Frustrated by poor quality food at music festivals, former music industry executive Ben O’Brien co-founded Sourced Market with festival producer Dan O’Neill. We delve into their success, learn about their expansion plans and get their top tips for entrepreneurs.
Can you introduce us to Sourced Market and your inspiration/ambitions behind the brand?
Sourced Market is an artisan food and drink market situated in London at two locations: St. Pancras International Station and Marylebone. The idea was born in Summer 2007: working in the music industry I believed the food on offer at music festivals did not live up to the quality of the music. Living on Borough Market with access to some of the finest food producers in the country, I came up with the idea to take the best of London’s small, independent food producers on the road.
After our first summer of events, we quickly realised the demand for high-quality, locally-sourced produce. The search began to find the first permanent site to bring the concept of a farmers’ market to the convenience sector. We opened Sourced Market in St. Pancras International in August 2009 and now serve over 12,000 happy commuters and tourists each week. In 2014 we achieved £2.8 million in revenue and sales are currently 14% higher than the same period last year.
We expanded and fully refurbished our St. Pancras site in January and February this year, increasing its size by 30% through building forwards onto the station concourse. We have a new eight-year lease for the site and have some great new ideas we will be introducing to make the market better.
Our second site in Marylebone on Wigmore Street opened in March. As well as offering a wide selection of well-sourced British produce, we also operate a coffee bar, bakery, hot deli counter and downstairs, there is a craft beer and wine cellar. It is both a grocer for take-away produce but also a new venue to relax in, sample and buy expertly chosen wines and craft ales. The seasonal displays are mostly (90%) British produce.
Our third site will open in September 2016 in the Nova scheme outside London’s Victoria station. We have just started the design process. We are also in discussions about sites for 2017 and are aiming to open two sites per annum moving forwards.
What made you decide to launch in St. Pancras International Station? How hard was this to do, and what have been the advantages/disadvantages of this kind of location?
Sourced Market was a great idea that was well received by consumers from the start, but I had no experience of retail so had to learn the ropes quickly. We also started the business with insufficient funding that ran out, so we had a particularly difficult period where I learnt the importance of cashflow. It nearly broke us but fortunately we pulled through and, as a result, we are much leaner and stronger. We have a business that has made a profit with just one site, whereas other businesses in our sector have not achieved this until they have had multiple sites.
We started the business with insufficient funding that ran out, so we had a particularly difficult period where I learnt the importance of cashflow.
You also work at many events. Can you explain why you decided to do this and how this helps you grow your brand?
I lived on Borough Market from 2002 to 2007 whilst working in the music business running my own artist management company. I worked from home a lot and was fortunate enough to become friends with many of the traders at the market over the years. I spent a lot of time at music festivals and, back then, the food was pretty dire – white vans dishing out dodgy burgers. So, as a fun project, I started working with some of the traders at Borough Market with the idea of going ‘on tour’ to a music festival. Our first event was the Innocent Village Fete in Regent’s Park in August 2007, which was a huge success. It was clear that people at music festivals did appreciate great food. At this point I was introduced to Dan and we took Sourced Market to Lovebox Festival (which he ran), and then various other events from Secret Garden Party to the Big Chill.
You’ve been raising investment on Crowd Cube. Can you talk us through the decision to do this, the process and why you have chosen this as your path forwards – and how you see it helping you develop your business?
We recently passed a £1,000,000 crowd-funding target, offering 200+ investors an innovative four-year bond with guaranteed annual returns, to fund the opening of two further sites in 2016. We love crowd-funding – it’s such a fantastic way for us to connect with our customers and for them to play a part in the growth of the business, and even benefit directly from our success.
As a business, the transparency of crowd-funding is very useful – we’ve put our business plan and financials up on Crowd Cube, subjecting them to public scrutiny, so we really have to stand by our performance and the way we run our business, which we do!
I think as a business, the transparency is very useful as well – we’ve put our business plan and financials up on Crowd Cube, subjecting them to public scrutiny, so we really have to stand by our performance and the way we run our business, which we do! Potential investors can bring added value to help you grow your business and take it to the next level, rather than using your own capital to prove the concept works in the first place.
What would be your top advice for other business entrepreneurs?
Nail your concept – you need to be able to explain it in one or two sentences to anyone. Also, you should be always ready to sell your idea, not just to potential investors, but to anyone who you want to work with – either with you or for you (particularly when you are starting out).
Learn to delegate – to begin with, your success will often depend on your ability to do everything and to work 70 hours a week. As it grows you need to be able to judge when is the right time to bring other people on board and to delegate responsibility for areas of the business to them.
Understand your financials – you will be questioned on your financials by any investor and they will quickly lose confidence if you don’t have complete grasp of your figures – and “I’ll need to check that with my accountant” is not a good enough answer.