On the up ยท 3 December 2015

Family business series: Macknade Fine Foods exemplifies values of Small Business Saturday

Macknade Fine Foods has been lovingly grown from small beginnings
Macknade Fine Foods has been lovingly grown from small beginnings
If you’re taking part in Small Business Saturday on 5 December, or will just be using?the day to visit local companies in your area, then the stories we’ve been featuring this week as part of our family business series will be very relevant.

Now in its third year, Small Business Saturday will see millions of pounds spent supporting small enterprises. With many of those being run by family members, we decided to make that a focus. Research from American Express, which is the principal supporter of?Small Business Saturday and has its own special Shop Small initiative, found that just under three quarters of family-hiring entrepreneurs say that working with their loved ones is good for business. The main reasons cited include relatives being more committed to the success of the company, the best qualified and most knowledgeable people to employ.

Stefano Cuomo, aged 36, runs a Farm Food shop, Macknade Fine Foods, alongside his father, Renato, who is 63, and mother, Patricia, who is 67. The business is deeply rooted in family heritage, stemming from Patricia’s (and Stefano?s mother) family running a farm at Macknade for six generations, since 1847.

Renato came to England from Italy in 1970 and married Patricia, getting involved with the?family?farm. Renato began to plant “exotic” vegetables such as mange tout and aubergine ? which were relatively unknown in Kent at the time. Although the family has now retired the farm, Stefano runs the shop which was set up in a caravan over 36 years ago and today is a store spanning over 8,000 square feet.

Macknade prides itself in selling premium, artisan foods from local suppliers and producers.?Stefano said:??I love working in a family business as I?m so fortunate to get on well with both my parents who have given me space to run the shop. I grew up on this land and work alongside people who have known me since I was six months old ? so for me, it?s not just work, it?s a way of life.

“I have now been working at the shop for eight years and my father still is heavily involved in the food produce side of the business ? with my mother helping out in the shop. The business also supplies food produce to local restaurants and arrange school trips for my daughter?s school to learn about healthy eating.?

We wanted to hear more from Stefano, so quizzed him on what it is really like to run a company with your family.

(1) How has it changed over the years?

When we started retailing in 1979, our original shop was a tent and much of what we did was pick your own. The original site was a farm field, over the years we moved from the tent, to a shed, to a barn, then to a barn with a caravan and eventually we out grew the site and so repositioned ourselves at the heart of the then farm and that is where we now remain ? trading from 10,000 sq ft food hall,?which once housed apple stores and tractors!

In the first years all the produce we sold was grown by ourselves, we were a farm shop in the true sense of the word. As we grew we were able to start buying from other?local?producers and expanding further meant we then bought from a wider and wider supplier stock. We stopped farming in the early 2000s and so now all our stock is brought from small local producers through to?international?importers. From being our single, own supplier we now have over 500 suppliers.

(2) What is enjoyable about running a business with your family?

I start every day with a coffee with my parents, some days my sister will join us or my wife and children and on others my niece and nephew will be there. There is absolutely nothing that beats the intimacy of spending time with your?family?and having a sense of place that a?family?business can provide you with. I look at the photos that have been taken of my business?and see my three and five?year-old daughters smiling in our business, and I have photos just like them of myself with my brother, at the same age in our family business 30 years ago. It is humbling and provides aa sense of continuity and security that is wonderful and I believe has an impact on others around us.

(3) What unique advantages are there that other businesses, which aren?t family run, don?t have?

You are always looking to the future ? a?long-term future and not a short-term exit. This means that you look to build real value that benefits the family but also all stakeholders involved (I think this is particularly important when we consider the short-termism of shareholder capitalism that still dominates). It is far less competitive and the goal is for the larger group to benefit not just the individual, as a family we know each other well: what our strengths are and indeed where we are weakest and so we react more effectively as a group.

(4) Are there any draw backs?

I am fortunate as I have a very well balanced working relationship with my family, but the obvious drawbacks for?family?businesses can be that personal issues can spill into the work place and vice versa, which can potentially be damaging to family but also to business.?Family?ties can sometimes override best business practice and so hold back?potential?growth and the wrong people can be in the wrong place.

(5) Have you given any thought to succession plans, or are they already in place?

Absolutely! I am 36 and my daughters are three and five.?I aim to be transitioning the business to them in the 23 years time. I don?t think that family businesses should be imposed on the next generation, but they need to be very clear that once it has gone there is no getting it back. Having six generations of my family sitting behind me beats any other job. I feel that by their mid to late 20s they will have had enough of life?s experiences to understand the value of the family business and it will be my role to communicate its value effectively to them and to prepare them for succession in the correct format that will suit them and the business.

(6) What advice would you give to anyone considering going into business with their family?

Family business does not have to mean working day in and day out with your family. It is simply a structure that the family have a serious stake in, financially but most importantly emotively. It is all-consuming and so you have to be passionate about the business or be very clear that it will work. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and those of other family members and be honest about putting yourselves in the correct roles ? humility and understanding is essential.

Also, bear in mind that family businesses are not only about the direct family members but that there will be a number of other stakeholders to consider as the business grows: staff, suppliers, customers, community ? and they will all hold high expectations of what the family business stands for and should be doing for them. Family businesses are amazing and their values are core future of our society.

(7) Why is Small Business Saturday so key to the promotion of family businesses throughout the UK?

It shines a light on how important to our national economy we are on the macro level and our important community value on the micro level. It highlights excellent businesses and creates pride in those businesses, but also in their suppliers and customers.

Importantly, the event provides an opportunity for businesses to get together and chat about what is good and what perhaps could be better, often within their own communities, and so move forward more effectively. In this modern society, in which communication and social fabric is often overlooked for ease, speed and anonymity, family businesses offer a hugely gratifying experience at the core of what community is all about and Small Business Saturday is the perfect showcase.

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.