As the founder of Nutriment, a family-owned pet food business, Suzanne Brock has grown her company to a position where it is turning over £6m and employing 40 staff in only four years.
Here, she shares with Real Business readers the route she’s taken to do that and the big learnings that have cropped up along the Nutriment journey.
What was the single defining reason behind setting up Nutriment in 2013?
The previous company I worked for underwent a very sudden change of management with very different motives and ethics and I felt unable to be part of it. This led me to set up a company to incorporate my desire to produce a truly exceptional product with a passionate and knowledgeable staff.
If you could go back in time and tell the new entrepreneur you were then one thing then what would it be?
I would probably tell myself to breathe. Those first couple of years were a blur and I lived in a constant state of worry that I did not know what I was doing and that I would make a mistake. I had no true business experience and I felt intimidated by my lack of knowledge.
When you’ve felt the business running away from you, what has been successful in dealing with this?
There are still many times I feel that way as the business has grown so fast. There have been times when I wished I could just pause the growth and the demands on the business and me that brought. However, I am very fortunate to have two other directors, one of which is my partner, who have much calmer heads on their shoulders and have supported me in making the necessary plans to manage the growth of the business.
What unique recruitment technique have you developed since founding that you can share?
Initially the company was staffed by friends and family, and this has worked very well for us. However, now we are bigger we have needed outside recruitment. I am well known for being a terrible judge of character – I like everyone! So all the initial interviews are done by two people whose judgement I trust implicitly and they have not failed me yet.
In what areas of running a business have you found mentorship has been most useful, and why?
My shortfall was in actual business knowledge. I know my product and my customer needs but as the business got bigger I needed support to ensure we were making the right business decisions and making them as much a priority as ensuring the product was right. That why programmes like the NatWest everywoman Awards are so important. They create role models out of so many successful women and make them visible to all those aspiring to follow in their footsteps.
What moment do you look back to and think “that was where it all nearly went horribly wrong”?
Obviously I have made many mistakes in the last four years but fortunately good business planning and a strong support staff meant that it was never catastrophic or potentially catastrophic. I think within the first three months of starting, we nearly went under on a daily basis and I would have lost absolutely everything. We just worked really hard to ensure this did not happen.
How do you deal with moments of doubt?
I have so many. I worry about how quickly we have grown, I worry about losing touch with the customers, I worry about spreading myself too thin to give enough attention to my loved ones. I could go on. I simply carry on doing what I am doing with the confidence that I have a great company with a great product and very understanding loved ones.
What have you found is particularly important when it comes to building credibility?
It’s a very simple thing which I learned early on. Do what you say you are going to do – always. Pay the bills on time and treat staff and customers with respect should also be as important.