Wednesday, 22 October 2014
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A business lesson from the humble sausage

I met David Rogers of Pure last week. Over a coffee and a sandwich he told me the following story.

John Scarrott

Five years ago David decided to leave the agency he’d helped to establish. He wanted to start over, to launch a creative business that was independent, quirky and creative as well as profitable. In thinking this through, something else struck him.

Clients were coming to him when much of the thinking had been done to fulfill the brief in terms of artwork etc, but what interested him was ‘What happens before I get the call? What happens out of sight of me? How can I have an influence on that?’

He found a whole interesting world. So interesting in fact that he decided to launch a brand of his own - an environmentally friendly chocolate brand called My World. Not only did David learn the answers to his own questions, Waitrose took My World exclusively.

David’s interest in brand development had just got started. Enter the sausage, or rather a man called James. James runs a family butchers called M&M Rutland, which David used to pass on his way to Norfolk at the weekends. They make outstanding sausages in 50 varieties from Marmite to Pizza flavour.

David became a regular customer and the counter-top conversations turned to launching brands and James’ dream to see his sausages on a supermarket shelf.

Sausages

Source: Phil and Pam

David knew James had a great product, but James was humble by nature and would never have thought he had the world’s best. On David’s advice, James started to look at the sausages supermarkets were stocking. It struck him there was no real variety of flavour or choice, certainly not compared to what he was doing. He started to get inspired. 

Meanwhile, David and his wife got around their Mac and created a brand for James. The Humble Sausage Company was born. David rendered the design onto the side of a pack and posted it off to James, who rang David back, blown away by seeing his product turned into a brand. David used his contacts to get a meeting with Tesco. Tesco loved James, loved the sausages, loved the brand. They agreed to stock the sausages in their top 5 Norfolk stores.

This was huge for James and his family butchers. But as with many stories, things don’t always go according to plan and due to various circumstances James wasn’t able to take Tesco up on their offer. But there are many upsides to this tale, which for me make this an interesting story:

Seeing things differently

James had been inspired and seen beyond being ‘just a good butcher’ in a Norfolk village. After speaking with David he’d created a picture of his product being sampled by many more people. He was thinking of it as a brand. Who knows where that will take him but he’s had a glimpse of something different.

And for David, whose motto is ‘once you’ve succeeded at one thing, move onto the next’, why does this work for him? Because it’s easy to get stuck in a routine that doesn’t inspire you one bit. Being open and alive to the new can be motivating.

Drawing or thinking?

As a creative business, what are you selling? Is it drawing? Or are you selling your thinking? Thinking about clients’ businesses as well as their design can open up new possibilities. It encourages you to look at your client’s market and what sits around it. What’s going on for them? Where could they go next? Your thinking and insight can empower your clients. They’ll value you and you’ll reposition your expertise and be able to profit from this.

New conversations and connections

David has won much attention for his work with My World. He’s attracted interest from 30 small clients who’ve seen what he’s done with the chocolate and are interested in help in launching their brands. He’s looking at opportunities right now.

Finding the time

You should always see these conversations as additional to business as usual. But what about asking your team if they’d like to convene a Saturday morning task force, once a month to work on some local brands? It could feed into your weekday work and inspire new ideas that end up growing your business.

Risk

Be prepared to take a calculated risk. That’s what gets David going. Whether working for a big brand or a smaller business, if you present the client with the right argument and the relationship is there, they’ll trust you to take a risk.

Between them, David and James took the humble sausage from a butchers counter to being offered a listing with Tesco. Next time someone says ‘not a sausage’ perhaps you’ll remember this story and re-ask your question.

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.

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