I formed Singularity Sauce Co. LTD back in November 2019 but didn't begin trading until 6th January 2020.
I'd been told "your first year in business is your most challenging year" but I mean, come on? 2020 was a real shitshow in general for everyone. When I began trading, I had no idea that after only a couple of months, everything would change.
This was supposed to be an exciting year. The first year as a LTD company. Here's a lengthy overview of what happened. I'm not kidding about it being lengthy, you'll need a cup of tea.
I'd not been sitting around for those months between November and January. I’d been lucky to have spoken to Bauce Brothers about inclusion in their next subscription box. I had a few orders from stockists and collaborators all ready to go. I'd also been making lots of sauce since resigning from my previous job in November. That groundwork gave the business a boost and got things moving on day one.
So that about saw the business through its first month. Some online sales, some wholesale orders, some collaborations. All good stuff but nothing earth shattering. Oh, and Dragons Den got in touch and asked if I'd take part. I told them nope. Then I got back to work.
And so I tip-toed into being a full-time sauce maker. What seemed like a couple of weeks passed and then everything went to shit. Not the business, the entire world.
I didn't know what the COVID-19 outbreak would mean for Singularity Sauce Co. LTD. None of us knew what the future would hold. Even now, in December 2020 as I write this, there is still massive uncertainty about what’s next. There had been rumblings about coronavirus on the news since the end of 2019. Those rumblings got louder and more frequent all the way up until March. As a population, we could see it coming, even if not enough of us believed it would stop us all in our tracks. We'd seen what was happening elsewhere of course. Some of us still held out that it wouldn't be as bad for us in this country. The arrogance.
But it did arrive and it did stop us all in our tracks. And it was bad for us. And now "lockdown" was a thing.
As the situation began to unfold, I was panicking. The whole month was terrifying. I didn't know if my fledging business could make it to summer. I decided to get my head down and work harder than I've ever worked at anything. I mean, what else was I going to do?
It seems that getting on with it wasn't a bad shout. Lockdown eased off a bit in May but the world had changed. There had been a big shift to supporting local and buying from small, local producers.
I'm not the only one to say they felt a real outpouring of support. Thank you.
I'd seen increases in our online sales and May was to become the best month of online sales yet. That was great news as almost every other sales channel had disappeared. The panic was very much still there but optimism kept us moving forward. It was time to focus on online until the other sales channels came back. It was time to dig deep into my design industry bag of tricks.
First things first, I upgraded the website. As our central point of focus for the next while, I gave it all the care and attention I could. Then I made a short term, communication/messaging plan. I could now be more strategic with social media posts/stories. Email marketing got improved next. I then began using digital advertising channels. Google, Facebook and Snapchat with small budgets and specific aims to begin with. When I had data, I increased the budgets and campaign parameters where they worked best. My aim for all this was to not become annoying (I hoped). I focussed on doing enough to convey a targeted message/offer to the right people at the right time. And it worked. June was the new best month of online sales.
Some farmers markets started coming back in July which made a big difference. Chapelton Market was the best day of face to face sales I'd had since Taste of Grampian the previous year. Even though everyone was learning how to work within the new guidelines, we all found our way. Every attendee, stallholder and organiser enjoyed being outside in the company of others. We all learned to go cashless and we also remembered that human interaction was a great thing.
Some wholesale orders started coming in again. By the end of July, I was confident that the business would survive at least to the end of the year. All the work put in online was worth it. Online sales reached a plateau in September. I figured my short term strategy had done it's job but also reached the limit of its potency. In January 2021, I'll be working on a new strategic plan for the first half of 2021.
Anyone who runs a business will tell you there's always so much to do. There are only so many hours in the day…about 75 hours by my calculation. There's a to-do list that only gets longer and if I can knock a couple of things off it a day, I'm doing well. I am the sauce maker and also every other role in the business. To be clear, I have the full support of my family. My wife and kids see the best of me when I'm flying and the worst of me when I'm stressed. They help with things I can't focus on right now and with things which need done. They provide calming words and encourage me to step away from things for a while and go for a walk. They'll even tell me to sort myself out when I've lost the plot. I couldn't do any of this without them. They're magnificent. It's this support which made me think about having others support me too. I have a bookkeeper in place (thank god). Now that things were busier than ever, it was time to increase the support network again where I need the most help.
By August, I knew I needed a design agency on hand. Don't get me wrong, I love being creative director of Singularity Sauce Co. I've received so much positive feedback on the brand from across the world. The time it takes me to do this side of things is the issue. It was also time for me personally to let go of it and see what another designer can make of it all. I wanted an agency with food and drink experience. A local agency who understand the local market but who also works further afield. An agency that I can immediately put my trust in and who I could be pals with. And because of my past in the industry, I needed people who could work with me and who I could share respect with. FortyTwo in Aberdeen made my decision very easy. They learned where I was struggling and stuck their oar in to help. I'm grateful to Mark Kemp for his input so far and I’m excited to be working with them all in future. I'm also looking forward to being "the client" for the first time ever. I've worked with enough horrible clients to have learned how to be a good one. That way we all win.
