Jon Simon, managing director and co-founder of Pieminster, was inspired by the way restaurants in Australia had taken pie and mash and developed it for trendy, young consumers. We spoke to him about the challenges he faced in scaling the business up over the last decade.
How did you fund the launch of the business?It was a £50,000 start-up, which was funded by myself, Tristen [Hogg, co-founder] and one other small investor. We put in half each, basically, and we had a 50k overdraft. That was it. It meant lots of second hand equipment and running around doing something for nothing at the start.
It can be difficult for restaurant business to scale up from a single location, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to expand?Make sure you’ve got your systems nailed down before you start rolling out to new locations. Things will change with every location and every month you’re in business you will learn something new, but there are some basic fundamentals that you need to get screwed to the floor quite early on: the type of people you want to work in the business; and making sure the culture really rings true and your managers instil that into people. That’s very powerful and it’s often overlooked in retail. If you go downstairs here [to the restaurant], into a YO! Sushi, a Nandos or a Wagamama, the staff get it and it conveys that experience all the way through for the customer. That’s the important thing.
How do you decide where to expand the wholesale and restaurant business?Our independent wholesale customers tend to be in the larger, quite cool metropolitan cities. In terms of supermarkets, they are getting much better at their ranging, and they can range by affluence and by demographic. We are very clear about who our consumer are and what they do, what cities they hang around in and what postcodes they go to. We can help inform the supermarkets to get range in those areas to get benefit for them.
Has the restaurant side of the business boosted wholesale sales?If you have a restaurant-quality brand, with a restaurant-quality product, and you’re prepared to put it into a box and put it in a supermarket it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s a win for the supermarkets because they’ve got a restaurant-quality product on their shelves and it’s a huge marketing exercise for us. They push the brand. People can come to the restaurants and have a full immersive Pieminster experience here and go home and recreate it at home. It’s worked for Ben & Jerry’s, it’s worked for PizzaExpress, Nandos do their thing. There’s a strong cross over between casual dining and the supermarkets, and you’re going to see more and more of that in the future.
Have retail locations helped you develop the product?Having the shops and the market is a huge benefit for us over our competitors, because we get to trial new products, we get to talk directly to the customers and we get to understand what they want. We get people coming into our shops and asking us for what they want. If you’re just a supermarket brand, you have to spend all of this money on research and you’re never going to get the genuine article. Having that understanding has become very powerful. I think we’ve got quite a bright future. We’re more excited about it now that we have been for quite some time, which is great.
How are you developing Pieminster products for the future?We have always been innovative in terms of flavour profiles but haven’t really looked hard at the changing demands of the customer. The innovation we’re working on at the moment is top secret but will hopefully be a bit of a game changer. It will help us give the restaurants a broader appeal. Although Pieminister has grown in the last year there has been a general decline in pies over the past 12 months. This has not only been partly driven by an unusually hot summer, but also the rise of ready meals, some of which have the perception of being a healthier option. Pies are often considered an indulgent product and not usually associated with a healthy diet and we are looking at that quite hard. We want to ensure that pies continue to remain relevant in the future and not relegated to a thing of the past. We want to make sure there’s a sustainable future for the products we make. Understanding social trends and keeping abreast of new legislation will be the tools we use to continue to develop new products.
How has revenue grown since you launched the business?We’ve grown consistently. It’s slowed down a little bit in the last 12 months because of what we’ve been doing in restructuring. It’s been good. We’ve had peaks and troughs depending on whether you get a supermarket listing, which can accelerate things quite quickly. We’ve got a good structure to be market leader in pies, which we are at the moment. It’s about reinforcing that and making sure we don’t lose that crown.
Is there anything you want to add?It’s a very exciting time for us. We’ve been through a lot of changes, particularly over the last two years. We’ve had a step change in terms of the behaviour in the company, and trying to formalise the structure very neatly without losing the culture at the same time. We seem to be working more efficiently and in a more aligned capacity. There are so many areas of the business; we needed to understand how those benefit each other.
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