Shaper: Edward Perry

Show aired on 3rd December 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Sly And The Family Stone with it’s a Family Affair. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and I put them alongside their equivalents in the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. I am really pleased to say that Edward Perry is my Business Shaper today. Edward is the co-founder of the now High Street name and High Street brand called COOK, providing beautiful food which is ready for your freezer and then you eat it later with great joy and aplomb. You will be hearing lots about how Edward has invented the twenty year overnight success of a business; it’s doing fantastically. In addition to hearing from him you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we come to the music and we have got a fantastic feast of music today for you from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul; Frank Sinatra, big blue eyes is in there, John Lee Hooker and this from Kandace Spring.

That was Kandace Spring with the thoughtful Novocaine Heart – I like the name as well. Edward Perry as I said is my Business Shaper today here on Jazz Shapers and Edward is the co-founder of a business that now many of you will know called COOK and classically you think ‘well it’s been around forever hasn’t it’ and in fact it has but you probably hadn’t heard of it probably until a few years ago. Edward, I am really happy to have you here, thank you very much for joining me.

Edward Perry
Thank you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
It has been almost twenty years and now you have I believe eighty five shops selling your great food around the country.

Edward Perry
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
You have concessions going on, you have a whole bunch of social impact stuff that’s cooking, literally cooking as well. Tell me about why and how you got into this thing back in 1997? Why was it a food business?

Edward Perry
It all really started with my parents. They had… I grew up… when I was a teenager, they had two small coffee shops, one in Tunbridge and one in Sevenoaks in Kent and they made beautiful sandwiches, they did cappuccino’s and lattes at a time when you didn’t find those on the High Street although they are ubiquitous now and my mother’s best friend made the cakes and the cakes were absolutely superb you know, they looked homemade and tasted homemade and that’s the environment I grew up in. I worked in the coffee shops during the holidays and stuff so it was very much a sort of, you know, growing up in a small business thing and after I left school I didn’t want to go to University. I had been to a public school but I had had a rich grandmother who had paid the school fees and so I had this duality going on of living with the reality of a small business but I got to the end of my time at school and I decided I didn’t want to be the poor kid anymore, I don’t want to go to University and be the poor kid at University, I want to get on with it, I just had I suppose looking back, I had a chip on my shoulder about it and I wanted to work. So after a couple of false starts with selling advertising space in London and stuff I joined my parents’ business at the age of twenty as a salesman because they had set up a bakery to supply cakes to other coffee shops around the South East so I spent a lot of time travelling around the South East selling cakes into other coffee shops and caterers and stuff and I thought… I also set up a small shop for them just selling cakes and puddings that were homemade and within a year it was doing quite well and I thought well if we can make savoury food to sell alongside their cakes and puddings it could be something that could work on the High Street. So like a small scale but very, very high end Iceland because my mother had always cooked for the freezer so we all had a big chest freezer at home and there would always be old ice cream tubs full of bolognaise sauce or beef bourguignon or something like that so I knew you could make nice food for the freezer and so that was what I wanted to do – create my mother’s home cooking on a big scale.

Elliot Moss
You talk about being first hand in a family that was running a small business and I also was very similarly to you, inside that family, my mother’s business was started at the kitchen table. What did it feel like as you saw your parents working and going as a rollercoaster up and down when some weeks were good and some weeks were bad? What impact has that had on you as a person? And in the way that you framed your own experience of business?

Edward Perry
I suppose it was the immersiveness of it. The fact that it was so all consuming. At the dinner table we would talk about sandwich fillings, what had, what hadn’t sold with cakes. It was, it was an all-consuming thing and so my view of business was always that if you are going to do it, you are all in, you’ve got to be – there is no half measures and so that’s how it’s been for my, really for the last twenty years. Possibly too much so sometimes, you know, it is, you know you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. It is relentless, it’s non-stop and so I think it’s just the, it’s the total immersion within the business and then when you have the bad times which you know, for us have been, we’ve had a lot more bad times than we have had good times that’s for sure. You’ve just got to keep going, that is the single most important quality that I saw in my parents and what they did in their business and actually you know we’ve just, it’s just persevere, persevere, persevere. It is so much more important than creativity or intelligence or planning or anything, it is just perseverance. Keep going.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, Edward Perry; co-founder of COOK. Time for some music and aptly I think this is from Frank Sinatra with I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

