Charlie Bigham decided to launch his own business 20 years ago after becoming disillusioned with the corporate lifestyle.
Having worked as a management consultant for one of the world’s largest consultancies he decided to throw down his tie and pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Combining his love of food and his desire to be his own boss, Charlie identified a gap in the market for creating fresh, top quality, home-made meals that were easy to pull together.
This led to the launch of Charlie Bigham’s, a brand manufacturing home-made, high quality ready-made meals you could slip in your oven and prepare with ease.
Charlie told BQ: “Bigham’s is a food company making very delicious food for people to sit and enjoy together at home.
“I launched the business 20 years ago when I was a youthful 29 year old. Someone has since told me that 29 is the perfect age to start a business! I think there was some research done by the Harvard Business Review which proved it.
“Over the years I had noticed that many of my friends really struggled to find quality time to spend with their partners and family. Something always got in the way, whether it was kids, work or chores.
“So, I came up with a range that’s specially designed to steal back some time together. And people seemed to really like it.
“We make it as you would at home – we don’t add any nonsense – we ensure its home cooked food and we always strive to make our recipes better.
“Today our recipes range from fish pie and lasagne to more exotic dishes such as Moroccan chicken tagine and Vietnamese chicken curry.”
When Charlie launched the business back in 1996, the business landscape was quite different to the one we see today.
As Charlie points out, if you wanted to fund your business, you had no choice but to source the funds yourself.
“I started up my business at a time when the banks were very reluctant to lend money to anyone,” said Charlie.
“I had to visit 14 banks before I was accepted to even open a business bank account, never mind source funding.
“I was lucky that RBSNatWest put their faith in me and I have remained with them ever since!
“I received lots of advice but no funding. Whenever I talk to people looking to start a business I always say the best thing is to do is to pick up the phone and ask people for advice.
“People are really good at giving advice for free and it is absolutely invaluable – there were lots of people who were very good to me when I started - and I learned absolutely loads from it.”
With the banks backing and business leaders lending their advice, Charlie was ready for business and decided to get out there and make it happen, quite literally.
“When I launched the business I knew I had to get my products out to people so I went and knocked on doors and talked to people.
“I think that is the way any business should start, you should get out there and talk to people and get feedback on your idea, market research is absolutely vital.”
This approach certainly paid off and before long Charlie found himself landing a lucrative deal with Waitrose and more stores followed suit.
“We have grown rapidly since then and we now also supply our products to Ocado, Budgens and Booths among others. We now supply over 1,000 stores across the UK.
“We have also had approaches from overseas but because our food is very fresh, it doesn’t travel well. We’re able to travel to every corner of the UK but not abroad.
“As we take great pride in the quality of our products, we’ve had to turn the approaches away as we would never dilute the quality of our product. It’s just not us.”
20 years since launching the business coining his name, Charlie couldn’t be happier with how the business has grown.
Having survived the great recession when many fell to their knees and with mounting pressure being placed on supermarkets from the rise of discount chains, Bigham’s has continued to go from strength-to-strength.
Today the company employs 350 people at its kitchen in northwest London and saw sales reach £40m last year.
“We are still growing but at the moment we have around 350 people working here. From our latest set of accounts we also saw sales reach £40m,” Charlie added.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re growing by around 25% every year and we hope this will continue.”
Having outgrown its London kitchen, the company is now in the process of building a new production facility on a disused quarry site in Somerset.
The 20 acre site at the former Dulcote Quarry between Wells and Shepton Mallet will help the company increase its production capacity and also its headcount as the company continues to grow.
“Our objective is always to be a better company tomorrow than we are today,” Charlie said.
“It sounds a bit cliché but it’s a very genuine desire. To be a better company you have to be a better company in everything that you do.
“Obviously we’re very focused on our food and ensuring it tastes right – but it’s not just about making sure our food tastes better.
“It’s about making sure our training and development for our staff is right – making sure we’re embracing the latest IT to keep ahead of the competition – and even upgrading our facilities.
“I could go on and on - but in a nut shell - we have to ensure we’re constantly becoming a better business and that’s what we always aspire to be.”
When asked what advice he’d give to someone looking to emulate his success, he said: “I wouldn’t want anyone to emulate me.
“If you look at anyone in business and think ‘oh I’d like to do that’ then you’re getting off on the wrong foot.
“The starting point is to ask yourself: ‘Am I willing to take risk my career and put my life on hold to make this happen?’
“If you are, work out what it is you love, what you’re passionate about, and get out there and make it happen!”
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