On the up · 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 usingthe 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 thefamilyfarm. 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 Im 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 otherlocalproducers 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 tointernationalimporters. 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 yourfamilyand having a sense of place that afamilybusiness can provide you with. I look at the photos that have been taken of my businessand see my three and fiveyear-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 arent family run, don’t have?

You are always looking to the future along-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 forfamilybusinesses 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.Familyties can sometimes override best business practice and so hold backpotentialgrowth 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?


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

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.

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