The delicious Frank Sinatra with I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Edward Perry is my Business Shaper today, co-founder of COOK. Almost twenty years old themselves and he was talking earlier, talking earlier about the importance of perseverance and the importance of just, I think I am going to use your words, keep going. Tell me about a few of those bumps along the road because you know now people look on many High Streets around the UK and they go ‘well there they are, lovely, it looks a nice brand’ and the foods proper and there is obviously, they wouldn’t say this but I am looking at it as a business going well there’s a supply chain that works and the names of the natty lollies that you can get in the summer which I did for my kids this summer are great and all that’s been thought through. Go back into some of the darker times when you’ve gone ‘I’m going to persevere but this is difficult’. Tell me about one of those difficult times and how you’ve got through it?

Edward Perry
The first and most profound one was in fact about three weeks before we opened the first shop. When we started the business with my co-founder Dale, he was a chef and I had got to know him because I used to sell cakes to him and I had always, we’d hit it off straight away and I always spoke to him about this idea about making frozen savoury meals and he is a cockney and he has never had a moment’s self-doubt in his life and he would always go ‘alright everybody, it’s gonna be fine I know how to do it, it’s easy’ and I believed him and so we got going, you know, we borrowed about £30,000 off two different banks just to get going for one shop and one kitchen which even twenty years ago is not enough to set up a business, not even close but we got going but I was sure that Dale would be able to produce the kind of food that my mother used to make for the freezer straight away because he told me he could and I believed him and the first thing he ever made for me was a lentil and fennel bake and I was living in a little flat in Clapham at the time and I was with my girlfriend and I got it back and I was fully expecting this thing to be absolutely fantastic and it looked a bit odd and I put it in the oven and I got it out again and it was like sort of black gruel and it smelt nasty and I took a mouthful and it was spitted out, disgusting, it was horrible and it was that moment where it was like a, it was like a flash of lightening, a thunderclap banging in my head and I suddenly went ‘oh heavens’; everything that I had assumed about what this business was going to be and how we would actually create this wonderful food was rubbish. It was going to be really, really difficult to make it taste nice and I suddenly thought ‘well of course it’s going to be difficult’ because if it was easy it would be in freezers all over supermarkets already and it was that, just that moment where I realised how difficult it was going to be to make the food taste nice and I remember sitting – it’s the first and only time this has happened – but I sat on the stairs in my flat in Clapham and I cried and I remember my girlfriend, now my wife, Sophie putting her arm round me and going ‘don’t worry it’s going to be okay, you guys will figure it out’ and… but I remember that being a real low point, realising that actually what everything that I had assumed about the business was not true and that actually figuring out how to make this food taste nice was going to be phenomenally difficult. In terms of how we got through it, you know, that was just keeping going. It was three years working in our first shop in Farnham, you know, did the usual entrepreneurial stuff, worked six days a week, didn’t have a holiday, Sophie would come down during the weekends and stuff and support me but it was just, it was just sticking at it and believing, keeping the belief that this was a good idea and that we could make the food taste nice.

Elliot Moss
And here he is today with eighty five shops, his heads not in his hands and he is not in his flat in Clapham and he is doing really well so you can make it happen. Much more coming up from Edward but before that some travel in a couple of minutes and before that even, there will be some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Every Saturday I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business and I have met many of them. Today Edward Perry is my Business Shaper, he is the co-founder of COOK, eighty five shops across the UK, edging towards I believe a fifty million pound turnover which has jumped quite considerably which I am going to come to in a minute but it wasn’t always thus and Edward you mentioned very honestly right at the beginning before you even got the first shop open, what was going on for you and how that hit you emotionally. Tell me about the 2008 recession, I believe that was also a bit of a, a bit of a troubling moment?

