- What drives Rick Sheepshanks, MD of Stokes? Teamwork, professional pride and great taste. Here he shares how he makes it work
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I’m not sure you can ever achieve perfection, but the journey is about so much more than that. We build people here; we do a lot of training and that is an important part of our job. There are 55 people who work here, and they’re such an eclectic bunch. When someone comes on their trial period, it’s up to the rest of the team to decide if they want them there. You don’t want to be doing a job when you’re having to carry someone, so it’s important that the wider team get a say. We try to look after them as they look after us.
If your definition of success is making money, I would be chasing down a completely different route. We all want to make a good living and be profitable, because if you’re not doing so you’re not going to be in business very long. I firmly believe that profit is a result of doing things right – the more you do right and the more you do it, the more profit you’ll make. Business is about far more than just making money; it’s about a lot of processes, and the fun is in fine tuning those processes, watching people grow and having fun.
Stokes is an unfinished work. It’s a bit like climbing a mountain or running a marathon – sometimes it’s slowgoing, but sometimes you look back and can be really proud of what you’ve achieved. It’s continuous, it’s evolving, it’s far more than just me or any single person, and it keeps changing. It’s a great learning process – every single day I learn something new.
There are a number of ways we differentiate ourselves from the crowd; firstly, it’s all about what’s inside the jar – that’s why customers will come back and buy it again. If you do manage to make something which you think is the best, don’t mess around with it. It’s got to look nice and be a tactile kind of shape, but it’s what’s inside that counts. One thing I do know is that while taste is very subjective – some people like sugar in their tea and some people don’t – quality is instantly recognisable. That’s what I think about our sauces – you kind of instinctively know they’re great. We stick to our guns, we don’t cheat, we don’t try to reduce our costs; it’s about being honest. Ultimately, our behaviour defines us. I’ve had lots of people shortchange me over the years, and that will define them as people. It’s even more important as a brand; if we started watering our products down or using cheaper tomatoes, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.
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