Perry Court Farm: Charlie Fermor
The young entrepreneur on setting up his healthy snacks business
Company name: Perry Court Farm Website:www.perrycourt.com Founders: Charlie Fermor Age: 22 Based: Kent Countryside, outside Ashford Staff Numbers: 12 Date started: 1/3/09
Tell us what your business does We make dried fruit snacks, made from our own home grown produce, the first being Apple Crisps.
Where did the idea for your business come from? It has slowly evolved, from trips to Washington State in the USA, where a lot of farms have begun drying their own produce, then from extensive research and development on a test drier in my room at university. I realised that this was worth making a business out of.
How did you know there was a market for it? We started out when there was a lot of media attention on kids’ bad eating habits, especially the lack of healthy snacks available to them at school, but it wasn’t just the children’s market we wanted to get into as many adults seemed just as interested in healthy home grown snacks as well.
Our USP’s are endless, all of the product is grown on our farm in Kent using environmentally friendly farming methods (lots of butterflies and bees down here!). The farm has a low carbon footprint, due to apple trees being an excellent absorber of co2, so much so that we believe we could be carbon neutral or even negative in just a few years.
What were you doing before starting up?I have lived on the family farm since birth, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather who started the farm in the 50’s. We have always grown the best soft and top fruit, so I’ve been well educated in the running of a farm since a very young age.
It was whilst studying agriculture at Reading University I first started drying fruit, and when it came to leaving that was the only thing I wanted to do, albeit on a larger scale.
What planning did you do before you started up?At university I spent two years testing and refining the products, getting friends to try different experiments and gauging their opinion. There was also a business entrepreneurship competition at the university in my final year, which encouraged me to go further and complete a full business plan with all the financial forecasts, all though whilst everyone else was doing this hypothetically, I was speaking to machinery manufacturers and organising delivery dates. This extra work obviously helped, as I won it!
How did you raise the money? To start with it was easy. I had a property at university which I bought and rented out to some fellow students to cover the mortgage. This had appreciated in value a lot over the two years I had it, and luckily I managed to cash in just before the housing market collapsed. However after that it was exceptionally difficult, when the financial crisis hit, being a new business was a bad position to be in. Initially I found banks seemed keen to help, but then asked for paper work, more paper work and more paper work, never actually refusing me, but just delaying. In the end, I borrowed 50% of the investment from the family business, not something I was keen to do at the beginning.
What about staff? How many do you have? 12 full time. There is always something for them to do, as we can share them with the farm as well, and vice versa when we need extra help.
What has your growth been like? We are still in very early stages, but over the past few weeks sales have doubled; now it’s just a question of getting them on the shelf. We are currently only selling 2-3000 packs a week but expect to be selling 30-40,000 by Christmas.
What was your first big breakthrough?My first fax order, only for one box of crisps, but this came at a difficult stage, and was a huge psychological boost. It has led the way for many more orders since.
What would you do differently? A lot of things – haggle more over costs, being the main one. It’s been a very steep learning curve.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Have a range of different products available all over the UK, especially in schools. There isn’t an exit plan, this is a family business and I hope it will remain as such.