PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION
MEET THE BAKING BOSS
Prosper spoke to Tracy Woolery Forbes from award-winning Wolverhampton based artisan bakers, Woolery Forbes, about her business, her award-winning products, the vital business support from the Black Country Chamber and how as a new business they are weathering the storm of the Coronavirus crisis.
Creating delicious unique treats with a Jamaican fusion, Woolery Forbes, has, in just two years, been named a Great Taste Winner for two years running, a top 40 Speciality Food Producer and a top 5 British Brand Producer.
I started working full time in the business in February 2018.
I had tried to work part-time alongside my teaching job since 2015, but soon realised if the business was going to develop and grow, I needed to give it my undivided attention.
I was working on a community cohesion project with my Year 9 history class and I shared a slice of cake with a representative from Wolverhampton City Council. He liked it so much that he introduced me to a local manufacturer, Sean Young.
My family, colleagues and Sean all encouraged me to follow my lifelong ambition to become the entrepreneur I’d always wanted to be – so I did.
What happened next?
I tried asking local retailers to sell slices of our fruit cake, sadly they all refused. However, one retailer gave me feedback which stopped me in my tracks – my products were classed as ‘fine food’ and a very different approach was needed.
Winning a Great Taste Awards in 2017 presented me with the opportunity to meet Jayne Shields from the Black Country Chamber of Commerce.
As the business had been set up initially on a part-time basis, Jayne showed me that it was lacking foundations and immediately put me to work on building a good business base to develop from.
How did the Chamber help you?
I have to say they were amazing! Jayne was my main contact in the Chamber, her input was invaluable, and she put me in touch with various training courses, organisations and people who could help support the business and its growth.
Steepest learning curve?
If I’m honest - everything. Having spent over 20 years of teaching, the world of business was completely new to me. But after meeting with the Chamber team, and building good business foundations, I embraced the challenge and trusted the process.
How many in your team?
There are 5 members in the team currently, all family members. We were planning to recruit additional team members soon to help with the many ‘great taste’ markets and exhibitions we attended, but that’s on hold for now with events across the country cancelled.
Where I am now?
Thanks to the Guild of Fine Foods, I have found my market and I was working to increase production and to supply many of the establishments which are known for fine food products.
I have been supplying a number of retailers including Yumbles, BoroughBox and Fine Food Angel.
As a new business looking to grow, we were part of the Fine Food North Show, which was held in early March, just before the country went into lockdown.
We went along with a goal to win new wholesale and retail customers. We had an amazing time and left with over twenty new contacts who were interested in buying from us, including a contact from Monaco.
Whilst looking at an overview of our business and identifying which ones best fit our products, the country was hit by this horrible virus, and like so many other businesses, we were impacted.
Therefore, we have had to postpone our planned move to secure larger premises and our plans to increase production were halted due to all orders being put on hold.
However, whilst our commercial customers have not been taking new orders, we have naturally focussed on communicating our messaging and underlining our core values to help us maintain our connections to show, that as a producer, we are still here and we care.
We post regularly on our social media channels and supply ‘little treats of love’ to NHS workers, including cleaners, medical practitioners, office staff and pharmacists, as well as many in the business community who are struggling through this difficult time in silence.
We believe that someone has to provide a ray of sunshine and we have gladly stepped up to play our part like many other people throughout the world.
The good news is that our online sales from Yumbles and BouroughBox have increased. This increase, although smaller than our anticipated B2B sales, highlighted the areas we now need to focus on and help us manage larger volumes efficiently.
Here again, the Black Country Chamber was on hand to provide suitable training and advice for now, and for our future planning.
Our sustainable growth journey has been a bumpy one. This current period is rough, yet it is a brilliant learning curve.
It is giving us better for growth and it is revealing the core of our business.
This crisis is showing us who we truly are, and the values held by other businesses, it is giving us a clear indication of who we will be choosing to work with based on values.
I don’t just believe in producing exquisite treats, but also working with people who care about people and the environment.
I am in business to create connections which make people feel valued and loved.
So, advice to others?
Stay true to your brand and your people. Utilise the support of the Chamber of Commerce. They have a tremendous wealth of expertise and numerous contacts which will help you and your business to survive and grow. Tap into ever resource they offer.
I had the award-winning products all along – but it’s been the Chamber and their expertise that have guided me into building a sustainable business.