March 5, 2021
Celebrating Female Entrepreneurs this International Women’s Day
Today (Monday 8 March 2021) on International Women’s Day we share the wisdom of business founder Lucy Hill. Lucy is a Director of award-winning charcuterie specialists Cobble Lane Cured. She is also a client of Sirman and Lee.
Lucy kindly took time out of her busy schedule (she’s just moved house, has a six month baby and a three year old) to give her perspective on what it’s like to set up a business, why it’s important to recognise your strengths and how she’s adapted to the challenges of 2020 and 21.
Tell us a little bit about Cobble Lane Cured and your role?
Our business is Cobble Lane Cured we create charcuterie sourced from British meat. We supply restaurants, gastro-pubs and now through our on-line shop the general public with award winning delicious cured meats made in the UK.
One of the real positives about running a small business is you tend to get involved in everything. When we first started, I continued to work full time but would help at Cobble Lane in the evenings and weekends and run our stall at food markets. While I didn’t have the butchers skills that Matt and Adam have, I did get to understand all aspects of the business. Not only did I find this really interesting it also adds value to our customer service.
Even today when it’s busy you can’t not get involved. Each of us have a clear role in the business but it’s all hands on deck during the busiest periods.
But coming back specifically on my job, my official role at Cobble Lane is managing our financial operations. I’m responsible for setting the annual budget, agreeing our investments and keeping on top of our day-to-day finance management. I also liaise with our customers and contribute ideas to our social media, website and PR.
When did you set up/ get involved in Cobble Lane Cured? How did the idea come about?
Myself and my partner Matt Hill set up Cobble Lane 8 years ago with some passionate foodies and fellow butchers. We all loved food and shared a vision to create an outstanding range of charcuterie sourced from British meat.
At the time Matt was working in Jamie Oliver’s butchery. Where he met Adam a charcuterie specialist. I was working in HR. The whole street food phenomena was really taking off and it was something we wanted to be part of. Then one day Matt came home with an exciting idea they had planned and Cobble Lane Cured was born. I’ve always been interested in food, Matt was having a lot of fun and I wanted to get involved. I also thought I had relevant and different skills to add to the business.
From there things just started to flow. We met another charcuterie producer who had ideal premises and equipment in Islington that he was looking to sell.
Within a year I was able to leave my HR role and join Cobble Lane permanently. I’m not going to deny it was quite nerve wracking but we were so motivated and having connections with restaurants really helped, as did our location in Islington.
How has your business changed or had to respond to change over the last twelve months?
March 2020, was a real shock to us. The majority of our customers were restaurants, so when they closed we didn’t know what was next. It was a really difficult time. We had to go back to the drawing board and ask; how do we keep going?
Cobble Lane does have a good social media following and we also had a basic online offer. We saw this as an opportunity and were able to respond quite quickly. We set about improved our online shopping experience working with Sirman and Lee. We developed our range to appeal to the general public.
We were also supplying a lot more independent deli’s as customers were preferring to shop locally. There was a strong interest in food as gifts for friends and family because people couldn’t be in touch with one another.
Over the last twelve months there has been a lot of good learning around logistics and deliveries and our work has become much more customer facing as opposed to trade. We invested in new equipment to speed up the packing and slicing process. It was a little bit like starting over we were thrown back in the deep end. But it’s paid off and we’re really grateful for the positive response we’ve received and the chance to adapt.
We now have a growing customer base and are even running home tastings over Zoom. I don’t think any of the Cobble Lane team had even used Zoom before March 2020.
What has helped the Cobble Lane brand stand out over the last twelve months?
I’d say a couple of things:
- Remaining passionate on quality and standards and our ongoing commitment to support British farmers and to high standards of animal welfare. People have come to know that’s a given with Cobble Lane
- Wanting our customer to have a great experience. From the initial order to tasting the meat
- And we try to show what we’re doing, sharing how we make and source our meat giving people some insight. Our social media and website has really helped to tell our story and explain more about what we do
What has been your most important learning throughout your time at Cobble Lane?
Every day we are learning new things but reminding ourselves that each of us is bringing something different and valuable to our team is important. Collectively we have developed a great working culture at Cobble Lane we’ve been really tested over the last twelve months it’s important to take stock and reflect on our resilience and team efforts.
Another invaluable learning has been about investment. When you are running a small business and you don’t have tonnes of capital you tend to want to do everything yourself. One for money, two for control. But in our experience it pays off to make the investment to enable your business to grow.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think this is quite a common issue for women but being confident in what I do and about what I bring to the business has been a challenge in the past. Women can often be really hard on themselves. I was only 23 when I first started at Cobble Lane, now being older and wanting to set an example to my girls has really helped with this. In the beginning when we got a new client we’d feel a rush of excitement and gratitude for the opportunity. We still have that feeling today but we now also get feedback from suppliers that they are just as excited to stock us.
Cobble Lane is a respected and trusted brand. It feels good that I was part of making that happen and I need to remind myself of that.
What one piece of advice would you give to women setting up their own business?
I’m going to give you a few:
- When you’re out of your comfort zone the more good things tend to happen
- Surround yourself with people that support you. They remind you of your strengths and keep you focussed when you most need it
- And if you have the opportunity to set up a business with your partner go for it. Matt and I really appreciate what each one of us is going through and having that support and understanding has been so vital
What are you plans for the future?
We’ve learnt that it’s hard to predict the future especially at the moment so it’s important for us that our business continues to be adaptable and for us to be very clear on what our customers want.
Being sustainable is a key consideration for us from the farmers we work with down to the packaging we use, we are always working to improve in this area.
We’d love to keep growing our customer base with the general public and we also can’t wait to get our products back into the chef’s kitchen and see what culinary delights they create.