Lessons Learned – Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder, The Black Farmer

Three years ago Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones launched his food brand 'The Black Farmer', daring to take on the big stores and their own labels dominating the market at the time.

Based in Devon, his range of sausages, burgers and barbeque products is now stocked in major supermarkets across the UK. SmallBusiness.co.uk caught up with him.

SmallBusiness.co.uk asks an inspirational entrepreneur to share their experiences and offer advice for SMEs. With the benefit of hindsight, what do they wish they’d known when they started?

I was born in Jamaica and raised in a poor, inner city part of Birmingham. I’m also dyslexic, failed at school and was kicked out of the army. Nevertheless, I always dreamt of owning my own farm. I’ve worked hard for my business but I think a ‘second place mentality’ – knowing that you have to fight to stand out and be a success ¬– is a good ethos and attitude to have. It means that you’re constantly always striving to be first, rather than assuming that being at the top is you’re right and maybe resting on your laurels.

One thing that you come to realise as an entrepreneur is that you must have absolute focus. If you’re trying to run a business and you want a balanced life, you’re going to be disappointed because you just can’t have both. You need to treat your business as if it’s in intensive care and put all the effort into sustaining it that a nurse would give when tending to a patient.

Closing the divide

There’s a big gap between rural and urban Britain. Lots of rural entrepreneurs seem to have lost their relationship with their consumer. They’re struggling to get their products into the supermarkets because they don’t know how to close that gap. When I first started out, I used to travel the country giving out samples and getting customers to sign a petition to potential stockists, which I sent directly to the supermarket buyer.

There are great challenges for people doing business in the rural community, whether you’re farming, producing food or selling clothes. The issue of distribution is a real difficulty, simply because there is a distinct lack of transport links so inevitably the cost goes up. My business is based in the South West of England and there are always problems getting to London. For many businesses it’s much harder to find a distribution company willing to transport from such isolated locations.

However, if you are a rural business, the truth is that you are dealing with much smaller markets in your vicinity. You’ve got to try to tap into the urban consumer if you want to grow and to do that you need to understand your business and the marketplace. Having said that, people do tend to ignore the rural consumer, which is the wrong thing to do too. They’re often willing to spend a little bit more money on quality products, so can form a valuable part of your customer base.

Branding ‘The Black Farmer’

Branding is extremely important and even more so in the country, where people tend to think marketing is a silly thing to do. They expect their customers to come to them and if they do try to establish a brand, it’s likely to be accompanied by some sort of old fashioned, twee name that implies a certain exclusivity that alienates an inner city audience. These potential customers end up thinking the product isn’t meant for them and you lose out.

You need to be very careful with branding. You can’t just depend on assumptions and target the niche of society that’s closest to you. The most important thing I ever did was research, but my advice would be to really put yourself through the mill and don’t rely on friends and family for opinions.

The climate is right for rural entrepreneurship at the moment but rural entrepreneurs are too keen to try to everything themselves – collaboration is often the key. If you can join forces with those around you, you’ll find that problems like distribution become easier to solve. While technology has made things much easier for business people in the countryside, running a company successfully is still about getting out there and meeting people. If you feel you need to have offices in London to be closer to those people and to your buyers, my advice would be to invest in offices in London, business is all about relationships.

See also: How to get your product on the supermarket shelf – Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones talks about his early experience of dealing with major stores

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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Food Businesses

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