How spitting out lyrics helped Jimmy's Iced Coffee go from a £250,000 debt to £3 million in sales.
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Jim Cregan caught the iced coffee bug while travelling in Australia and brought it to the UK with his own start-up brand Jimmy's Iced Coffee. There have ups and downs since but a tasty product line, social media mastery and some pretty neat rap lyrics have earned the business a strong foothold in its market.
What's the business?
We sell different varieties of Iced Coffee in single serve cartons which you can pick up in supermarket fridges and drink on the go or at home.
Where did the idea appear from?
My love affair with iced coffee started in Australia. I’d never had it before, but I stopped at a petrol station one day and came across Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee. We were on a long journey and I wanted something to keep me going but I didn’t want an energy drink.
I cracked it open and it was a revelation for me – I drank two or three a day for the rest of my time in Oz.
When I found out Farmer’s Union wasn’t available in the UK, I wanted to either bring the brand home with me or make and sell my own. When I couldn’t get the licensing, my sister and I started experimenting with recipes in her café in Bournemouth.
Plot the growth story to today.
It was me and my sister Suzie from the concept stage, and we then became a team of three. In the past two years we’ve grown to a crew of 11.
I have never seen the market so flooded with new styles of drinks! If you can think of something, it’s probably already bottled and for sale somewhere.
Supermarkets are welcoming new brands into stores and building shelves higher and higher, but with some buyers receiving upwards of 300 emails a day, and 100 of those emails being from new companies wanting their shot, it’s a battle field.
The opportunity is there for us, because we’re already in the door and the window of opportunity for new brands is ever-shrinking.
In three years’ time, Jimmy’s will be for sale in two territories outside of the UK and we’ll have distribution in all the major supermarkets. We hope to have expanded the range even further by then too, so watch this space!
Jimmy's is spreading beyond UK shores
Have there been bumps in the road and how have you got over them?
The toughest day for the business so far was when I received a call from our production company saying that they’d put a stop on production until we started paying back the £250,000 we were in debt. So we were summoned to an emergency meeting and we negotiated new terms.
My thinking at the time was ‘just stay positive. At least it isn’t £500,000’ and I knew I would graft to make things work. Sleep became and myth and my dedication was tested, but deep down I always had unwavering faith.
That was the hardest day, but one month on we secured a contract with BP to stock our coffee in their service stations. Three years later, we broke even.
How have you spread the message?
Social media is a huge part of our business and we’ve been sharing every step of our journey through Facebook posts, tweets and Instagrams. We never wanted to be a traditional brand and always wanted to stay personable – I put my name on the carton, after all!
We use awesome video footage across all our channels, and our campaigns have been very heavily influenced by my love of hip hop! From a young age, I’d always wanted to create a big budget music video. So once Jimmy’s was a few years in, I spoke to our rad innovation consultancy Fearlessly Frank about an idea I had for one.
They were totally behind the idea and helped me script and shoot ‘Keep Your Chin Up’. Once that hit a million views I got the bug and wanted to do another, ‘Who Got The Beans’ which was amazing to make!
It’s not crazy-quirky but my advice would be to use social media because it’s free and has the potential to put you in front of a huge audience. Don’t be shy, embrace it.
There are horses for courses, so don’t start trying to be Shakespeare on Twitter but use Facebook instead. And when people reach out to you for support or with problems, remember they’re customers or potential customers, so be kind, be reasonable and be honest.
What’s difficult about running your business?
The knowledge that you’re always taking a risk is the hardest thing about running a business. When one of the big four supermarkets accounts for 50 per cent of your sales, it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. They can pull the plug at any time, so it’s important to work hard to maintain relationships.
Now that we have a few years under our belt, I can get home for bath time with my kids and spend quality time with my wife. That’s massively important. Working with an awesome crew who share my passion and enthusiasm for the drink we have created means we always have fun.
One of the most rewarding elements is paying someone else’s salary – something I never thought I would do because I couldn’t always get my own salary sorted back in the day!
What would you change about doing business in the UK?
To strip business of all it’s totally pointless jargon. Turn ‘managing complexities’ into ‘dealing with stuff’ would be a good start.
Have you made any major errors?
With hindsight, I wouldn’t make a 1 litre variety in the second year, I’d keep things as simple as possible. It was hard enough to keep producing, keep selling, keep being rad, keep taking the knocks and keep bouncing back.
The early stages of running a business are draining and sleep does not exist, but I wouldn’t swap what I have now for anything.
Jimmy says he should have kept it simple in the early days
Why is Jimmy's different to the rest?
Our drink is unique because we use very few ingredients. Our stuff is made in England using British milk, we use real coffee and we love what we do. In the iced coffee world, we’re the only major company that is produced in the UK.
We don’t take no for an answer and we don’t accept any bullshit. We’re not part of a portfolio, all we do is make quality coffee. Our strap line is Keep Your Chin Up (KYCU) and it’s not a gimmick, we really mean it.
How do you hold your crew together?
Constant and ongoing communication with staff is something I’m very aware of. I like to make sure the crew are talking about problems because it’s important to me that they’re developing.
We have a relaxed and super-fun working environment where staff can get on with their own thing. We’re not about micro-managing, we trust everyone to do their work. It’s a fun, simple and easy company to work for, and people enjoy that.
Is government supporting your business?
In my experience, UKTI are very good at helping companies like ours expand into new markets. They can help companies with funding for trade shows abroad and they’ve helped us in Dubai.
What advice do you have for new start-ups?
People will tell you ‘no’ a lot and sometimes for good reason. Accept the no and work on making it a yes.
Keep things simple. Whatever your business is, don’t over-complicate it and make sure you do whatever you said you were going to do.
If you aren’t 100% committed, forget it. In fact, ask yourself if you are committed 100 times and if you say maybe once, forget it.