In recent years the trend for co-branding or cross branding between companies has fully established itself into the mainstream. However, it's even more important for small, like minded companies to sing together and be heard by a wider audience.
At the bakery, we like to think that we have the intention of making meaningful relationships with all the companies we work with, and for most of the alliances and partnerships we make that is true. What is much harder is to do so across a whole business. Especially when one of our landlords is owned by Blackstone (the largest property owner in the world), who has something approaching a monopoly on the high streets. They played a big part in funding Donald Trump’s election campaign, something we couldn’t affect. They now also own a large proportion of Oatly, hence us not using that oat milk in our café anymore, something we could take action on and did.
A great example of local collaboration is one that came out the blue for us. At the time we were really struggling to find somewhere to film cake related nonsense, and had even used one of our own kitchens at home to shoot some stuff, with little success. Just when we realised our videos were looking pretty ropey, a local kitchen maker called System Six Kitchens got in touch and proposed the idea that we use their showrooms to shoot some recipes. This meant they got to use the footage to show off their kitchens and we had a professional looking space to shoot video content. We instantly formed a relationship and found common ground in business. The same went for the local company we worked with to do the filming, Tempo Media. Together we made some great stuff but also learned about each other's struggles and successes, which is one of the best ways to grow as a small business owner.
Some of these collabs are certainly a bit faddy and of the moment. Especially the ones that are all about tagging and liking on socials, which all feels a little vacuous, like the fastest route to a grab for attention. I’m sure some marketing professor from Harvard Business School has created some sort of double venn diagram, laying two companies over each other, displaying the sweet spot for effective marketing. With each circle representing company values, friendship/relationship and a shared customer base. I just made this shit up, but hopefully I’ve illustrated a valid point.
As a company we thrive off symbiosis, it has to be a two-way thing; otherwise it can feel like an abusive relationship, where one company is working for the other, rather than together. Sometimes these partnerships don’t work out, but are always worth exploring. We tried a partnership with a high end clothing retailer who wanted to provide our staff uniform. Unfortunately, style just couldn’t win out over substance. Our uniforms needed to be more hard wearing than the attire they had, it needed to withstand frequent washes and each member of staff would need five items of each garment. The economics didn’t work out so we pulled the plug as it wouldn’t be useful for either company.
We’re always coming up with hairbrained schemes to work with other companies, whether it’s a one off podcast of audio recipes from our cookbook, recorded with our friends at Drift Records, beer made by a local brewer using our waste cake or making brownies in a fire pit at the beach to promote 1% for the Planet. Some of these will work out, others will be left echoing around pub walls we conceived them in. Either way, it’s great to stay creative and in touch with other companies, helping to lift each other and promote the things that we care about, locally and globally.
Most collaborations are seen as marketing ploys, but we see the whole of business as a collaboration. From the staff you employ to the suppliers, customers and competitors. All the chocolate we use is sourced directly from Cassa Luker in Colombia. They are such an inspirational company who give so much back and that means we are more invested in what they provide, aside from the amazing chocolate. Our customers also give us something that you can’t get from marketing, yes they pay for the product, but they also give us valuable feedback, a platform to display our wares and a connection to their local community. From Fortnum & Mason to Ashburton Delicatessen, we’re all just trying to provide something good, and we can only make it happen together. Most important though are our staff. The collaborative bonds a small business forms with the people in its embrace is amazing. Whether someone works for you for 1 year or 20, it will have an effect on the local community and their lives, not only in the present but also in their future. They will learn from the company and the company from them. We have had many staff members who have worked with us and gone on to set up their own small businesses. It's a pleasure to see them thriving and evolving their own ideas, knowing we might have had a small hand in that development.