The Entrepreneur: Charlie Bigham, Bigham’s

The food enthusiast on building a £30m company out of his namesake, saying 'no' to exporting and why he doesn't think about mistakes...

Founder: Charlie Bigham
Company: Bigham’s
Website: www.bighams.com
Description in one line: Delicious food without the fuss
Previous companies: None
Turnover: £30m
12 month target: £35m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We make proper food: made with fresh ingredients every day in our kitchen as you would make at home. One of the great joys in life is sitting down and having a chat with someone else over some delicious food: Charlie Bigham’s food is perfect for this!

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Having a great team of people focused on making everything we do a little better every day.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The number of people who write in (or e-mail or call) to tell us what they think of our food. It’s great to hear when people like our food but even more useful to hear if there’s something we’ve got wrong so that we can fix it.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Our food is fresh and typically only lasts about six days once we’ve made it (as long as it’s kept nice and chilled). Unfortunately this means that exporting things is pretty tricky – we’re flattered to have been approached by people from Canada, the US, South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Holland, France and more but have had to say no to them all!

Describe your growth funding path:

The business started with £15,000 of personal savings and we’ve reinvested our profits in growing the business every year for 18 years. We don’t believe in borrowing lots of money so our external finance is, and always has been, kept at a sensible low level.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We are passionate about making everything button fresh and we have around 450 fresh ingredients delivered every day to our production kitchen, without the internet and computers it would be pretty tricky to manage this as we do. Otherwise our best technology tends to be a sharp knife and a clean pair of hands.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

I want an extra million people a year to be eating our food and to have a business which remains true to its principles and one that the team is proud to work in. Increasing turnover will be the consequence of us getting other things right; it is not at objective in itself.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Starting the business: it always takes a leap of faith to get going but once you’re up and running the business quickly gains a momentum of its own.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Too numerous to mention – but they’ve all been useful mistakes to make.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

I think people moan far too much about red tape. We [the UK] are one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world to work in so better to get on with it than waste time and energy complaining.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

I don’t think entrepreneurs think in terms of mistakes: if something doesn’t go quite to plan (and most things don’t) learn from it and move on.

How will your market look in three years?

People are becoming ever more interested in food: where it comes from, how it’s made, who it’s been made by. This is good news for us: cheap food is rarely good value for money.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Don’t dilly dally just get started.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Time off.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

Listen more.

Business book:

I don’t read business books – novels are more enjoyable.

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