Posted: Fri 24th Mar 2017
Rik Roberts and his co-founder Tony Watson previously worked at PepsiCo and Carlsberg but decided to go it alone and set up their own brand.
Inspired by holidays to France, the entrepreneurs have partnered with two top French cidre making families in Normandy who have been crafting their products for 125 years.
With the brilliant name 6Somewhere, because it's always 6pm somewhere in the world, the business, an Enterprise Nation member, saw its products on the shelves this week with an exclusive launch in Tesco stores. Rik shares his story.
How did you come up with the idea and turn it into an actual business?
We drink cidre every year when we go to France on holiday. We bring some back, and when we run out, we can't really find any great quality cidre in the UK.
When I was in France two years ago with my mother, in-laws, wife and two daughters, at lunchtime on the first day my father-in-law asked if I fancied a drink. Unsure as to whether this was a test to check whether I was a suitable parent to Amelie and Elise I said: "It's a bit early isn't it Stuart?". He replied "It's six somewhere."
We were drinking French cidre at only 2.5%ABV and it was delicious. As a result, Tony and I decided to see if we could find some manufacturers and do it ourselves.
After a fair bit of research, both online, in-store and liquid-based, we found the Huet and Dupont families. They loved our idea, and agreed to let us try it in the UK.
What start up challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Finding a cidre of the highest quality was the most important thing. We wanted to put a product out there that we believed was significantly better than anything else we had tried. We spent months researching the right partners to deal with and were really lucky to find cideries as passionate about quality as we were in the Huet and Dupont families.
The general business of setting up a company was new to us both. There are a number of legal requirements in setting up a business importing alcohol which we needed to learn. We had to develop the brand, trademark it and ensure it had shelf standout. Then we needed to work out how we were going to tell the consumer about it.
The final challenge was engaging with our potential customers. We have knocked on a lot of doors, and had a fair bit of rejection. So staying motivated has been key, but we really believe that the quality of the product will deliver for the consumer, and nearly everyone who has tried it has agreed with us.
It's great to have places like Enterprise Nation and The Food Hub, an entrepreneur group on Facebook, where you can ask questions and get support from non-competing businesses who have faced similar problems to you.
How did you convince Tesco to stock your products bearing in mind you're such a young business?
Tony already had a great relationship with Tesco from his previous role at Carlsberg which really helped us.
We have found that they really engaged because of the quality of the product, and the idea behind it. They gave us an opportunity, and we now need to deliver on our side of the bargain.
The communication from people at Tesco has been first class. They have kept us in the loop with how we were doing; challenged us on our branding which has helped us to make the cidre look better; been open and transparent with what they required and forgiving when we have had challenges. It has been a fantastic experience so far.
What's your advice for other entrepreneurs who want to do the same?
Know what makes your product different and better. Tesco is looking for solutions for their customers, so if you are bringing a product to them, you need to understand Tesco's consumers and what they want.
Be patient. It takes time to get it to market. But if you do have something with a USP, and you can get the commercials to work, then you stand a good chance.
Be professional. You may get some slack because you're a smaller business, but make yourself as easy to do business with as possible. Buyers have a lot to focus on, and if you complete a form wrong, or miss a deadline you're just adding to their workload.
Ask advice from people who have done it. That's why the groups of likeminded people are so useful.
What's your marketing strategy to convince British cider fans to drink French cidre?
Firstly, we don't see it as an either/or. We state on our website that there are plenty of amazing British ciders out there; it's just not our job to namecheck them.
If they are cider fans they are hopefully going to love our cidre. It's made from 100% apples, no added sugar, colourants or flavourings. Our cideries have been making their cidres for over 125 years, and we think they're brilliant at what they do.
So our marketing strategy will be based on
Raising the visibility of the differences between our cidre and mass produced cider
Asking the consumer to try a bottle
And then the cidre will live or die on whether it delivers the quality that we believe it does
How do you think Brexit will impact on your business and what plans do you have to deal with any future effects?
The exchange rate is the key challenge for us. It has been working against us since the referendum, and it has undoubtedly hit our profitability.
What this has meant is that we need to be even more careful with the money we spend, and how much we spend. It's made us more creative and focused on what is really important.
With regards to future effects, there are just too many permutations to contemplate; free movement of trade, customs restrictions etc. We will look to protect our business where and how we can. As we get a clearer picture we will then look to address them as we would any other business problem; tenaciously.
How has Enterprise Nation helped your business?
It's a great resource and full of useful information to people starting up. It made me aware of Xero accountancy software and the discount available which is extremely useful.
I've already been on a Facebook for business workshop which has put me into contact with the Avocado Social Media Hub.
I've also picked up lots of free advice and templates on subjects like PR.
What are your three tips for business success based on your experiences so far?
I'm not sure we're in a position to give advice on business success yet ! We've only agreed the distributions in Tesco, and a few other accounts at the moment. What we now have to work very hard on is ensuring we hit the rate of sale we agreed with Tesco, increase the visibility of the brand, and raise awareness of the "natural vs concentrate" issue that we have with some mass produced ciders in the UK.
However, if pushed I think it's important to ensure you have a supportive partner on side. You are going to spend a lot of time talking at them about your idea, and you will need their support for both celebrating and commiserating.
Tenacity. In our case we were learning a lot of new things - barcoding, logistics, branding, advertising etc - and it took us a long time to get us to where we are now, and a lot of that time was spent learning from our mistakes.
Belief in your product. We think our cidre is the best. We've tasted a lot of cidres (it's a tough job!), and hopefully this is obvious when we talk to consumers or customers about them.
For behind the scenes images of the cidre making process, check out 6Somewhere on Facebook where you can also see the company's first advert.
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