Edward Perry
Yeah more than a bit. It was…

Elliot Moss
I was being kind.

Edward Perry
…thank you, thank you Elliot. No it was a proper near death experience. We’d had a good time from about 2000 up until 2008. My brother had joined the business who actually really ran the business, my brother James who is brilliant. My sister Rosie had joined the business. My wife Sophie was part of the business and ran the brand and she was great. Dale was running the kitchen and figuring out how to make the food taste great and so I have always been surrounded by these brilliant people and that had taken us to this point where we built a new kitchen in 2007, we borrowed a lot of money. In hindsight, a crazy amount of money to build this new kitchen, open a lot of shops and it was in 2007, was supposed to be after ten years of toll and strife and hard work, it was our sort of… it was going to be the glory moment. We opened the new kitchen, we opened new shops and it was all going to be great. We had finally arrived in the hallowed land and actually what happened was completely the opposite. We borrowed all this money. We opened a lot of shops. I made a lot of bad decisions on shop sites, didn’t spend enough time and care in where the shops were opening and then Lehman Brothers happened on the day we opened our thirty second shop. So almost at, it is almost poetic in how awful it was. At our point of maximum borrowing Lehman Brothers went down and overnight sales dropped by about 10% in every single one of our shops. They then dropped by another 10% and so we were in October, me and my brother and our head of finance, Geoff, we sat down in a little room in Tunbridge and we looked at the projections and… which were obviously completely different from when we borrowed the money… and we realised that if we didn’t do something radical we would be going out of business in five months’ time. Sales carried on going down, we cut every cost out of the business that we possibly could. We made people redundant. The only thing we never compromised on was quality of ingredients coming through the door. If you do that you forfeit your right to survive so we didn’t do that but we did everything else. We even had to do a deal with every single one of our landlords to pay 50% rent which we somehow managed to get over the line. All of them had to sign up. We had to borrow a million pounds off some very nice man that we knew but that was secured on my parent’s house and the little equity that I had in my house and my brother as well and… but it got so bad that it still looked like we weren’t going to get through. My parents even phoned up the Council at one point about emergency accommodation because they thought they were going to lose their house. I mean it was desperate straits. We had a meeting about a pre-pack administration but… and it was tempting at one point to do it but there was just something inside us that went ‘no we can get through this’ if we can just you know, somehow weather the storm and just keep going we will be okay and we had offers from private equity but it wasn’t, we realised that if we took the money then we would be compromising our independence forever more in terms of how we actually want to run the business and our long-term independence was always important to us and so we somehow got through but by the skin of our teeth and I think really it is only probably 2012/2013 that we were properly safe again so you know, it was a very, particularly 2008 to 2010 was extremely painful and actually I look back on it now and I can’t remember anything. We had our second child at the time and I look back at his first two years and I look at the pictures and I can’t remember anything at all, it’s weird.

Elliot Moss
I tell you what, that’s an incredibly personal effect of a business on you and on your family and amazing that you came through it. Just shows you can and that it takes time. Much more coming up from Edward, I am intrigued to find out how that corner was turned. Time for some more music in the meantime, this is Yana Bibb with Bessie’s Advice.

That was Yana Bibb with Bessie’s Advice. She is the daughter of Eric Bibb if you would like to know and I hope you do because I’ve just told you. Edward Perry is my Business Shaper, co-founder of COOK. It almost wasn’t back in 1997, it almost wasn’t again back in 2008 but perseverance, I imagine steel constitutions around you and the family have kept it going and then I want to understand this. We are now looking at a business which is really successful Edward okay. We are now looking at really strong growth year on year, sort of 15% up, 10% up. What you described before was a dark moment and it wasn’t just for a few months, it went on for a few years. I understand the hunkering down and all that but how did the business start to grow again? When did that… why did it grow? What did you do differently?

