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Back to basics to safeguard your brand and protect future growth

We catch up with Ian Bray, chief executive at Hexham-headquartered Fentimans, alongside Phil Tompkins, a partner at Ward Hadaway, to discuss how taking stock, looking at what you’ve got and safeguarding the brand and the core business can inspire growth and profitability in the future.

Our series ‘Inspiring Growth’ continues, as Graeme Whitfield talks to those companies leading the way in the region, in association with Top 100 law firm Ward Hadaway.

“A new virus and its lifechanging effects on the economy was something no one could have predicted,” reflects Ian Bray, CEO of Fentimans. “No business, of course, would welcome a crisis, especially one on this scale, but it’s demonstrated some cold, hard truths for many leaders. I genuinely believe, once the world moves on from this, businesses will be stronger, put stability and agility at their core, and become more resilient and better able to endure turbulent environments in the future.”

When it comes to strong, stable businesses, Bray is certainly a man in the know. It’s been over 100 years since Fentimans started brewing botanical drinks and it’s still family run; owned by the great-grandson of Thomas Fentiman. As brewing techniques have modernised over the years, the business has stayed true to its roots to maintain the unique Fentimans taste that is now sold in 84 countries worldwide.

“And that’s why Fentimans is so popular,” explains Bray. “It’s a high-quality drink that everyone likes. We are doggedly focused on the quality of our drinks and no matter where you buy a bottle of Fentimans, we want to make sure it provides that same taste, every time. When people discover our brand, they stick to it, making our lives easier because we don’t have that tough fight to secure a repeat purchase.”

When the pandemic hit, many businesses scrambled to create ways to validate their service or product in a socially distant world. For many, it wasn’t about growth, profit and expansion, but sheer survival.

“And this is very important,” says Bray, “and a vital lesson to learn in business that can enable growth in the long run. While a lot of our income is generated with supermarkets, there’s no escaping the fact that on-trade plays a big role too. Of course, we’ve suffered from the closure of hospitality establishments nationwide; it’s been a very challenging year.”

Fentimans had to switch strategy when the UK entered its first national lockdown in March. The business moved from focusing on activity that was profit driven to managing the business for cash.

“What we’ve done this year is take stock,” explains Bray. “And focused on protecting our assets of which our most important is our 66-strong team who work exceptionally hard, day-in, day-out, whether we’re living through a crisis or not. We’ve been incredibly agile and have been buckling down ready to focus on further growth in 2021.”

Phil Tompkins, a partner at Ward Hadaway, explains why Fentimans demonstrates an important quality for all businesses. It’s not only about focusing on growth and that bottom line but consolidating what businesses have with a view to future expansion. This powers growth in the longer-term.

“Fentimans have a very strong and successful business model which is weathering one of the most testing times in history for many organisations. Ian and his team are a fantastic example of how taking stock, looking at what you’ve got and safeguarding the brand and the core business can inspire growth and profitability in the future.”

2021 holds high hopes for the company as it will see them establish its first direct to consumer online sales channel, which has always been the plan, pandemic or not. The longer-term business plan projects more growth, becoming even bigger, and better, within the drinks sector.

Bray adds: “We have learnt just how strong our business is and what it’s capable of. By getting back to basics, leaders can protect what they’ve built, focus on their core values and ensure the quality of their service and product remains intact. We have a product no one can emulate, which we work meticulously hard at maintaining.

“The North East business community is such a positive, welcoming place. If I had any advice for other regional business leaders it would be to focus on what you’re good at, understand who your customers or clients are, and give them what they want. Ultimately, be proud of what you do and be fiercely protective of that, no matter what.”

A version of this article originally appeared in The Journal on 2nd December 2020.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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