HR & Management

Roaming Roosters: Sticking to tradition

11 min read

06 December 2014

Although innovation is at the core of every viable business idea, you need to connect the dots and find the missing links your customer demands for your offering to truly stand out in a competitive marketplace. This was no different for brothers Simon and Nick Mellin.

Roaming Roosters was set up in 2009 while Simon travelled the world working in the motorsport industry.

“I noticed that sustainable food, predominantly free range and grass fed meats, were not commonly available,” he said. “At the same time, my younger brother Nick, who worked in our dad’s butchers shop, noticed customers asking for free range chicken. So we hatched a plan!”

“We had very little money so began rearing some free range chickens on land which our dad owned – we created a website for £500 and started selling them online and at local farmers markets. This was the beginning of Roaming Roosters.”

This is also essentially how the company got its name.

“We began farming free range chickens known as ‘Roaming Roosters’ and the brand was born from there and it stuck. It’s amazing how many people think me and Nick are the Roaming Roosters!” Simon said. “But while the name was easy, we spent a lot of time creating our brand, thinking hard about what it was we stood for and what set us apart from the rest.”

The brothers soon realised chicken alone wasn’t a strong enough offering so “brought other local farmers known to [the] family on board to farm beef, pork and lamb for [them].” But they had a key asset: experience gained from working in the butchery family business.

“Myself and Nick worked within the shop from a young age and also worked on farms through school holidays and weekends,” he said. “This gave us a real knowledge of food from field to fork.

“The most important part of producing meat is how the animal is farmed, how it is fed, the breeds used and the size and age at which the animal is slaughtered. All our beef, for example, is grass fed and sourced from native British breeds. It’s all slaughtered between 24-30 months old with a consistent carcass size. 

“Using traditional British breeds also means that traditional butchery techniques must be used to retain margin within the product. Modern butchery styles use a style of butchery known as seam butchery, based on cutting along the natural seams between the muscles, which is ideal for continental breeds which can be intensively farmed – the polar opposite of what we do! We use traditional butchery methods on British native breeds, using much more of the animal, which means less waste and enabling us to pass on cost savings to our end customers.

“Traditional butchery is about making the most from every cut and using as much of the animal as possible – again a much more sustainable method of food production.”

But family ties were by no means the reason they stuck to the sector. “It was more the opportunity I saw that kept me there,” he explained. “Butchery is an old fashioned industry just waiting to be revived and that’s what we are doing. We sell a traditional product in a very modern way with a modern brand and through more modern streams of trade like drop shipping for big online retailers.

“My brother is an extremely talented butcher and has the skill-set of butchers decades his senior. So with my vision and natural business acumen and his butchery skills it just made sense.

“However, my dad being old school, when we told him we were selling meat on the internet he swore…a lot! And then told us both we were stark raving mad! But he’s finally come round to the idea and sold his shop to come and work for us on the farm.”

Although the idea started off easily enough, Simon explains that finance was hard to come by.

“We started Roaming Roosters from my dad’s shop and used the office upstairs at the start. It was Christmas of 2011 when we filled every spare inch with boxes that our dad said ‘I think it’s about time you left!’

“Strangely, despite being true Northeners, we had no sales presence in the North, which we didn’t like, but perishables online hadn’t taken off here like it had in London and surrounding areas, so we knew we needed to add a retail offering to make it work all round. Rather than just building a warehouse to distribute from we decided to build a farm shop and bistro and we couldn’t have picked a worse time in 2011 to start looking for finance!

“We needed to raise around £500k for the building and £80k for kit to do this and we were turning over around £50k a year! It was flat ‘no’ everywhere we approached for funding; we didn’t even get in through the door of most banks.

“Eventually my parents re-mortgaged their house and loaned us around £180k in order to get the build going. I managed to secure a bridging loan for £350K and get the builder to give us 120 day payment terms, luckily for us, the construction trade was completely flat lining so builders needed work, so it was beneficial all round. It was pretty tight and looking back quite a daunting time – we had 12 months to build or we would have gone bump and taken our parents down in the process!

“That was a real incentive to get our finger out and get it completed and we’re proud to say building started in November 2011 and we opened Sept 4th 2012. In October 2012 I managed to secure a re-mortgage from NatWest with the help of a growth mentor and the use of our brand to promote the NatWest Funding For Lending Scheme. The business took off so quickly we had instant profitable accounts giving us more affordability for lenders.”

Indeed, the company has been flourishing, gaining vast media attention and numerous accolades to boot. But what caused their boost in growth and how do they plan to maintain it? It seems the big igniter was introducing retail alongside online.

“We jumped around 2,000 per cent in revenue 2012/13 when we opened up our brand to a Northern customer base. This gave us much better cashflow to then inject back into the online trade. We then started bringing on board other websites and resellers giving us pretty explosive growth.

“As we started to introduce more resale clients and large wholesalers in 2013, cashflow became a real issue – due to the growth we needed cash for more industrial equipment, operating space and stock. So we began building a new industrial site around ten miles down the road but knew we couldn’t go any further without a substantial cash injection.

“I had been receiving mentoring on how to manage the growth by Matthew Riley CEO of Daisy Group Plc. Matt saw the issues we faced and offered to invest and it was at this point Grassroots Wholesale Foods was born and allowed the group to grow revenue another 400 per cent 2013/14.

“We removed all the wholesale and online trade into the new company as we had already outgrown the Roaming Roosters site in Higham, and the online trade was starting to hurt the retail trade which ultimately drove our decision.

“Grassroots specialises in resale of our products allowing people to sell our products through their own online stores. We now distribute for around 15 websites and also pre-pack and drop ship for other large online retailers. All the distribution for the Roaming Roosters brand also takes place from here and this feeds the shop.

“This has given us a central distribution facility which my brother controls; handling all products and directing them to the correct outlets. This enables us to retain control while at the same time allowing huge scalability.

“In turn, this has allowed Roaming Roosters to concentrate on growing the retail trade.”

The growth doesn’t stop there. Grassroots are moving to a 30,000q ft premises in the New Year, having outgrown their first, and once their site is finished they have a retail roll out plan in place for Roaming Roosters to create another ten retail based shops over the next couple of years.