Hot Pickle and other experiences – a start-up story
Hot Pickle and other experiences – a start-up story
Lifting the lid on the ‘Hot Pickle‘ success story and the two MBAs who started their journey over a decade ago when they met in Cambridge and first formed their business.
Rupert Pick and
Patrick Hammond formed their successful marketing agency in 2009 after first
meeting and formulating their ideas and network together at Cambridge.
In our regular podcast series Changing Careers we hear about their start up story from Marmite to mustard.
Patrick Hammond; “It
started in the Summer and we gave ourselves until Christmas to make some money
and see what a pop-up shop might do. Rupert had been at Unilever working as the
Marmite brand manager. He persuaded Unilever to give him the brand licensing
for Marmite and together, we then produced a range of merchandise from that. There
was no shop or outlet for this material at the time, so it was a logical
progression for the merchandise business to develop into a physical outlet.”
Patrick came from a
performing arts background and Rupert had been in the FMCG fast moving consumer
goods market with Unilever and the idea to start a business was formulated in a
‘greasy spoon’ café in the Mill Road area of Cambridge, an area populated by
students and small independent retail businesses.
“We took on all
the risk from the outset, we received an initial loan of £40,000 sterling with
Nat West Bank and seven weeks to pay it back – which we did! Unilever gave us
the licence, but we took all the risk at the time”, says Patrick.
“We launched a pop-up
store in central London on Regent Street, a premier retail destination with two
floors and a window display all focused on the Marmite brand. It is an unusual
brand anyway and has quite a cult following, and a lot of brand empathy, so we
made the brand anchor extremely wild and whacky with mannequins in the window
having tea and marmite”.
“We took the brand very boldly into the retail space, and at the time the question from many visitors was why?”
The initial steps were
in the worst financial and economic crisis in the UK for a decade, yet fast
forward to today and Hot Pickle is a thriving brand consultancy with very specific ideas about the use of
experiences in brand marketing.
In 2010 they took the
idea of the Marmite pop up shop one step further, and working with the flagship
central London department store, Selfridges, they worked with a wider number of
brands, also sourced through Unilever under licence, such as Vaseline and
mustard. “Step by step with each successful project leading to another one
we were organically developing the full consultancy business that exists today”,
Patrick explains further.
Hot Pickle was fast
becoming the go to agency for all things retail and experiential, a growing
trend in the marketplace at the time and one that they very much spearheaded in
London and across the UK. It was at that time that they needed to examine the
business and review the portfolio on the table and ask themselves;
“Were we a
Marmite business, a retail business with one or two retail outlets or were we
trying to turn ourselves into a creative consultancy, supporting brands as they
develop their retail proposition”, Rupert says.
“We did the numbers;
and we felt it would be more interesting to apply our business model to
multiple brands, to not own any retail premises, and then it became about how
many more brands could we offer this service to”.
“This was a big
turning point, to develop and create a second brand and slowly build up a
portfolio to clients, to prove that we were a credible business and not just a ‘one
As a full brand
consultancy agency offering experiential environments, Hot Pickle work to
create experiences, physical spaces that people can walk into and engage with a
given brand in that space. The company became a leader in experiential
marketing, a sector that is now still growing and in demand, but at the outset
the industry was sceptical.
The high street experience as
marketing content – hope for the high street?
Today, the experience
of the pop-up space or retail outlet is used as a platform to then populate a
full marketing campaign from customers and visitors sharing their own images on
Instagram, through to creating digital content as a means to gain influencers
in the marketplace.
Rupert continues; “We
sit between retail sales and marketing, so for example the Magnum Pleasure
Store where you can personalise your own ice cream, we sell the products, but
it is also a communications platform.”
When the business grew
marketing and digital marketing were very much separate entities, but now the
sector has become led by digital and so direct marketing and online content sit
very much together.
Hot Pickle feel the
traditional high street still has a place in the changing face of the retail
sector and the way we now consume products.
