distributor-type deals have been backing up and while I'm sure their timelines are what they are for eminently sensible reasons, we need to move much faster than they do. It's gears, I suppose. We are a small wheel revolving fast, they are a big wheel revolving slow, but I do suspect that more small producers would thrive if those gears could be aligned. In the meantime, we are getting superbly fast decisions from lovely independents. When they like what they try, they get on and buy. We need to keep finding ways to work more closely with them and promote their growth too.

Certification is Annoying, but the Discipline of Going Through it is Valuable

We were really pleased to be SALSA certified this month. Partly because it’s something that an increasing number of trade customers look for you to have. Also, partly, because it was a real opus to get it done. Charles poured months into it, and everyone pitched in. I think it’s fair to say that putting so much effort into something that feels a bit ‘back office’ at this stage of our business is frustrating – we prefer making product, talking about product and feeding people product. It took a long time and a lot of work. Not least because we didn’t go the route of getting a consultant to do it for us. And therein lies the payoff. I think we’re a better business and a better team for going through the exercise, so, ever so slightly begrudgingly, woo hoo.

Collaboration is One of the Best Things About Running a Food Business

This one is a relearn. While we were supercharging the online product, we got to build new links with a few key suppliers, like Stanlake Park (where we get our wine), Olives Et Al and Nettlebed (cheese). We’ve made some delightful products by combining what they do with what we do. And better yet, they’ve done the same in their own ranges, all in slightly different ways which suit their businesses. Artisan producers, working together to give people great experiences. Thinking back to 2021, the endless possibilities for collaboration with other artisans was something I really loved about the early days of the business, and now it’s front of mind again.

The Lyrics to Ghetto Superstar

In the factory, the music choice tends to run in phases. This month we’ve been on Heart FM. We are all delighted that the million-pound giveaway is done and dusted, though sad not to have won. We are also baffled that people text in to enter competitions and then don’t answer the phone when they are called back on air. Why bother? Anyway, the music selection on Heart, while agreeable is never variable, and so I now know Ghetto Superstar, all of it, along with many other 90s classics.

I am Uncomfortable on Video

A recent discovery, since we’ve been trying to show you a bit of what goes on in the factory. Whether it’s the regional accent, the lack of facial expressions or the impossibility of finding a camera angle which doesn’t show off my wonky teeth, I’m not loving the results. Nevertheless, the show must go on, and I’m resolved to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable – it’s cheaper than an orthodontist.

While it isn't Always Easy to Sleep, it is Never Hard to Get Out of Bed

Being an entrepreneur is hard. Lots of things are hard at the moment, for lots of people, and this isn’t harder than those things. But sometimes it’s tiring, lonely and scary. Also, generally, you can’t say that. Positivity breeds success, so if you ask me or another food entrepreneur at a festival “How’s it going?” we’re going to say “Awesome!”. I don’t think it helps to know/hear that you chose to do it, either, even if that’s true. What does help is this learning. Inevitably, things are going to feel bad. You will be stressed. You will feel poor, in time and money. But you will never feel poor in purpose, and that puts a core of righteous drive in you which (I hope) gets you to the top of your mountain.

There you have it, what we learned in May. I hope it gave you a bit of news, helped you get to know us better, or that you just found it enjoyable or interesting. I enjoyed writing it, which wasn’t one of my suspicions, so that’s excellent.

 

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