Creating a buzz with Hilltop Honey
Entrepreneur Scott Davies launched Hilltop Honey after a serious back injury prevented him from brick laying and undertaking any manual labour.
“I grew up on a sheep farm in mid Wales and ended up failing school before ending up working as a bricklayer,” Scott told BQ. “However, bricklaying didn’t work out so I ended up working at a coal and animal feed merchant. It was whilst working there that my back took a turn for the worse.”
Scott knew that the injury to his back meant that he would have to look at other forms of employment and he began considering his options. After reading a book on beekeeping, he became obsessed with bees and decided to take it up as a hobby when his parents bought him a bee hive.
It was this newfound hobby which inspired him to launch Hilltop. He adds: “During the Winter I began to read a book about keeping bees and my mum and dad bought me a hive of bees in the spring to put my reading into practice. From there I became fascinated with them and decided to look at the idea of producing my own honey and selling it in jars.
“I noticed a great deal of honey was being sold in farm shops and deli’s and they never seemed to have very good branding. It was always a run of the mill label from Joe Bloggs up the road. Delving further into the honey and beekeeping industry I also noticed that the average age of a bee farmer was around 60 years old. So, I thought there might be a case for some young blood in the industry and I began looking at honey in a different way.”
Scott was 23-years-old when he launched Hilltop Honey back in September 2011 and was still living at home with his parents. He set the business up with nothing but a £5,000 overdraft in his business bank account and set off selling honey to his local veg shop. But, like any start-up, it wasn’t a straight forward process. Scott encountered a series of challenges along the way.
He recalls: “Launching Hilltop threw up more challenges than I can care to name. I think most people underestimate how hard setting up a business actually is. I had every challenge you can think of. However, I think the main challenge for a business right at the very beginning is cash flow.
“It might seem the obvious answer but you could be making 50% net profit but if you aren’t getting cash in before you are paying your suppliers then you will soon be broke and the business will fail. I have learned that lesson two or three times over the past five years. It is imperative to have even terms of trade on both sides of the business.
“Another challenge is getting your brand known without having a penny in the ‘marketing’ budget. Obviously, everything you do with your brand is an element of marketing, you are always marketing your product. I just had to keep my head down for three years straight attending every event I could afford and make it too.
“Without doubt though the biggest challenge is being able to do absolutely everything yourself and I mean absolutely everything when you first start. I confess I’m not a master of anything, I’m certainly more the jack of all trades but the master of none. That however is key to starting. I was doing the bookkeeping, the jarring, the labelling, the marketing, website design, label design, event planning, sales planning, sales visits, logistics, forecasting etc the list goes on.
“What you have to know then and be comfortable with is knowing you are not the best at any of those jobs and your next challenge as a business owner is to employ people in key roles that are better than you. I’m not afraid to say I’m the least competent out of all my management staff. However, I know why the product works and the direction the company should go in and everyone feeds off that enthusiasm.”
It has now been five and a half years since Scott started the company and he has grown Hilltop from what started as a bedroom operation at his home in Newtown into a £2m brand supplying stores across the UK.
He said: “My biggest achievement has been staying in business this whole time and continuing to grow by over 100% year on year for the past 5/6 years. Obviously gaining a listing in Tesco, our first supermarket was an immensely proud moment and a huge achievement also.
“My first year I turned over a measly sum of £22,000! Now we are set to surpass the £2m turnover mark in our sixth year. We have basically doubled in size every year since we started and we endeavour to keep it that way for as long as we can. I’m ambitious, the company is ambitious and we have big plans for the next five years.”
So, does he have any regrets? He concluded: “I’m a true believer that everyone can play the cards they are dealt in life to an advantage. I was dealt a bad deal with my back, but I picked myself up and decided to make something better of my life despite how frustrating it was not being able to be my usual self.
“I make no bones about it that I wouldn’t have got this far if my mum and dad wouldn’t have let me live rent and food free for three years at their home. When I started Hilltop I said to them, “mum, dad, I want to start this business and I’m going to treat it like my university as I never went. Give me three years rent free and food free and lets see where I get to.
“It turns out I wasn’t making any money after three years and paying myself an absolute pittance. However, I had something niggling in me not to give up and asked that they let me do my masters and continue into the fourth year, which they did. Now we are flying and there is no looking in back but it could have been so different.”
Scott’s top tips for entrepreneurs:
- Be self-aware of your qualities and inequalities
- Never give up or lose faith in yourself but don’t belligerently go on. If it doesn’t wort, accept it, end it and move on to something else.
- Watch your cash flow like an absolute hawk! Also listen to what people around you have to say and what your customers have to say. It doesn’t mean you have to do what they say and the customer certainly isn’t always right. But by listening and not being too proud of your company or yourself when someone criticises you. They may well be saving you time, money and heart ache down the line.
- Always strive to improve. You never will be perfect and neither will your company but always being willing to learn and improve.
Published: 11 May 2017