“Our job is
critical as we build the brand loyalty and often brand empathy. The
transactional piece is more often now done online, but we are there to deliver
the experience element. The job of the physical store is to deliver
entertainment, but very clearly the two elements between entertainment and
product acquisition have to work in harmony and the really big brands and
successful retailers fully understand that”, says Rupert.
“The high street
and retail spaces will always be the showroom, the bricks and mortar a window
into that brand”.
Patrick elaborates; “Our
clients are always looking at ways to develop more direct relationships with
the customer and using a physical space is another way to explore that and to
find new routes to market”.
“We still have a
need as society to congregate in a communal sense; instead of places selling
products you may find that there are more spaces selling services, from
hairdressers to coffee shops and bars”, explains Rupert.
Growing the business – recruiting talent for growth and diversity
purposefully develops diversity and inclusion across its pool of talent, to
keep it both fresh and ahead of the trends. Patrick goes onto explain, “We
look at recruiting those who bring diversity of thought and experience and our
team comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, and consequently bring a huge
variety of skills and perspective, essential for our business to grow and stay
relevant in the fast-moving consumer goods market”.
“Our main aim is curiosity;
we are helping our clients to be distinctive and to create brand new things
from Jam to ice cream or skin creams!”
“We are lucky
that a lot of our products are fun; beer, ice cream, jams, so we don’t have to
take ourselves too seriously – we can be really adventurous with our spaces and
As a business it still
took Rupert and Patrick a few years to work out what they were about. They had
some business pivots along the way, so the licensing business wasn’t leveraging
alongside their core business, so it was worked out of the business model.
As co-founders they
also started their journey in Cambridge but have developed such a rapidly
expanding and fast-moving business that like a lot of start-ups, they can no
longer both be involved with every decision or manage every challenge.
Rupert describes that,
“One of the hardest things was stepping back from that day to day intense
relationship with each other. We worked together, our families grew and
developed together, and we socialised together; but like all good ‘marriages’
you have to learn to step back from that intensity.” Patrick concludes, “Over
the years we worked out what skills we both had and where best our individual
personalities and skills lay for the business need at any given time”.
Rupert Pick along the way experienced a personal tragedy when his daughter was born with an extremely rare genetic condition. When Rupert decided to donate the fees from his next event to the hospital that cared for his daughter, it made him wonder about all the wonderful things that could happen if only more businesses chose to give through their work; so the idea of “Work for Good” was formed. It is now a long-standing fundraising platform encouraging companies to give more easily as part of their day to day transactions, Rupert sits as the Chair of Work for Good and it runs as a separate entity.
As the business
continues to grow, they now realise that they need to leave time and space for
the team; Patrick expands, “They all have real skills and experience and
we now wish to develop pathways for them in turn to grow, develop and take
ownership of the company”.
Tips and insights for a career
For those starting out
on their MBA journey now or even those starting an enterprise of their own I
Patrick’s insights are shared with us:
“When looking for
business opportunities, to find a place, follow your nose and find a better way
to empty the trash, it may not be the next Google or Amazon; if you can find
that niche in the market that’s where opportunity lies”. The mentor Lord
Dennis Stevenson encouraged me in this outlook.
“Look for that
encouragement to just get going, and don’t worry about having everything
planned out perfectly on a page because the page will be wrong anyway.”
“Just when you think
you have got it all worked out something else will happen that you have to figure
out. It is a constant battle and if you really enjoy that battle it is a great
way to make a living, and it is a great way to structure a life, but there is
never a day when it is all sorted and you can just put your feet up!.”
Rupert’stips are highlighted:
“You look to do
an MBA to look for answers, to give you confidence. It gives you a lot of the
foundation skills and techniques and the network, which is hugely helpful, but
no book is going to provide you with a guarantee that things are going to work.”
“It is so helpful
to have people around you, we have drawn on our classmates for corporate
finance, for procurement advice and finance. Surround yourself with people who
are going to help you believe in you.”
“I spent 15 years
with a boss and suddenly you are the boss and there is no one else helping you.”