Before lockdown, I’d entered the Reapers & Blackberries sauce to the Great Taste Award. In September, it not only won a Great Taste award, it won two stars. I’m delighted with this award. There has been an increase in individual and wholesale orders from throughout the UK. I currently have more stockists in London than I do in Aberdeen…
In October, we got enshrined in the largest hot sauce collection in the world. Increased worldwide exposure followed. Enquiries from all over the US started to arrive. Not to mention BEING PART OF THE LARGEST HOT SAUCE COLLECTION IN THE WORLD. Superb.
Speaking of being part of incredible things. In November, for the second year running, I made it on to the Bauce Brothers Top 100 Craft Hot Sauces in the UK list. This year was different as they opened the list to public voting. I sat tight and waited for the voting to finish to see if I could go one better and make the top five. While I waited, I made sauce and became more responsible…
I brought back our Purple Naga Viper Brain & Blueberry hot sauce. It had been missing since 2018 and has always been one of my personal favourites. Cliff at Devon Chilliman outdid himself with the crop this year. He supplied us with many KG's of my favourite chilli. While the first batch fermented, I broke out the design spanners again. I gave the label design an upgrade. Then, started drip feeding random abstract motion graphics over social media. I never expected anyone to know what they were about. I wanted to get the colours and the pattern of the label into peoples minds before the sauce was available to buy. And buy it you did! The first batch of 88 bottles vanished. I'd bought enough chillies to make many batches though. And you continue to sell us out of this one.
You should always remember your roots. And on that topic, I made a sauce the same way I made my first sauces several years ago. I made it hot. Really hot. I wrote about this sauce already, so I'll point you there if you're interested in how I ruined everything.
By now, I'd got through all the bubblewrap I'd bought back at the beginning for packaging bottles up. Yes, that had been grating on me for a long time. I upgraded our packaging from plastic bubblewrap to a paper product instead. Now I feel a little better. There are other areas where I can be more responsible. As part of 2021, I'm improving things more and continuing to reduce our impact on the planet.
Moving in to December, I had to cancel our stall at two markets as I couldn't keep up with demand. "A nice problem to have" you might say. I don't like letting people down and I know there were people attending both markets who wanted to see me there. I'm sorry I couldn't make it along for you on these occasions.
November and December both ended as our best months of sales ever. January and February might not be the horror show they typically are for many businesses.
The first label designed by FortyTwo made an appearance. Our collaboration sauce with The Coffee Apothecary was the target. They delivered the goods and 365K is now looking sharp. There's a cool wee story wired in to the design too. Jonny from The Coffee Apothecary painted out the name using coffee and a paintbrush. That was then vectorised and re-coloured for the label. So each party had their hand in it and we all buy into it. I knew I'd chosen the right agency.
December is SUPERNOVA month. An end of year sauce I make each year to give to people who have helped me the most in the previous 12 months. It's my way of saying thanks, with face punishment. This year contains 9 month fermented Scotch Bonnets, aji Amarillo, fermented honey/garlic, yuzu, vinegar and salt. If you want a bottle next year, all you have to do is be helpful to the business in the next 12 months and you go on the list :)
And so the public voting on the Bauce Brothers Top 100 Craft Hot Sauces list came to an end. The guys tallied up the votes and let us know that Reapers & Blackberries finished in 4th place. That's FOURTH out of one hundred amazing UK hot sauces. This tiny, one man operation, tucked away in rural Aberdeenshire, was voted in the Top 5 best hot sauces in the UK. From all the uncertainty and panic back at the start of the year, that was the perfect way to bring 2020 to a close. Thank you!
CollaborationsWe continue to make fiery things with other good people. We love Fierce Beer, The Coffee Apothecary, Wee Hemp Co and Lukes Handcrafted Hot Sauces.
We are currently working on several more. Think we could work together? Get in touch :)
…and what's next?On 15th November 2020, Singularity Sauce Co. Ltd has been around for one year. From what began as a hobby, that's pretty cool. It's almost entirely run by me but none of this can happen without the support and help of my family.
I'm still running everything from home until I find suitable premises. Moving from home to a commercial kitchen continues to be the largest hurdle for the business. I now know about architects, plans and planning applications but I still don't have a premises. This is my top priority and must happen early in 2021.
The range of sauces will have a shake-up. A couple of sauces will drop off the roster. They'll come back as specials but it's time to freshen things up. You'll see the launch of our "single mash project" which we haven't mentioned until right now. More on that in 2021. Premises dependant, we'll add a couple of other products to our lineup.
Make no mistake, 2020 was great/rubbish/terrifying/fun/encouraging/disheartening/awesome. In March and April I had no idea if we'd survive. We're ending 2020 on a high, against the odds. Bring on 2021.