Stuart Dobson, Elmgrove Foods
Dungannon-based Elmgrove Foods had a turnover of £25 million for the year ended March 2014
Stuart Dobson, Elmgrove Foods
From the age of 11, he worked during his school holidays on a local farm and in an abattoir in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. In 2006, he got a job in Florence, Italy, where he was the accountant for a tannery which produced leather for high-end users such as Gucci and Prada. In 2007, he took over the position of manager of the tripe room for Dunbia, and the following year he set up Elmgrove Foods in Dungannon.
The company was set up to export food products from slaughtered cattle, sheep and pigs which were sent to waste at that time. In the United Kingdom and Europe, these parts were traditionally disposed of in landfill or incinerated, but in the Far East and Africa they were considered a delicacy.
By the sixth year of trading, Elmgrove exported approximately 65,000 tonnes of edible product, which would have otherwise been disposed of at a cost to suppliers. Elmgrove Foods employs 11 full-time staff and had a turnover of £25 million for the year ended March 2014.
How did you secure your first investment? I received no credit or loans from the bank and when I asked for financial assistance from government bodies, they also refused. Therefore, I procured one month’s supply of product and paid the supplier on 60 days credit. My customer agreed 30 per cent payment prior to loading for the product and balance payable before arrival at the port.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it? The market crashed in Vietnam and Hong Kong for several months in 2010 and Elmgrove had no physical way of getting the product to the customer. We were then forced to explore new markets and found new customers in Africa and the Caribbean. At this time, our competitors stopped buying; however, Elmgrove continued to buy from each supplier at the agreed prices. This was a huge risk but it eventually paid off as suppliers have not forgotten that to this day.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution? Getting the slaughter hall and boning hall staff to process these products for human consumption. Our products are generally not eaten in Europe, but are viewed as a delicacy in the Far East and Africa. Changing the manager and employee mind-set was challenging, given that these products were traditionally disposed of.
What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out? The best piece of advice I was given was “this project is never going to work”. I saw this as a challenge and it made me more determined to make it work. You have to be confident and believe in yourself.
The worst piece of advice I was given was to “make as much profit as you can”. I believe you have to be fair to the supplier with the price, be consistent with the quality of the product and, most importantly, give the customer what they want.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today? The main sacrifices I had to make when starting up my business was not being at home in Northern Ireland with my family and wife. I spent the majority of the first two years overseas building partnerships with the customers and researching new products.