“We setup Simply Ice Cream from our home in Ashford back in October 2005,” Sally said. “My husband Robin and I used to make the ice cream between 9pm and 1am when our four kids were fast asleep in bed.
“We launched the business on the back of my catering business, which I have been running for about the last 20-30 years now.
“At first we were making the ice cream and supplying just one farm shop. We tested the water for around six months to see what would happen.
“The idea was that we would sell a product into retail and then give up the catering and have our weekends back.
“Looking back, that was really naïve, we didn’t realise how much promotion and sampling we would have to do, that side of it never panned out. But we did find that we had a product people really wanted to buy…”
Sally decided to move away from full time catering, and into ice cream production, due to the incredible feedback on her ice cream she had been making for her events.
She started off making a few different flavours of handmade artisan ice creams that she could supply to the farm shop to see how they would fare.
As the business started to grow, she began putting more hours into the business and began developing new products whilst still managing the catering company.
Juggling the two proved quite an arduous task but one Sally relished. “Although it was quite a slow build, as I was still doing around 80 weddings a year, we went into five farm shops the following year and 16 the year after that.
“Then in 2008 we went into Waitrose, that was really when we realised that we had something that would work and really started pushing it.”
With the deal to supply Waitrose imminent and demand for ice cream growing, Sally had outgrown her kitchen table and knew she would have to start scaling up the business.
“As things progressed, we made a factory at home so we could carry on growing,” she added. “We turned a third of our house into a factory and built the business from there.
“When we first started, we literally went into farm shops and independents and then as things progressed, we approached other people. We’ve built the business fairly consistently ever since.”
As the company continued to go from strength-to-strength, Sally was quick to realise that running a successful ice cream manufacturing business was quite different to managing her own catering company.
“In the past, the businesses I’d managed had been self-sustaining. Catering for example is all about word of mouth, if you do a good wedding then someone else wants you to do theirs.
“With retail however, there is so much more to it. You enter an area where no-one has heard of you and you really have to grow your brand.”
Luckily, she sought the help of a business mentor, which proved a huge help. “As the business went on, because obviously I’d always worked for myself, I’d never run a business that encompassed all of the facets that you need to run a retail business, there was a lot of learning along the way.
“As things progressed I realised that I needed help in other areas. I couldn’t do it all myself. Around three years ago, I took on a consultant as a mentor and we started looking at how to grow the business. I still work with him, once a month or every other month.
“On the back of that work I was able to take a step back and start working on the business again. We now have a general manager and a production manager. Things have really grown over the last couple of years - we saw the business grow by about 51% the year before last and 20% last year.”
Having made a good first impression with Waitrose, Simply went on to supply 130 of the supermarket's stores across the UK as well as supplying the Co-op, Ocado and most recently, Morrisons.
The company has also continued to support independent businesses, with 350 independent stores across the UK now stocking its ice creams.
It has been 12 years since Sally started making her own ice cream. Now, she boasts a business which turned over just under £1m last year and employs 14 members of staff.
Having established the company as a household name in the South East, she now has plans to expand the company’s presence not just at home in the UK, but also overseas.
“Next year we’re looking at carrying on our growth in the domestic market whilst making inroads further afield.
“At the moment, we predominantly supply the South East but we would like to extend that further. We’re also hoping to continue growing the export side of the business.
“We started exploring export opportunities last year and landed our first ever deal which saw us ship a pallet of our ice creams to Singapore.
“We’ve put plans in place to pursue exporting during the year ahead and I’m going to carry on with these plans despite Brexit.
“We are also planning to expand the company at our current location near Ashford. We are increasing storage capabilities, and in the spring will look at staffing as we will then be in a position to be able to double our production by adding in a second shift pattern."
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