by Vicky Smith•19th January 2012
Jamsmith is a subscription only seasonal preserves business based in the Yorkshire Dales. I make and post out one special, unique jam, marmalade, jelly or fruit butter a month using as much local produce as possible, then I send it to members across the UK. I am the only worker in the business for the moment.
These products are exclusive to the club - no flavour is repeated. There is no choice, but, I will always send out my absolutely best seasonal preserve. Each tiny batch can take up to 24 hours to produce. In many cases I steep the fruit in sugar overnight, so it’s absorbed slowly.
Allowing time for this initial process means also that the cooking time is reduced thus retaining more of the fruits’ intense flavour and characteristics. I use less sugar than traditional techniques call for. In all cases I work with each fruits’ natural pectin content and adjust my recipes accordingly.
Jams are made with fruit at its peak sourced from my local market, farmers’ market and growers’ small holdings, or I forage and pick the ingredients myself. I then use my skills as a cook to balance individual flavour combinations.I use Fairtrade sugar, no preservatives and no commercial pectin or additives at all, ever. And, since I know each month how many subscribers I’m making products for, there is very little waste.The jars are packed in recycled and recyclable packaging.
The start of my business was all a happy accident. Like many people I know I ‘fell’ into catering as a way of financially supporting other projects. As a result I’ve worked in a number of food and drink businesses. I even ran a pub for a while, but I originally trained as an interior designer. When I moved from London to the Yorkshire countryside with my husband and daughter in 2006, I had to use various skills to create a job that suited my new rural location and family commitments. I taught myself to make jam – for me, it’s a very satisfying combination of craft, science and food.
I set up from a small cottage kitchen and took my time to perfect my craft. I practiced a lot and sold preserves at local fairs and sales to test my pricing and get a response to my product and packaging. I did research too, and in so doing I discovered some interesting independent food businesses in the US. The subscription idea came from there. There are many people making jam, especially in Yorkshire. The business started with my blog: I wrote about my day to day life and took photos of things that interested me, I got good feedback and things evolved from there.
The business has grown slowly and organically because I had no capital at all. I do various other jobs: for a while I had a part-time job with a children’s clothing company to pay for equipment; I still manage and clean a holiday cottage and do freelance interior design projects. We sold our flat in London last year and I used a bit of the profit from that to pay for the website and to pay myself a small salary while I get Jamsmith up and running.
Creative people are not always the best at the business side of things, so my biggest challenge and difficulty was and is me. I have to try to make myself to think more commercially, although I am not purely motivated by the bottom line. In the beginning I attended some very helpful Business Link workshops for learning the basics in marketing and financial planning. I have a business mentor, I listen to influential people speak either at gigs or on pod casts and I get a lot of help from my followers on Twitter.
I sell directly to my customers on-line. I made a positive decision not to supply wholesalers, although I do make a bespoke range for a couple of local businesses and individuals. My customers are an Internet savvy mixture of genuine jam enthusiasts and people buying the club membership as a quirky gift solution. I would like to continue to attract and engage with this type of customer because they’re fun and interesting.
I write an online newsletter that’s posted out each month with the jam subscription to members. I use Twitter to interact and network with like-minded small business owners, both locally and nationally. Twitter is also a vital social contact for me. I work alone for much of the time so it keeps me on my toes and makes me laugh. I tell stories on my Blog, share recipes, write travel reviews and take photos. I try to update it once a week; sometimes it’s just a quote or a link to something interesting that I have seen and want to share.
In my strategy for the future I would like to include some PR in the marketing of my jams, but I can’t afford to pay a fortune for it. I am prepared to invest my time, however. It is important to me that I have personal, direct contact with my customers, so, I will be studying them. I like people and finding out what makes them tick, I will use my findings to write a good, researched marketing plan.
I would like Jamsmith to continue to grow steadily and maintain all the exclusivity of a quality product, to the point where the club waiting list is full of people eager to sign up and eat delicious, homemade jam.
If I were to give advice to anyone wishing to start a new artisanal business, I would say three things:
1. Do your research because there is a lot of competition and the chances are someone has already thought of your idea. Put as much of ‘you’ and your personality into the product and packaging as possible which will help make it unique.
2. Design a business to suit your lifestyle, especially if you have to fit the work around a family timetable, because otherwise it’s unlikely to work in the long run.
3. Everything takes longer than you think so it is important to be realistic about timings rather than getting frustrated that life is getting in the way of progress.
Vicky Smith's Jamsmith Seasonal Preserves by Subscription
Mobile Phone Contact: 07958 729516