As we entered into the new year I started to think about what the future held for RocketShip. I’d spent quite a bit of time working out whether the business could be profitable, I was making money on each bottle I sold, but it wasn’t going to get me a retirement home in the South of France any time soon :-). Like all start ups I was in a battle … I could just about make money on a bottle of sauce, but add in all the other costs an overall net profit was a mile away … but at the moment it was about establishing myself, the brand and the product. I could see it was a volume game and I needed to be in it for the long haul.
I’d started using the term Craft Sauce which I thought summed up how and what the sauce was about, similar to what the craft beer breweries had been doing …. small batches, different flavours and striking branding. I love the style of the craft beer products and felt that RocketShip was similar, I needed to start to plan how I was going to develop and grow this new Norfolk Craft Sauce.
Part of the development was scaling up, I remember on the small business course I attended Shirley (my accountant) asking me how I was going to scale up … ‘If you get that order from Sainsburys you won’t be able to make the sauce on your kitchen table’! She was right of course, not that Sainsburys were knocking on my door lol … but it was getting difficult to carry on in the kitchen at home. I started trying to find somewhere to rent, I was caught between a rock and hard place, I couldn’t afford to take the plunge and sign a contract to rent a kitchen on a monthly basis, but I needed a place where I could make the sauce in larger quantities … despite how much you love hot sauce when you’re cooking it at home it kind of takes over the place, plus the smell is pretty high octane too :-).
After trawling my friend Mr Google I found a few commercial kitchens to rent, problem was they were either too big, too expensive or both. Then one day I received an email out of the blue from Jane Bagley at Broadland Council. Jane looks after small business support and training, we’d met when I was starting the business and she was really supportive, I remember her looking at a bottle of Original and saying to me ‘this will sell’ lol haha … Her email said that the commercial kitchen at Aylsham Town Hall was available for rent on an hourly basis, it sounded ideal … Aylsham was only about a 20 minute drive from me so I called them up and made an appointment to have a look.
I grabbed an hour away from the ‘day job’ one lunchtime and drove over to Aylsham, As I walked into the town hall I was met by Natasha who worked upstairs in the admin dept. We had a chat about what I was producing and she asked me if I’d worked in a commercial kitchen before … Haha no I said, I’m in IT and she grinned. We went down to the kitchen … as soon as I walked through the door I knew it was perfect! Loads of preparation space, but not too big, a commercial dishwasher and a convection oven which would be ideal for bottle sterilisation … Natasha showed me round all of the appliances, and basically said all they asked was that I leave it in the same state I found it in. Great, I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m still using the Aylsham Kitchen today …. it’s been a revelation for me, the increased space, facilities and general setup has enabled me to treble my overall capacity! … and that was just working in the evenings and the odd weekend. I’d never had been able to continue with RocketShip if I hadn’t managed to get in the town hall :-). The guys at Aylsham are brilliant, really flexible and helpful … so a big thanks to Nat, Wendy and the team, they’ve been great.
I had lots to think about, I had a list of wholesale customers that was slowly growing … I was fortunate to have added a couple of top quality farm shops to the list too … White House Farm in Sprowston and Old Hall Farm down near Woodton south of Norwich. Both have a great range of local produce and brilliant café facilities … I was chuffed to have my product being sold two more well known and established local businesses.
I realised I had to find a way to start selling direct to the public and the only way (without a website, which everyone was telling me I needed ;-)) was through events and farmers markets … but as always, where do I start! Well there’s no place like home as they say … and when I mean home I was talking about where the sauce was being made, Aylsham … Of course, there’s a Farmers Market on the first Saturday of each month in Aylsham … I’d driven past it lots of times, and stopped on numerous occasions too … I needed to get in there. What a story for the punters, ‘I make the sauce locally, in actual fact right over there’ (gesturing towards the town hall) lol haha , brilliant.
My first visit to Aylsham FM was in March 2019 … I was a bit nervous if I’m honest, but excited to show off my product .. I was really looking forward to chatting to customers about the sauce (if Loraine read this she’d say that I don’t stop talking about it anyway!! lol) I’d got a gazebo, a trestle table, I’d bought a black table cloth and some displays for my sauces … all two of them 🙂 But something was missing, I needed something to shout ‘RocketShip’ I’d bought a banner with the logo, but I needed something else …. a Chalkboard!, that was it, nice and colourful … with lots of info about the sauce. I managed to buy one on eBay the following day, I still had a couple of weeks before the market so I had time to plan to get it chalked up before I needed it.
As always the ‘day job’ was getting in the way, I had meetings away from home … lots of skype calls and other work to do, the time was ticking and I hadn’t even got a stick of chalk out of the box .. plus I still had sauce to produce!!! I was outside the house one evening putting the rubbish out and got chatting to our neighbour Hannah across the road, I explained my plight and that I only had the following week to get the artwork sorted on the chalkboard …. ‘why don’t you ask Juliet (another neighbour) she’s great at art … she won’t mind’ … Okay, I said as long as she’s got time … well I had a chat to Juliet, she was brilliant and the rest is history as they say … she produced, well … A Work of Art … I was gobsmacked, she’d captured the RocketShip theme completely, a real ‘Craft’ look about it … fantastic 🙂 I’m still using it to this day … great, thank-you Juliet :-).
It was a crisp, cold morning on the first Saturday in March when I drove into Aylsham market square .. I pulled up and started to get all my stuff out of the car … I didn’t really know the ropes, but all the other traders were great, really friendly … helping me get everything ready, I hadn’t even put the gazebo up before! lol. I managed to sell a few bottles of RocketShip that day (well about 10 hahahaha) but it was more about getting the product and the sauce out for people to try … I’d got some tortilla chips and put some Original and Supernova in a couple of bowls and let the Aylsham locals have a try, I even had some fresh habaneros left so I bought those along to flog as well lol 🙂 .. the general consensus was a thumbs up and that was all I was hoping for 🙂 It was a really enjoyable day, good fun chatting with the public and I quickly realised that it was a great way to get your name and products out there.
Next week I’ll tell you about a couple of other events I was involved in both featuring the humble Norfolk Sausage :-).