Wade Lyn: Expanding a business into other product areas

Wade Lyn founded Jamaican pattie producer Cleone Foods in 1987, intent on bringing Caribbean cuisine to the mainstream market. The business, which employs 44 people, is now looking to expand into other product areas.

Plan for the long-term

In the early days of Cleone (selling under the brand name Island Delight), we experienced a sticky period in production caused by a flood of large orders – we hadn’t factored this into our business plan. I quickly realised that short-term plans are not the right way to kickstart your business. In order to nurture growth, you need to have a permanent vision in place. Progressive planning is the solution. By formulating and rigorously following a long-term plan covering everything from the physical to the financial aspects of the business, I overcame those production issues and that enabled me to focus on increasing sales.

Funding can come from the most unlikely of places

My parents funded the venture with a £10,000 loan. But I knew I needed more capital. My bank was willing to offer another loan, but I was not able to put up a personal guarantee. In the end, it never got to that stage. When I went to buy equipment, the company I approached wanted to know more about my plans. At first I was wary about giving too much away, but it turned out they wanted to invest money in return for a share in the venture. The deal was useful in many other ways. For example, as we grew, the company supplied new, larger equipment and bought the old items back.

Never take your eye off late payers

One issue that consistently caused headaches in the past was our cashflow. In the first 18 months of the business, we were never prompt when it came to collecting cash owed to us. We should have sorted this out as the money could have funded growth. Unbelievably, we only solved the issue four years ago when we realised that we were owed over £200,000. We had felt cash rich and had been cruising along. We hadn’t tracked our creditors thoroughly enough. We now employ a part-time bookkeeper to ensure timely collection.

Find a point of differentiation

I gained first-hand experience of food manufacturing by working at a relative’s company – also a Jamaican pattie producer – and it gave me a good idea of what to expect when setting up my own business. Trying to gain new customers off the back of his business was difficult, so I had to go back to the drawing board and find a gap in the marketplace. No one was servicing the large supermarkets. I now supply to ten per cent of them in the UK and customers include ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Don’t let staff test your limits

One of the drawbacks of starting on such a small scale (I began with four employees) is that you treat your staff like your family. But when you grow you have to set boundaries – ensure staff understand what can and cannot be done. Otherwise, as I’ve experienced, they will push you to the limits and make your job ten times harder. I now ensure my staff know what the end goal is and then work back from that.

Unfiltered Lives – Wade Lyn of Cleone Foods Ltd

Marc Barber

Raven Connelly

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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