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Iain Lindsay, Business Development Manager, SYKES Galashiels

A common misconception is that outsourcing is something that only large companies need to consider.

But the opposite can be true because outsourcing for a smaller company allows it to concentrate on what it’s doing best.

Giving tasks such as fulfilment to an external partner means that managers and staff can get on with running and expanding their business.

A good example is our partnership with an Edinburgh food business, a partnership that started in 2014, and which underlines how outsourcing can be a successful strategy for businesses of any size.

The company, The Big Cheese has gone from strength to strength since launching in 2012, and was the brainchild of Ailsa Proverbs, a cheese lover who wanted to easily make her own cheese at home.

When she found that cheese making kits weren’t available in the shops, Ailsa, who was then working with Young Enterprise Scotland, decided to fill that gap in the market.

The company uses SYKES for assembling and distributing its kits to retail customers and consumers, allowing Ailsa and her small team to develop and grow the business.

The Big Cheese began trading in September 2012 and Ailsa expected to sell no more than 400 kits in the run-up to Christmas.  Instead, she sold 4,500.

In those early months, orders were being processed and her cheese-making kits assembled and dispatched from her spare bedroom.

She had also expected sales to come mainly from online orders through her website or the Not On The High Street sales platform.

Instead, underlining how business models have to be flexible, both Harrods and Selfridges approached Ailsa to sell her kits – and her sales strategy had to move from the virtual world to include bricks-and-mortar retail outlets.

The evolving strategy had to quickly recognise that a back bedroom was no answer to efficiently making and sending out the kits – mostly within the UK, but with growing sales internationally.

The Big Cheese, which now has three employees, was originally launched with a choice of three kits.  Now, the company offers a range of seven options, including halloumi, mozzarella and ricotta, Scottish crowdie, and goat’s cheese. Their new Vegan Cheese Making Kit immediately became their best seller at its launch, surprising everyone.

Apart from step-by-step instructions, each kit contains everything a novice maker needs – including a thermometer, citric acid, vegetarian rennet and muslin square for sieving.  The only ingredient not included is milk.

Early market exposure was gained from winning a number of entrepreneurial awards, including a WeDO Scotland award, and exhibiting at trade fairs, including the Farm Shop and Deli Show at the NEC, Birmingham and the Harrogate Home and Gift Show.

Ailsa has a degree from the University of Stirling and a post-graduate qualification from Stevenson Collage, Edinburgh.  Prior to The Big Cheese she was a business advisor in a number of roles, including Scottish Business in the Community, Project Scotland and the Winning Scotland Foundation.

“The business advantages that SYKES offers are reliability, excellent service, competitive pricing and scalability,” said Ailsa.

From a business model that originally saw growth primarily from online sales, some 500 UK retail outlets now stock The Big Cheese kits, accounting for about 63% of sales.  Well over 200,000 kits have been sold, and 2019 will see The Big Cheese sell over £1 million.

While the kits are often bought by cheese lovers wanting a home-making experience, they’re also an ideal gift – so the ability to scale up assembly and delivery around Christmas is important, a service that SYKES is able to provide.

For services to the food industry, Ailsa has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday List, and she now has plans to develop into overseas markets – with the first shipment due to depart for the US imminently to take advantage of the Christmas 2019 market.

The Big Cheese is a perfect example of a small but dynamic company that risked becoming bogged down in order fulfilment.

By providing an efficient end-to-end solution from assembly through to dispatch, our service demonstrates that outsourcing isn’t just for larger companies.  Our team allows Ailsa and her team get on with what they do best, while we get on and do what we do best.

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