As a lesson in overcoming the obstacles of setting up a new business, it’s hard to beat Richard Canterbury’s experience.
His rollercoaster first years innovating the hugely successful global smoothie company he runs today could be used as a textbook example of riding the storm – and he’s still only 43, with plenty more marketing ideas to develop.
The story begins at a pet food conference in Geneva, where Richard was representing the top advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. He recalls: “It was so incredibly dull and as I looked around the auditorium I realised that I was the youngest by 20 years. Seeing a rather dull life mapped out in front of me, I took the decision to do something else and I started sketching out some business ideas on the plane home. Four months later, I resigned from my job.”
So far, so entrepreneurial, but the move into running his own business was far from straightforward for Richard.
It was 2003 and the healthy eating culture was beginning to take hold in London. Richard’s idea of jumping on this bandwagon began with the help of an acquaintance who was running a smoothie stall in Borough Market. The two decided to join forces and at first the business bloomed. As he recalls: “People would queue for ages, just to get one of our smoothies and I started to realise we were on to something.”
After a short while, however, the two entrepreneurs decided to go their separate ways, because of differences in business vision. Then Richard hit lucky with a request from his former boss, the MD at Saatchi & Saatchi, to build a smoothie bar at the company’s £1 million revamped offices. Here was an opportunity not to be missed, although it came with a huge leap of faith.
“I had no recipes, no equipment, no brand and I was terrified of becoming a laughing stock in front of people who knew me,” says Richard. Fortunately, with a great deal of hard work and the goodwill of his new customers, the bar was a great success and Love Smoothies the company was born.
Office accommodation was next on Richard’s list of priorities, but even this did not go as planned. He started sharing a friend’s business premises, but the friend’s company folded and Richard was forced to return to running Love Smoothies from his flat. It was a low point in his career, as he explains: “At Christmas, when the smoothie sales dwindled, I seriously considered whether I had done the right thing. I had to remortgage my flat, just to ensure I could eat, while my ad-land friends were complaining at having too many parties to go to.”
Slowly, and with a great deal of hard work, Richard built up his outlets, starting with a small gym chain where he launched a smoothie bar at the end of 2005, moving into a small organic coffee chain. At this time, he was supplying his customers with 10kg bags of frozen fruit, which staff had to measure out, process and serve, alongside fresh fruit.
There were, Richard points out, major issues with this system, including “human error, portion control, cost control, inconsistent products and slow service”. Something had to be done to improve the process, making it easier to operate and more economical to run.
Richard remortgaged his flat for a second time as a way of financing the next stage of his business development. He also signed up for the Food and Drink trade show at Hotelympia and put all his energy into selling the idea of marketing ready-made smoothie ingredients to businesses.
It worked! By the end of the show, he had 350 potential customers. The downside was he had nowhere to make the product and no one to distribute it. He found a suitable factory within five months, but a logistics company he hoped would help with deliveries pulled out at the last minute, claiming Love Smoothies was too small a company to be worthwhile dealing with.
“I couldn’t believe it. We had customers calling daily, wanting the product and I couldn’t deliver. It was incredibly frustrating,” Richard says.
The frozen smoothie sachets were available from the summer of 2008 and Richard took on his first employee to begin selling them. He now needed to build a team, find an office and pay suppliers. It took another 18 months to raise the money needed – and then came the financial crash!
With careful budgeting, the company, now called Love Taste Co, survived and has grown ever since. It employs only seven people, outsourcing all its other operations, including manufacturer, distribution, marketing and PR. The smoothie kits sell to more than 6,000 outlets worldwide and the company has retail sales of £40 million. Richard is still energetically chasing new ideas, including frozen organic bone broth – another health trend, introduced to him by his wife Jules.
Richard describes his business story as “like turning a massive stone wheel,” and he’s still developing outlets. The week before our interview he was at a trade show in Italy and was inundated with inquiries from potential customers in Turkey, Russia, India, China and Portugal. He’s moving into the “premium” milkshake market, too, and predicts he’s on to a winner with his new “coffee smoothie”.
When he’s not coming up with new products, Richard loves spending time at home with Jules and his two sons, aged seven and two. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him fit, he’s a massive fan of a new rowing machine his wife bought him for Christmas.
“Ten minutes on that, with the music pumping out gets me set up for the day,” he tells me enthusiastically.