YOU may have seen Clippy McKenna’s eponymous preserves on your supermarket shelves. Her two-man show (it is just Clippy and fiancé Paul Gorman working at the business; everything else, including the actual jam-making, is contracted out) now stocks its products in some of the biggests stores – including Tesco and Harvey Nichols.
After graduating as a mature student (she had previously worked in travel), McKenna got her first taste for catering to the public at a food concession in Harvey Nichols, before making it to the TV stages of Masterchef. Thomasina Miers – the chef behind Mexican chain Wahaca – won that year, and McKenna felt she lacked the calm nerves necessary to provide top cuisine for Gregg Wallace and John Torode. But the experience made her realise she wanted to start up her own business. She carried out thorough research into gaps in the market and found it was lacking a jam brand with a face (and with less sugar than the others). It had to be something she could do from home, and so her kitchen became a highly efficient production unit, where McKenna would make, jar and label her product to sell at local farmers markets and delicatessens.
But, by 2009, McKenna wanted to branch out. So she pitched to Harvey Nichols and won a contract to supply their stores around the country. By 2010, her products were in Fortnum and Masons and Ocado, in 2011 they went into Booths and Asda in the north west, and the following year into Tesco and Morrisons.
Clippy’s has no investors or loans, so it has had to be a “lean and mean” organisation, with no overheads, because “that’s how you maintain good margins”. Fortunately, McKenna and Gorman have complementary skills – Gorman is the “number cruncher”; McKenna is the creative brain – and they took on a non-executive director last year. “I recently told a radio interviewer that I pay myself the minimum wage. He responded: ‘Then why would anyone want to be an entrepreneur?’”, she laughs. The reason is simple: McKenna is determined to build something bigger, a brand. But building a brand is difficult “because you have to convince the public to buy your product over something else that has the same price tag”.
It certainly won’t be easy, especially with quite modest resources. Jam “is viewed as a commodity nowadays,” she says, where customers don’t peruse, they make their decision based on price. And those aisles are dominated by the “big boys” – Bonne Maman, Premier Foods, Hartleys. So how can Clippy’s set itself apart? “My story and the fact that we suggest what our product should be eaten with have been big differentiators. We’re also working on two new projects that aren’t in a jar, which should increase brand recognition”. So when people do make that fleeting trip to the jam aisle, they’ll identify the “Clippy’s” logo.
But McKenna says they now need to raise £350,000, in exchange for part of the business, to help grow the brand, launch into new markets, and employ more staff. As such, they are now in the process of looking for investors.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride. Due to its sugar content, the product didn’t come under the jam, reduced jam, or conserve classification according to EU rules on food labelling, meaning they had to relabel all their products at huge cost. McKenna worries that troubles like these may deter future entrepreneurs from taking the plunge. She does warn that, if you’re a small business, “everything takes twice as long as you think”. McKenna hit many stumbling blocks – for example, not knowing when the supermarkets held their range reviews (it is information that can’t be accessed online) and missing out on pitching to them until a year later.
But these battles have been worth it to see shoppers put her product in their baskets.
CV CLIPPY MCKENNA
Company name: Clippy’s
Number of staff: 2 (Clippy and her fiancé)
Company turnover: £500,000
Job title: Creative director, founder
Lives: South Manchester
Studied: BA Hons Cultural Studies and Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan
Drinking: Fevertree lemon tonic and Hendricks gin
Reading: The Island, by Victoria Hislop
Favourite business book: I tend not to read them – too close to home – but next on my list is quirky business book Funky Business, by Kjell Nordström
Motto: “You only live once, so make sure you enjoy yourself”
First ambition: To eat my way around the world
Heroes: Anyone who starts a business and is still alive to tell the tale