Secrets to my Success: Matt Hardman

What’s your company called and who is behind it (including yourself)? What sector(s) do you operate in etc?
The Bacon Factory Ltd, slicing and packaging bacon for wholesalers, caters, hoteliers, cruisel liners etc. Run by John Hardman and sons Chris and Matt Hardman.

What is your turnover, employee numbers etc compared to previous years (to give a idea about your growth)?
We started in 2007 employing 6 people and after 12 months our turnover was roughly 1.3million, we now employ twice that number with a turnover of around 2.5million

What is your start-up story? How did you seize the opportunity you saw and what barriers did you have to overcome?
The business was started in 2007 by John Hardman and Chris Hardman who had 30-40 year’s experience in the trade between them. The pair personally redeveloped an old mill based in Bury Greater Manchester to meet EC standards (necessary for food production), in the evenings and weekends, whilst holding down full time work elsewhere. This in itself took several years to achieve. Margins are tight and profit is made from high volume sales, which in turn need credit from major suppliers in order to purchase large quantities of raw materials. Financial support was required from investors and the bank before a single rasher could be sliced. Machinery worth tens of thousands of pounds to freeze, press, slice and pack the bacon had to be purchased and modified to suit the specific requirements of The Bacon Factory product. However the pair were motivated by the knowledge of the market they had and the contacts within the industry they could call upon for custom and support. The idea was to supply a high quality product with a better margin that the larger competitors already established within the sector couldn’t or wouldn’t want to compete with.

What products or services to you provide? What problem does your company solve? What is your USP?
We supply the fiddly orders the big slicers don’t like, we’ll go the extra mile by altering the labelling, tweaking the product so its thicker or thinner or packing in unusual weights at no extra charge. We’ll deliver at no additional cost.

What are your sales and marketing strategies? What do you think about using newer platforms such as social media etc to reach customers?
We saw an increase in inquiries and sales when we developed an online presence which we are currently revamping. We’ve established twitter and facebook profiles and are starting to embrace these new routwes to market.

What is your attitude towards your competitors? Thoughts on market research etc?
We sometimes work with them but more often than not we’re small enough to stay under their radar and flexible enough to out manouver them. The market is huge competition is fierce we have a limited capacity at the moment and we sell out every week, we are happy being small profitable and busy and we want to grow slowly and naturally without losing control.

How important to success are repeatable business processes? What about flexibility and product/service innovation? How do you make sure this is happening?
I think systems and repeatable business processes are vital. Personally I can’t work without them. We are a small family firm with limited man power and other resources so we have to be regimented in what we do.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?
Recruiting is difficult, most of our employees are manual labourers but with specific skills to the industry, we want to keep our people and keep them happy whilst keeping costs low and that’s a tough balancing act. We have some highly skilled workers too and a lot of the time the family has to learn these skills in case of staffing issues. We struggled to get apprentices for either the factory floor or the offices, the system doesn’t seem to work as the job centres or third parties involved in recruiting the youngsters can’t deliver the goods.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?
I think it’s about developing personal relationships and trust. A lot of problems can be overcome by knowing that there is a basis of trust between you and the person on the other end of the telephone.

And finance and cash-flow tips?
A good accountant and a helpful bank manager go a long way. We’re fortunate to have both but a lot of things can still go wrong when you’re making or receiving large payments over long distances online. Patience is a key attribute, a calm aspect and the ability to work under pressure helps. Forward planning and expecting the worst at all times help smooth out some of the bumps along the way.

Any thoughts on the future of your company (growth plans, new areas of business etc) and your industry?
We’re developing the machinery and fridges to increase capacity, we have new suppliers and more staff. We can push our current site a little more but sooner or later we may have to relocate, purchase new or additional premises.

What main secrets of success do you think entrepreneurs more generally need to know? What are the most important things to remember when starting and running a company?
If you have the will and the energy you will find a way. Much of business is about confidence and self belief. Don’t always take peoples word for the truth when they say it can’t be done. I have exported bacon to countries where I have been told the law of religion won’t allow it. But if you keep asking why and how eventually you find a way. Invest in people and you are rewarded, spend time doing the little things that don’t give you a quick win, these are the most rewarding when they pay dividends.