Profiled: Suzie Cregan, Co-founder, Jimmy’s Iced Coffee

Jimmys Iced Coffee

If you know Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, you’ll know Jim. Jim is the cheeky face (and beard) of the brand that delights the brand’s social media following with rap videos, hires whole cinemas out to share his favourite movies and organises secret festivals for the lucky few.

If you know Jimmy’s Iced Coffee really well, you’ll also know Suze, Jim’s sister and co-founder of the brand.

After training for a career in health and beauty at Bournemouth & Poole College, Suze, now 40, decided on a very different career path with the Dorset Police. The step away from a more traditional life came seven years later when Suze popped into STA travel on a whim and came out with a round the world ticket.

Leaving her position on the force, Suze packed up her things and went adventuring. In Australia she discovered the humble smoothie which was yet to reach British shores. On her return Suze brought back her newfound passion for smoothies and opened her own smoothie bar and café in the seaside town of Christchurch in Dorset.

This next step in Suze’s career proved successful and rewarding with the café winning multiple awards over the following four years. It was during this time that Suze’s younger brother Jimmy returned from his own travels in Australia.

Jim came back with a taste for iced coffee and was determined to create a British version of his new favourite drink. Knowing his sister as ‘someone that gets sh*t done’ he went straight to Suze, extolling the virtues of iced coffee and proving that there was a definite gap in the market over here.

Never being one to hang around, Suze called the estate agents immediately and put her café on the market. It took ten months to sell and in that time Jimmy’s Iced Coffee was launched in Selfridges.

The funds from the shop didn’t cover all the investment needed to launch Jimmy’s Iced Coffee but luckily for the entrepreneurial siblings, their parents believed in the young brand as much as they did, as Suze explains: “We are incredibly lucky to have such amazing parents. I know it’s a cliché, but they’ve always believed in us and we genuinely could not have done this without them.

“They lent us nearly all of their savings, a huge £140,000 leaving themselves just £5,000. I know that sounds like a massive leap of faith but we all just knew it would work. Dad always taught us that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, and we asked! Jim and I are both ex-pats having been raised in Dubai and I think that environment coupled with our parents being the way they are definitely affected us by instilling a can-do attitude. There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t’. You can.”

Suze and Jim didn’t even have a desk between them in the beginning let alone offices, they worked out of Suze’s bedsit with one goal in mind – they wanted to be a global brand, what they hadn’t realised is that they’d also become a lifestyle brand.

“Neither of us have ever been corporate, we didn’t approach the creation of the Jimmy’s brand with KPIs and targets, we simply said we want to be in every fridge around the world.  We’re seven years old now and have only just introduced KPIs thanks to the new MD that’s running the show. I still have no idea what a KPI is or does.

“Very soon after working together we established that Jim was the ideas man and the face of the brand, to the extent where the line often blurred between Jim and Jimmy’s. I found that I was very much the engine room of the company and I turned the cogs all day long, helping Jim turn his crazy ideas into reality. We work really well together despite having very different approaches”

As with any start-up the first few years were the hardest with neither seeing friends for a good four years. “We just ate (usually a packed lunch from Mum), hand delivered stock, travelled to exhibitions, talks, meetings and slept when and where we could. There was zero time for socialising, but we knew it was worth it. To be a success you have to commit, be bold and be cheeky.”

Before long the fresh new product had big-name investors from around the world knocking on the door. Flattering as it was, the pair were determined to make it on their own and continued on their journey with the next step to secure more stockists. “Selling out to a big investor would have meant losing our identity and authenticity which is what we love about the brand. You simply can’t buy authenticity.”

The first stockist the pair confirmed was Selfridges. “At this point we still had so much to learn, the product in those days was chilled, rather than ambient, and we drove it up to London in an unrefrigerated van on the first hot day of the year in April 2011. We didn’t even consider getting a refrigerated van until we got to Selfridges Goods-In Depot where the warehouse manager noted our ambient looking van.

He said if our stock in the back was above 5C then the product wouldn’t be accepted. We got a digital thermometer into the van quicker than you can imagine and thank goodness it was 4.9C. It was then a manic session of all hands-on-deck to get our first delivery out the van and into the warehouse. Lesson learnt.”

Following quickly on the heels of their first stockist the sibling duo then went on to tackle the supermarket giants without conforming to the standard supermarket pitches. “Jimmy’s Iced Coffee brand is not about conforming to the usual style of selling. We’d turn up at Tesco HQ in jeans and trainers, surrounded by suits. Oh well… Jim and I can’t be people we are not!”

The authentic approach paid off and the siblings have built up a nationally recognised and celebrity endorsed brand over the last seven years which now stocks in almost 5,000 stores nationwide including M&S, Waitrose, Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. “I should take the time to sit back and feel proud of what we’ve achieved so far but we’re always looking ahead to what’s next. I do realise that it’s important to take stock and appreciate all that we have achieved”

“Without a doubt though, I do have a very definite proudest moment, it was when Jim and I realised we could pay Mum and Dad back earlier than expected. We decided to surprise them by taking them to their favourite restaurant for dinner, where we had created a fake copy of the restaurant’s menu and one of the dishes on the ‘menu’ was the news that we had transferred £140,000 into their account. Mum’s face was priceless and there were tears all round. It has very much been a family effort with Mum and Dad behind us all the way like a giant pair of wings.”

Seven years on and the pair are still running Jimmy’s Iced Coffee with the same ethos they started out with in Suze’s bedsit, although the team has learnt to slow down when they need to: “In the beginning we said yes to pretty much everything but we are now more grounded and concentrate on ensuring each layer of the business is carefully thought out. We fully assess each opportunity to make sure the return is good enough and we now have the confidence to say no when we need to.”

“We’ve created an environment that we both thoroughly enjoy working in. Our HQ is like home. Each member of staff is gold and part of the family. Jim and I love the business that we’ve built around us, we’ve got to where we are because we both have sunshine in our bellies that keeps us optimistic, positive and brave.

“We believed in Jimmy’s Iced Coffee from the very beginning when Jim came back from Australia. It was jumping in our brains and keeping us up at night. If your idea is doing that to you then grab it and run with it!”