SCOTT Davies left school at 16 with three GCSEs and no plan for the future – but now he’s running a £35m business that works with nearly every major supermarket in the UK.
The 35-year-old started Hilltop Honey, a honey selling business, with just a £5,000 overdraft with his bank and a beehive in his garden.
He started keeping his own bees and selling produce door-to-door, but the sticky stuff is now stocked by big name brands like Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
While Scott, from Newtown in Powys, admits he always had an entrepreneurial spirit, his road to success was not easy – but goes to show that academic qualifications are no indication of success.
He worked a number of different jobs after leaving school and was laid off from his bricklaying job after the financial crash in 2008 as well as suffering a back injury that put him out of work.
“I left school with three GCSEs and had no plans for further education or work,” Scott told The Sun.
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“On the day I got my GCSE results everybody was telling me I needed a plan, so I ran a mile down the road to the local college and asked if I could enroll in one of their courses.
Although he had to wait to start the year-long course doing furniture removals in the meantime, he eventually started an apprenticeship with a local company.
When the global economic crisis hit, Scott was laid off as demand for builders dwindled.
He then got a job packing bags at a coal yard until he suffered a back injury that put him out of manual labour at the age of just 23.
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Little did he know at the time that it would lead to a buzzing business idea.
'I had nothing – and nothing to lose'
“The only qualification I had was moving stuff with my hands, but I was always thinking about how I could make more money long term,” Scott says.
“When I was recovering from my bank injury I’d read about bees and thought they were amazing, so I bought a beehive and kept them in the garden.
"As I started to get better, I thought I needed to do something with my life so I came up with three business ideas – beekeeping, selling sports equipment on eBay or Amazon, or opening a dog kennel on my parents’ farm.
“I decided to stick with beekeeping and came up with a plan to produce and sell honey.”
Scott did three half-day courses in marketing, accounting and business planning and then wrote up a business proposal for his bank and asked for a £5,000 overdraft to launch his honey business.
“I was 23 years old, no University degree under my belt and no clue how to run a business – but the bank granted my overdraft and I asked my parents if they could give me three years living at home to try and make it work,” Scott says.
“It was scary, but I had nothing – so I had nothing to lose.”
Over the next three years, Scott grew from having one beehive in his back garden to 50 beehives producing honey that he sold door-to-door in his local community and at food fairs around the UK.
He grew turnover to £250,000 and added one employee – but it was not all plain sailing as beekeeping is expensive.
The business was barely profitable and he was only able to pay himself an annual salary of just £2,500.
Scott’s parents thought he needed to give up on the business – but in a stroke of well-timed luck, he had just had a conversation with a supplier that completely changed the way he wanted to operate.
'Pinch me moment'
“One of my suppliers told me in order to make money you either need to be a beekeeper who produces honey in bulk and sells it in bulk, or a supplier who buys honey in bulk and sells it in jars.
"It doesn’t help to be both as the economies of scale are so different,” Scott explains.
“I also realised that to become a proper beekeeping operation you need a six-figure investment as bees don’t pay fast.
"So with no income, I had to let go of the emotional attachment of keeping bees and focus on marketing honey.”
Scott says this realisation and subsequent change of approach revolutionised his business – a year later he secured his first deal supplying honey to Holland and Barrett, and more soon followed.
“The deal trebled the size of my business and then less than a year later I signed a deal with Tesco which took it to the next level and it’s just snowballed from there,” Scott says.
“It’s a mad moment seeing your product in a real shop. People who’d moved all around the UK were sending me photos of Hilltop Honey in stores all over the country.
"It was such a proud, pinch me moment.”
Hilltop Honey now employs 115 people and has an annual turnover of £35million, with earnings before interest and tax coming in at between 6% and 10% of his annual turnover.
The business has grown between 50% and 100% year on year, with next year’s turnover projected to reach a whopping £50million.
Scott now pays himself substantially more than the £2,500 he was previously taking from the business and is able to support his wife Ffion and their three children, Evie, 6, Eddie, 4, and Xander, 7 months.
He's also proud to provide jobs for the local community he’s lived in all his life.
'Bringing employment back'
“We do have some people working from home but a large proportion of the workforce is based in Newtown, where I grew up, which is awesome,” Scott says.
“We moved into a new factory 18 months ago, which was previously used by Laura Ashley before they went bust.
"It left 400 people out of work and was pretty disastrous for the town, so it’s great to be able to use the buildings and bring employment back.”
Looking back at the business he’s grown without any seed funding which many small businesses often take – and with just a £5,000 overdraft – Scott is very proud of what he’s achieved.
He has no plans to sell the business despite receiving offers most weeks and instead has even more ambitious plans.
“We work with every major supermarket in the UK apart from Asda and Lidl but for me the future is still very much about growth and scale,” he says.
“We want to turn heads and export our product outside of the UK. We’re also looking at diversifying our product range, we’ve recently introduced Agave and we’re working on honey-based energy products.”
Scott says he also hasn’t let his love of beekeeping fully die – and hopes he can reincorporate hives into Hilltop’s future.
He says: “We now have around 50 beehives, which my dad tends to – but the dream in the future is to have a bee farm or honey farm and eventually get back to having a significant amount for mid-Wales.”
How to start your own business
For anyone thinking about starting their own business Scott advises jumping in with two feet and not being afraid to get things wrong.
He says: “There’s a million reasons for you not to start but have the belief that you’ll find the answers, even if you don’t know everything to start with.”
He also advises anyone struggling to get a business of the ground to be “brutally honest” about whether there's a market.
“Ask yourself if the idea is real, if it’s working and if there’s a genuinely unique product that customers want.
"Once you’ve got that, focus on that unique selling point and build from there.”
There's a lot to consider if you're thinking about starting your own business.
From coming up with the perfect money-making idea, to the legalities that come with getting set up, you'll want to make sure you've covered your bases before taking the plunge.
Alan Thomas, UK chief executive at Simply Business, previously shared his top tips for starting a business with The Sun.
Know your customer inside-out
Knowing your audience is crucial. Start by asking yourself if your idea could help make their life simpler, or fill a gap that competitors currently aren't.
Testing your product or service and iterating based on feedback is a great way to ensure you’re building what’s right for your customer.
Doing this early, before investing too heavily, can help to validate your business idea and save a lot of money in the process.
Sort your legalities
Make sure you’re on the right side of any rules, regulations, and legalities. Registering your business with HMRC should be a priority and it will inform how much tax you need to pay.
You can do this online at gov.uk. You’ll also need to decide on the structure of your company (sole trader, limited company or a partnership).
Legally you may also require business insurance, such as public or employers’ liability insurance.
A public liability policy protects against damage to third party property or individuals, whereas employers’ liability is a necessity if you have staff.
Create the perfect marketing plan
This is where websites and social media come into play. Consider what platforms work for your business and go from there.
You don’t need a presence on all of them. Also, don’t ignore the power of flyers, local PR, and good old word of mouth.
Give yourself a period of transition and reflection
It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of starting up, but it’s important to dedicate time for reflection and analysis.
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