Edward Perry
In terms of how we got through it, one of the crucial things was we had head of finance, Geoff and my brother also, James who were brilliant at cash management. We had what we called the wiggly line which was our cash flow line which was brilliantly planned and we checked the bank balance once or twice a day and we were a slave to that line and so in terms of the discipline of getting through it was really, really, really good cash management. So but in terms of strategically how we did it, we basically opened up new space. We built a big new kitchen which had lots of capacity. We didn’t have any money to open new shops so we started opening a lot of space in farm shops and independent retailers so although we have never wanted to deal with the big supermarkets because we have always believed that if you do that you end up working for them in one shape or another so, so that was our way of doing it so a lot of independent retailers, a lot of farm shops, we put two freezers, four freezers in that sort of space and that made a huge difference and also by 2010 we were secure financially enough to be able to offer a franchised package so we started opening a few franchise stores and that helped as well so essentially it was about opening new space to utilise the kitchen asset that we had built.

Elliot Moss
You talk a lot about different people in the business and a lot of them are your family and all that. How is this… it sounds like you are partners and I don’t mean that in the financial sense, I mean that in the kind of your… there’s a cause there. How has that dynamic evolved over the years? You know, you said oh James, I think it was James, was running the business and then this happened… it doesn’t sound like there is much argy-bargy? Oh good there is argy-bargy. Who actually is in charge or are you all?

Edward Perry
Well I am in charge kind of at the moment though actually my sister Rosie is actually the MD but there has been, there are always arguments. There are always stresses because everyone feels very passionately about things. However there has never been any what I would describe as big fall outs because essentially we share the same values, which we have sort of passed into the business, the wider business and so we share the same values and also the same desire for you know, COOK to be a force for good in society so the ultimate output we are agreed on so what we tend to disagree on is stylistic things or you know, its bits and pieces but we fundamentally trust each other so that prevents us ever really falling out. You know, there is always going to be arguments and if you are not arguing a little bit, you are not trying hard enough. So… but never anything more than that.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Edward and I am going to talk about your values and the force for good and the fact that you are indeed doing a lot of things which are not just good for your own employees but good for the community. Final chat coming up with Edward and we will talk about that plus more and we will be playing a track from John Lee Hooker and that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was John Lee Hooker with Dimples. Edward Perry is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. Your values and there is a lot of things that this touches in terms of doing good. You have living wage is important to you guys, you’ve got this One Feeds Two programme, you’ve got this Sauce programme, the Caring Hands Community programme, you are the first certified B Corporations Business, I mean there are so many things and people are going what are those and I urge you to look at the website and see but tell me in your own words what’s most important to you about legacy and those values as you move forward to the next twenty years of your business?

Edward Perry
I think the first thing to say is it is very much not just about me, it’s about me and my family, my wife Sophie and Dale who founded the business as well because I am just one part of it but we all basically believe the same thing that business should be a force for good in society. We live in a world where Governments can do so much and we all know that you know they can be pretty inefficient, we know charities can do so much but actually if the world is going to be a better place then business offers the best chance of making improvements to society and that means that as an owner of a business and the owner of capital one has to consider the environmental impact of ones actions, your responsibilities to employees, responsibilities to suppliers, responsibilities to the communities within which you operate for too long I think. Business, a number of businesses are purely concentrated on maximising financial return for a bunch of disconnected shareholders and I think we are moving into an age where the owners of capital, the owners of businesses have got a broader responsibility to society and I think this is… we still very much feel we are at the beginning of that journey in terms of what the business could look like in twenty years’ time but yeah, we want COOK to be a force for good in society and you know, we are committed to long-term ownership of the business and so that’s what we are doing.

Elliot Moss
This twenty year moment which is just about to come in 2017 is one thing. What do you think looking forward is really important to you. What is the thing that really matters to you both from a personal point of view and a business point of view if you like. Is there something where you go ‘this is going to be my code’?

