This Global Entrepreneurship Week we’re profiling the capital’s most innovative and exciting entrepreneurs – so meet Harriet Hastings of Biscuiteers
Biscuiteers sells £40-a-tin biscuits over the web. Successful? Absolutely. She tells us how.
Biscuiteers makes biscuits, but somehow it seems discourteous to class them in the same category as digestives and rich tea. Biscuiteers biscuits are little works of art.
Just look at the Kate & Wills wedding tin, pictured above. The crown and carriage and shoes are all carefully illustrated with layers of immaculately drawn flood icing and line icing. Or look at the birthday gift tin. You get 48 hand-decorated biscuits, each one personalised. The bespoke service means you can compose a message with the biscuits as letters. If you want to tell a mate “Happy birthday Keith you magnificent bastard” then Biscuiteers will bake and decorate each letter to your specifications.
The Mother’s Day box contains 16 individual designs which collectively resemble a sewing kit. The Valentine’s Day box is stuffed with romantic motifs and the letters spelling “I love you.”
If Cath Kidston did biscuits she’s be hard pressed to beat these.
But what’s really amazing about Biscuiteers is the business behind it. Founded in 2007 by Harriet Hastings, the Vauxhall-based firm has put biscuits into an entirely new realm – competing with flowers as high-end gifts around the £40 mark.
“I realised the food gifting area was an underexploited area, one with great growth potential. There wasn’t anything like this in the UK,”
Harriet Hastings, founder of Biscuiteers
Sales of £1m a year prove this is a serious commercial proposition.
Hastings tells LondonlovesBusiness.com that the idea of biscuits at that price point required positioning the products as something completely new. “We say ‘Why send flowers when you can send biscuits instead?’
“The connection with flowers is important. It immediately creates a price point in the mind of the consumer. Our pricing needs to reflect the handmade quality of our biscuits and the time it takes to make them. Also the packaging. The tins we use are hand-finished square edge tins which are hard to get hold of.”
The idea of biscuits as luxury gifts was an unproven idea when she and her husband Steve launched the company in 2007. “My husband had a catering and events company. I’d been working in PR helping dotcoms. We wanted something which would combine our skills. I realised the food gifting area was an underexploited area, one with great growth potential. There wasn’t anything like this in the UK.”
Biscuits made sense because of their unusual properties: “They have a great shelf life and can be sent in the post. They are incredibly adaptable. I was particularly interested in the corporate market, and saw that biscuits would work well in that sector.”
The firm was launched as a dotcom. Orders are taken via the website and tins are posted to the customers’ lover/mother/your mate Keith. By missing out any middlemen margins are kept high.
The production line is entirely in-house. “We have 50 Biscuiteers, though not all in the bakery at the same time. We need to be flexible, so we have a mix of full time and part time staff,” says Hastings. “At busy times such as Christmas we need to be able to step it up.”
The bakery is a little different to the normal catering production line. Instead of industrial machines clattering away, the Biscuiteers’ plant is more like a porcelain workshop. Craftsmen and women work in teams of three or four at tables, painting the biscuits with icing. “We run the business on incredibly old fashioned lines,” says Hastings. “Our biscuits are very artisanal, in that they are hand-made from start to finish.”
The key to the success of Biscuiteers is the creativity put into every gift pack. The themes are enormously varied. Hastings says that her background in PR partly explains this. “The whole concept is around creating new collections each year. They are consciously called collections because we aligned ourselves more with fashion companies than with food companies.”
Hastings scours the calendar for big events, such as the marriage of Kate and Wills, and prepares new product lines well in advance. “The royal wedding was like a second Christmas for us,” she says.The special edition tin sold in huge volumes and generated great PR, totalling 80 national news stories and 12 TV interviews.
“The important thing is to understand how the media works. With long lead media they need the story and images well in advance. So we work hard to get magazines photos of the right products at the right time.”
“We did Anya Hindmarch handbags for their launch. We have also done Shrek the Musical”
By ensuring magazines receive glossy shots of her special-edition creations, Hastings gets coverage in all the right publications, including Homes and Garden, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and the Mail on Sunday.
Hastings is currently finishing the Queen’s Jubilee range, well in time to meet press deadlines in 2012.
Hastings has diversified the Biscuiteers offering too, she’s entered new markets, including exporting to France and the Middle East. The corporate sector has been a quiet success: “We have done work for Orange and Red Bull, and we do a lot of fashion work for Mulberry, Cartier and Burberry. Mostly they want very accurate representations of their products. We did Anya Hindmarch handbags for their launch.
“We have also done Shrek the Musical.”
Wholesaling adds another sales channel to the mix. “We are stocked in the big stores: Harrods, Fortnums, Selfridges and Liberty. It’s great for brand positioning and advertising. It’s a very different area though – you don’t get the margins of direct sales.”
She’s even starting to create chocolate products. “We want to keep developing new product lines. We added Jolly Gingers to our range, as we think they will work really well in the wholesale market too. We are launching hand-iced chocolates and experimenting with sweets. We have cakes coming out next week.”
The success of Biscuiteers can teach other entrepreneurs an awful lot. The imaginative creation of one-offs, the new product lines, and the adoption of multiple sales channels, is something other industries could learn from.
Keeping production in-house might be another lesson. Hastings says that having the production floor as an integral part of the business helps her keep her creative energy levels high.
It is also a pleasure to hear Hastings isn’t in it for a quick buck. Her five-year plan is simply to establish Biscuiteers as a rival to flowers as the default choice of gift on special occasions. Exiting isn’t on her radar. “Why would I exit when there is so much more we can do with the business?”