It takes state-of-the-art business processes and marketing techniques to sell a traditional Scottish food product these days which is why Andrew Duff turned to the Scottish Business Mentoring.
The fourth generation of his family to go into the premium Scotch beef and lamb wholesale business founded in 1890, Andrew (29) is described by his mentor Alan Burnett as “a very intelligent young guy with lots of energy who’d succeed in anything he turned his hand to.”
Andrew was smart enough to know that, if he wanted to fulfil his dream of “Taking the MacDuff business into the 21st Century” as the firm planned for his father’s projected retirement in a few years’ time, his MBA degree and his family’s lifelong understanding and passion for quality meat were not quite enough. A new perspective preferably from someone with wider market knowledge was required.
Alan Burnett, a veteran of S&N and Montpeliers bar and restaurant group is an experienced mentor with particular expertise (not relevant in this case) of business turnarounds. In some situations the industry or sector of the mentor is irrelevant, the key factor is the mentor’s ability to look at a company with an outsider’s eye.
In the case of Alan and Andrew, so enjoyable and interesting was the experience that mentor and mentee continue to meet up every quarter for a catch-up, although the year-long period of the engagement has officially ended.
“I know his business quite well now, and it gives him another sounding board if you like,” says Alan.
“I think there is always a danger in mentoring that you can overstep yourself and you are almost trying to run the guy’s business for them. This is a mistake. It’s the mentees who have got the answers and your job as a mentor is to lead them towards making the right decisions.”
In the case of MacDuff, there was no micromanagement advice that Alan could usefully give Andrew as he attempted to reposition the venerable company for today’s dynamic premium food sector. This feat requires specialist knowledge about such things as sourcing meat from native cattle breeds and diversifying into the trendy biltong [dried or cured ‘jerky’] products.
However, the mentor could and did advise on business processes that would support such moves such as how to make the flow and presentation of financial information more current.
As Alan says: “Andrew was aware in a broad strategic sense of what he had to do but by his own admission he didn’t have a great handle on the numbers. Whatever business you are in you need to have to have a few indicators that have to be moving in the right direction. My background is in finance and the lessons from that are widely applicable. I was able to look at the business with a fresh eye.”
“I introduced him to the concept of a moving annual total and accounting metric which is what we used at S&N. As long as you had a positive in that and the volumes are going to be ok, then you will be alright. We also got to focus on the margins of the business and emphasise how important they were. Andrew was good on margins and understood the importance of protecting them.”
With these business fundamentals nailed down through the mentoring engagement, Andrew is now free to concentrate on giving MacDuff its due place as a great Scottish food brand. These days that means giving it an online presence (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), channels that have already gained the company additional sales.
“We have already got new customers based on how good the brand looks online.” Andrew says “We’ve renamed it as MacDuff 1890 with the tagline ‘Always leading the field’. Through YouTube videos, we can get across the quality provenance and the traceability of all the meat we produce. We see a gap in the market for quality meat from native breeds and from being nearly all sourced from continental breeds, now 30% “native”. We’re really pushing on the fact that that we are niche producers by giving customers all the information they need.”
“We are also restarting our export operation again, joining [public-private trade body] Scotland Food and Drink and looking at the potential for new products.”
As Andrew Duff describes it mentoring has helped get the company into shape to participate in one of the great Scottish economy success stories, the food and drink sector and play its part in reaching its projected value of £30bn by 2030.