Edward Perry
Okay from a personal point of view something I am going through at the moment really is that I think the twenty year anniversary has focussed my mind a little bit and also with my sister taking over more and more of the day-to-day responsibility of the business and frankly doing it much, much better than me. I have spent a long time totally immersed in the business and you know every Monday I look at what the like-for-like sales are for the previous week and that essentially determines the foundation of my mood for the rest of the week which is quite an intense thing to sort of live with you know and I think that from a personal point of view whilst I am always going to be passionately committed to the business and I never want to do anything else, I think personally I could do with a bit more perspective and actually COOK needs to be I think more part of my life rather than all of my life if I am totally honest so it is finding that balance in my own life and then in terms of what I want from COOK, I want… being the biggest is of no interest to me and I don’t think it is of any interest to my family and the other people who are in the business but I think we are interested in being the best in terms of people being able to look at our business and actually being able to say you know not only is their food absolutely the best out there in terms of prepared meals, prepared puddings and stuff like that, the food needs to be the best but also our outputs in terms of how we treat our employees, our relationship with the environment and our relationship with the communities, they need to be absolutely crystal clear outputs that COOK has as a business and other businesses ultimately to look at what we are doing and go ‘hey that’s cool, so yeah, that’s about it.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic to talk to you I have really enjoyed it Edward. I am not going to let you go just now because I need to know what your song choice is and why you have chosen it?

Edward Perry
My song choice is How My Heart Sings by Bill Evans because when we first opened the shop in Farnham I remember listening to Desert Island Discs going on my way down to the shop and Bruce Forsyth was on and one of his songs was a Bill Evans tune and I listened to is and I thought ‘that’s absolutely brilliant’ so I went and bought a CD, How My Heart Sings was the first song and there was a lot of time in that first shop where we had very, very few customers and it was very lonely and it was difficult and when I was feeling down I would always go and put this song on and it would always give me a lift and make me feel happy and positive again so…

Elliot Moss
Well here it is just for you and I hope it gives you a lift too.

Edward Perry
Thank you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
How My Heart Sings from Bill Evans, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Edward Perry. Some fantastic words of advice for anyone running a business. You’ve got to be all in, you’ve got to be completely consumed in that business to make it work and then you’ve got to really keep going. I love what he said about the wiggly line, the cash management piece, it is absolutely critical, people say cash is king and he is absolutely right. And finally I love this point about the next twenty years for him; business should be a force for good – that I think it what is going to sustain his fantastic business called COOK. Really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place – 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Edward Perry

Edward Perry is the co-founder of COOK, a frozen food company where every dish is prepared by hand from store cupboard ingredients so they look and taste homemade. The oldest of four children, after leaving school he started working for his parents, who ran a small bakery and café.

He teamed up with his favourite customer, Dale Penfold, a chef, and with a small bank loan they started making and selling frozen food from a shop called Cakes & Casseroles in 2007. After a name change to COOK and a few very difficult years – nearly losing their precious independence during the recession – the company has grown to have a turnover of £50m with a large kitchen in Kent, a kitchen making puddings in Somerset, and a network of over 80 shops nationwide. Their meals win multiple Great Taste Awards every year and have been praised by the press and customers alike.

COOK remains a family-owned business with a strong ethical drive to be ‘a force for good in society’. They are a certified B Corporation, accredited by the Living Wage Foundation, and are currently 28th in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list.

Edward lives with his wife Sophie and four children in Kent.

Follow COOK on Twitter @theCOOKkitchen.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I knew you could make nice food for the freezer and so that was what I wanted to do – create my mother’s home cooking on a big scale”

“You’ve just got to keep going, that is the single most important quality that I saw in my parents and what they did in their business…it’s just persevere, persevere, persevere.”

“I remember that being a real low point, realising…that actually figuring out how to make this food taste nice was going to be phenomenally difficult.”

“It is almost poetic in how awful it was: at our point of maximum borrowing Lehman Brothers went down and overnight sales dropped by about 10% in every single one of our shops.”

“We checked the bank balance once or twice a day…so in terms of the discipline of getting through it was really, really, really good cash management.”

“There are always arguments. There are always stresses because everyone feels very passionately about things.”

“As an owner of a business…one has to consider the environmental impact of ones actions, your responsibilities to employees, responsibilities to suppliers, responsibilities to the communities within which you operate.”

“We need to keep on growing to provide opportunities for people within the business, 10% to 15% is pretty smart growth rate and I think we can do that.”