THE STARTING POINT: Like many other brands GSN began with a simple, common sense notion that quickly snowballed into something altogether more substantial.
Craig was working for the family meat trading company having left his university course (Business Enterprise at Manchester Met) because eight hours of study a week seemed like a poor return for a mountain of student debt. It was during one run-of-the-mill meeting with a favourite restaurant client that a highly enthused owner insisted on showing him his new steamed chicken that was being used as a precious, time-saving game-changer.
‘I felt that the idea was superb,’ suggests Craig, ‘however the execution left a lot to be desired because the chicken in question was unduly watery and riddled with artificial nasties and unwelcome e-numbers. I could see the potential for a superior, clean-deck alternative, which I proceeded to spend an eternity tracking down.’
Having found a suitable supplier, Craig needed to test the waters to check that his growing enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. ‘I sought out some gold, food-grade pouches and a local vinyl sticker supplier before spending countless hours trapsing back and forwards from the factory where my newly acquired chicken was being meticulously repacked. GSN was born in May 2012 and I was buzzing!’
WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF GSN? ‘From the start my team and I refused to accept that great taste, convenience and nutritional integrity were mutually exclusive ambitions. Our starting point was the emerging trend of progressive independent gyms, leisure centres and food stores actively hoping to offer easy-to-prepare yet tasty snacks and meals that were not only packed with nutritional worth but an invaluable additional income stream in these tough economic times.
WHO DO YOU APPEAL TO? ‘Today our appeal extends to industry-leading gym estates like Everlast, university campuses, garage forecourts, armed forces refectories, NHS Hospitals and a thriving B2C following. The word is spreading at speed and exciting export opportunities are now within reach.’
What binds these diverse food opportunities is a growing appetite for athleisure (healthier living lifestyles) that demands great taste and quality nutrition supporting regular exercise.
HOW DID YOU FUND YOUR SMALL BUSINESS DREAM? ‘By hard graft and inordinately long hours! For almost three years I spent my life on the road in a converted Tesco delivery van with 3 chest freezers and a frozen compartment jam-packed with 225 bags of chicken. We reinvested everything back into the GSN project and found a bargain of buying 50 chest freezers from the London Olympics that would look perfect under a GSN vinyl wrap. We never had the privilege of a big budget so we grew organically and made sure that we kept an eye on every pound spent. Hence the reason for buying second hand freezers instead of brand new ones.
Eleven years down the line and we’re proud to say that we’ve never spent a single day jockeying for loans or organizing fund raises. Consistent brand evolution, range extensions and organic growth means we’re a debt-free business run by a passionate team of like-minded individuals.’
ANY LOWS YOU’RE HAPPY TO DISCUSS? ‘Of course, success and failure are inextricably linked, two sides of the same streamline coin. Three years into the GSN adventure I had little choice but to pull the plug and regroup. Making my whole team redundant is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had and not something I ever want to repeat.
Worse than that was many well-meaning voices, including members of my family were airing the thought that I should cut my losses, be proud of giving it a go and finding something else to do that was less risk-adverse. There were even a few suggestions that my young business was never destined to be anything other than a niche, lifestyle proposition.
I politely ignored their advice knowing that the ‘healthier living’ movement was gathering an unstoppable momentum as growing numbers of men and women identified the inextricable ties between eating well, feeling good and being your best you. Instead, I redoubled my efforts taking on weekend catering events to pay myself minimum wages whilst plotting my brand reboot.’
DID LOCKDOWN AND THE CLOSING DOWN OF LEISURE CENTRES PULL THE RUG UNDER YOUR FEET? ‘Only initially if I’m honest because I understood from my earlier reset that being a successful start-up is dependent on one’s capacity to be nimble-footed and adaptable. When COVID 19 struck online sales were only a paltry £30-40k a month however I quickly taught myself Photoshop, Premier Pro and the merits of online ads and in no time we were ready for online success. Today e-commerce represents a significant 60% slice of our total sales, although this number is going to be shrinking on account of our growing export profile (Ireland and UAE imminent) which celebrates the addition of yet another profitable string to our Yorkshire bow.’
BEST ADVICE YOU’D GIVE YOUNGER YOU? ‘Never be fazed or uncomfortable asking questions as there’s nothing wrong with fuelling an inquisitive mind. Clearly be receptive to ‘industry truths’ and ‘small business wisdom’ wherever you can but never let anyone clip your wings by telling you what is and isn’t feasible because in our experience fortune always favours the brave.’
INDUSTRY GRIPES ‘Very few in truth! Anyone with even a grain of common sense should go into the world of food & drink knowing that the world of food & drink owes you nothing, that established brands enjoy hard-earned followings for a reason and that to make a meaningful dent within the fast-moving world of food & drink you simply have to be better than what’s currently in situ. Of course, we wish that established retailers and distributors were less risk-averse and more receptive to giving young, well-meaning start-ups the odd leg-up along the way, but in reality we celebrate every success, however big or small, proud in the knowledge that nothing has been handed to us on a plate.’
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