Tom Welsh looks at what it takes to find success on the road with Lancashire’s Dare U Foods.
In a world where online stores offer seemingly endless choices for consumers, the difficulty for small businesses is often standing out in a flooded marketplace.
Taking your business on the road can be a great way to gain new customers, meet your target market and add some personality to your brand.
This approach has worked wonders for the family-run Dare U Foods, which has steadily been making a name for itself through word of mouth and some canny marketing ideas.
“You can’t just look at the obvious routes,” said Charlotte Downs, 21, who has been selling the company’s unique chilli products around the North of England for the last few years.
“You always have to have a different approach – something that makes you stand out against the competition.”
Dare U Foods had humble beginnings, with Charlotte’s father Ian taking an interest in growing tomato and chilli plants in the family greenhouse as a hobby.
“We just ended up getting a bit overwhelmed with all the chilli plants, so my Dad came up with a few sauce recipes, which we gave to friends and family,” recalled Charlotte.
“Then we started taking them to a few farmers’ markets at weekends, started coming up with more recipes, and it’s just gone on from there really.”
Selling homemade sauces and relishes may not sound like anything new, but the business has become a thriving entity which the family are now looking grow even further, with premises and stockists next on the agenda.
“You’ve got to break the boundaries with people,” said Charlotte’s partner Andrew Donnan, 34, who first suggested moving on from the usual food shows into an untapped market for their product, which helped kick-start a new phase for the business.
Andrew said: “I’m passionate about motorbikes and cars, so I thought we could test the water at those type of shows.”
Combining business strategy with outside passions proved to be a good move.
“We didn’t know if we’d sell much but it was worth it straight away. It’s something a bit different – you wouldn’t expect a chilli stall to be at a motorbike open day.”
*** BRANCHING OUT
The most successful pop-up stalls are usually the ones that offer more than just the product, be it simply through hosts that know the value of striking up conversation, or through more carefully-planned ventures to attract potential customers.
“We’ve done quite a few chilli eating competitions at events, which always go down well,” said Charlotte.
“It attracts a lot of footfall – it’s fun to watch and it really gets your name out there. We plan to do a lot more this year”
Another advantage of exhibitions like these is that people often film them and share them through social media, an avenue which has proved invaluable to the business both for selling and interacting with their target market.
New products are advertised on Facebook and followers are given the chance to win hampers of seasonal produce, such as chilli cranberry sauce at Christmas and lemon drop salsa in summer, as well as their growing line of boxed chilli chocolates, which Andrew describes as “a game of chance”.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Businesses naturally want to expand as they become more successful, but one problem facing companies such as Dare U Foods lies in the danger of losing what made them stand out in the first place – something that Charlotte is keen to avoid happening.
“We’d like to keep it homemade, and keep that homemade feel too – otherwise it just becomes another sauce that you can get in a supermarket,” says Charlotte.
Despite looking at their own premises and finding new ways to distribute, they believe that taking the business on the road will always be important to the success of the brand.
“Hopefully they’ll become more of a promotional thing for us now we have other plans in place,” said Charlotte, “but they’ll always be a big part of what we do because it’s what set us apart in the first place. You can’t underestimate the importance of getting out there and meeting people face-to-face – it’s got us to where we are now.”