Sarah Hanley and Kate Ward, Silver Apples Bakery
The pandemic has been a fantastic opportunity to take the business to a whole new level, says sisters Sarah Hanley and Kate Ward, who together run Silver Apples wholesale bakery in Stockport.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
Originally the main inspiration for starting a business was so that we could work for ourselves and do whatever we wanted with the business, including bringing a great food product to the market and making as much money as we could. We now make cakes, pastries, bars and and vegan and gluten free sweet treats which we sell wholesale to 140 stockists including cafes in Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool, and also businesses such as Primark, Co-op and Lloyds Bank for their employee canteens. One of our bestsellers is our vegan orange and ginger crunch - we wrote the recipe years ago when we first started out in our parents garage and it has not changed since.
- How did you find your first customer?
Our first customer was the family that bought the tea room from us and we still supply them now. They have expanded into another site so we supply both of their premises.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
We put some of the money we got from selling our tea room business into setting up our wholesale bakery. Whenever we have done anything we have done it very organically; we have not thrown loads of money at it, we have grown as we have gone along.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Relying too much on big contracts, and thinking that they are always going to stay with you. If a customer closes down or finds a cheaper alternative they can just drop you instantly, so you always need to have something else lined up and lots of contacts as a back up, and make sure you never rest on your laurels so you don’t end up with a financial gap.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
We had to close for nearly three months during the first lockdown because cafes were closed and so we are about 50% of where we were before the pandemic. It has probably set us back three or four years financially and the direction we were going in. But we have used the time during lockdown and funds that are available to small businesses to get the Small and Local Supplier Accreditation (SALSA) for our business, which means that we can now supply wholesale distributors rather than just delivering to customers ourselves. We have had to start packaging our products so that they can go into these new distribution channels and there was a lot of paperwork involved in getting the accreditation, but it means we can talk to bigger customers such as pub chains and hotel chains, and we will be able to sell in larger volumes and get our products out to a much bigger audience and supply customers all over the UK.
- What do you wish you had known from the start about setting up and growing a business?
That there is no let up from it. If you are going to do it, it will consume your life. But also, that you don’t need a degree to start a business – both Kate and I wish we hadn’t bothered going to university and just gone for it really early on. you don’t have to gain a degree to start your own business.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
That we love what we do. We are obsessed with food, we know what is on trend and we do a lot of shopping around and looking at ideas. Also not taking no for an answer. We nearly lost a really big contract but Kate decided to not let it go and seven or eight emails later we got the contract back.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Be hands on. Kate and I still wash up in the morning and check the deliveries when they are going out. You have got to know everything that is going on or you will very quickly go under. Use social media to get your business going because it such a good tool and it is free. And get a good accountant because once your accounts are in a mess it is really hard to get them in order again.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?
Sarah – perfectionist. Kate – frugal. As a team – resolute.