The Irish granola that went from a market stall to five star hotels

Inside Track: Jill Crawford of Just Live a Little

David and Jill Crawford started their business in a farmhouse in 2011.

David and Jill Crawford started their business in a farmhouse in 2011.

 

Just Live a Little is the granola brand started David and Jill Crawford in their farmhouse in Portaferry in 2011. They originally sold their product at local markets: now, they supply one of Northern Ireland’s biggest hotel chains Hastings Hotels, and are stocked in supermarkets in Sweden, Slovenia and Spain, France and the UAE as well as in the UK.

What sets your business apart from the competition?
Our granola is handmade by us personally in small batches and it tastes that way, compared to others that are made in a factory. Our packaging really stands out and our personal story also sets us apart.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
When we started, the best advice was to focus on your doorstep first instead of trying to take on the world. That’s stood us in good stead because we’ve done really well here locally in Northern Ireland by securing our home market first.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
There have been loads. We tried to launch too many products at once, we didn’t do enough research into our new product development and developed things just because we liked them. We paid consultants to do things they never did. That’s just part and parcel of it as long as you’re learning.

And your major success to date?
I think the fact that we started the business at the height of the recession and people thought we were mad. The fact that we’re still going and still growing is our biggest success. It’s just been incremental steps and it’s a real testament that the business is still run by the two of us.

Who do you most admire in business and why?
I really admire anyone who runs a small business like our own – businesses like Suki Tea or anyone who gives it a go, because it can be really hard work.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
We had good and bad experiences during that time. We found it difficult to get finance from a bank at the beginning. We are pretty self-sustaining now but we’ve built up a good relationship with our bank and, any time we know we’re going to need extra, we’ve found them quite fair.

What one piece of advice would you give government to help stimulate the economy?
I think the biggest issue for small businesses is developing connections. Anyone who approaches us, we try and help them because it is so difficult. Above and beyond finance, I think the key thing that we need to be doing in Northern Ireland is helping people make connections and help to open doors for you – it would make such a big difference. I don’t think local connection groups exist up here the same way they do down South.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Finance is the biggest one, and cash-flow. I think that’s the same no matter what size your business. You’re having to pay for things before you get money in. It’s a huge problem and the challenge is managing that on an ongoing basis and trying to predict when it’s going to come in. Sometimes there’s a very tight turnaround.

We also manufacture as well so there’s limits to what we can do and we have capacity issues. I think also knocking on doors. There was only me and, particularly at the beginning, I had to have a huge amount of tenacity to just keep going. I think there are probably easier ways I could have done it, but you’re just learning all the time.

How do you see the short-term future for your business?
I think it’s an exciting time for us. We are growing every year and there are five of us working in the business now. We’re launching new products – our trail mixes – in Aldi in Ireland and I think they’re very on trend. I can see things looking very positive for us in the short to medium term future.

The next thing we’re going to do is move all our packaging into fully compostable packaging and reducing all of our packaging over the next 12 months are so. When it’s your own business, it never stops.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I have no idea what it’s worth but I’m open to offers.