The artist Andy Warhol is reputed to have said that, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes”.
Oliver Nohl-Oser has had his 15 minutes of fame, and some.
He was one of two Cumbrian contestants in the 2016 series of BBC TV’s The Apprentice, where participants compete for Lord Alan Sugar to invest £250,000 in a business venture with them.
Oliver was eliminated in week three, with Lord Sugar’s catchphrase ‘You’re fired’ ringing in his ears. But he already had a business, The Cumbrian Sausage Company, and the TV exposure did it the world of good.
Oliver said: “We saw a 35% increase in sales as a direct result of me being on The Apprentice. To a certain extent it opened doors although the fuss does die down quite quickly.
“It was something I wanted to do, so I applied and was accepted. It’s incredibly competitive. You have to multi-task and cope with sleep deprivation but I’m glad I did it. Most people I’ve spoken to say I came across quite well.”
He remains friendly with Claude Littner, Lord Sugar’s right-hand man, to whom he still turns for advice about the business.
Oliver was born in London to an Austrian father and a Cumbrian mother who can claim a family link to Beatrix Potter.
He lost his father at the age of five, and his formative years were divided between West London and Milburn in the Eden Valley.
Later he went to Newcastle University, to study countryside management and rural studies, where he met Tom Sowler who became his business partner.
Together they came up with the idea of the Cumbrian Sausage Company to supply high-quality artisan food products.
Oliver said: “I was always interested in food and I knew that Cumbria had fantastic produce that needed showcasing.
“We started the business in 2006 when I was 23, with a £2,500 loan from my mother and a £2,500 loan from Tom’s parents to buy a van.
“We source our products from a producer in West Cumbria. They pride themselves on quality and have award-winning sausages and bacon.”
Initially, the pair sold their products in London to delis, restaurants and through farmers’ markets. Then in 2011 they secured a contract to supply three Waitrose supermarkets in Hexham, Ponteland and Newcastle.
Ocado came next, followed briefly by Morrisons, but the big breakthrough was a deal in 2016 to supply 50 Tesco stores in the North West.
Many small producers struggle to gain listings with the supermarkets, so how does the Cumbrian Sausage Company manage it?
Oliver said: “I think a lot of producers are put off by the work involved to get set up with the supermarkets’ systems and meet their procurement criteria.
“It doesn’t stop there. You have to deliver and run promotions. But at the moment we’re doing about 1,400 packs a week through Tesco, which is great, and we’re looking to build on that.”
He’s also working with advisers from the Department for International Trade to target export markets including China and the United Arab Emirates.
The business’ turnover has risen to £250,000, from £37,000 in 2012, and there’s now a sister brand, James Alexander Fine Foods, selling a range of Cumbrian artisan food products online.
The next stage of Oliver’s growth strategy is a marketing rebrand. Here he turned for help to the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
Adviser Alan Smithson suggested the Subsidy Scheme, which contributes towards the cost of buying-in outside consultancy.
Oliver said: “Initially we looked at redesigning the website but now we’re looking at a full marketing rebrand to take on a major UK sausage player. We need to get turnover into the millions.”
Lord Sugar would be proud of him.
The Subsidy Scheme enables ERDF-eligible businesses – that are looking to grow and create jobs – to access a 40% contribution up to a maximum of £2,000 to buy-in consultancy to support their plans.
A wide range of consultancy services are covered. They include marketing advice, web development, accountancy and finance, social media consultancy, legal advice and public relations – and that isn’t an exhaustive list.
Our advisers help businesses put together a brief to select and manage the best consultant for the task.
A separate Subsidy Scheme applies for business start-ups, offering grants covering 40% of consultancy fees up to a maximum of £1,000.
For more information on the Subsidy Scheme, click here.
The Subsidy Scheme is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.
Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.