The countryside is full of entrepreneurs – but three siblings are certainly starting young in Ceredigion, as Debbie James discovers
It’s a typical weekday afternoon in the Sweet household.
Tom is at the computer sifting through the email orders for his curry kits, Lottie is tending to her two reindeer and James is devising recipes for a new fruit drink.
Nothing unusual in that except these three are aged 16, 12 and 10 and haven’t long arrived home from school.
The siblings have embraced the spirit of entrepreneurship and Tom even turned down a coveted chance to appear on that televised icon of the ambitious, The Apprentice. He thought the process might have a negative impact on his business.
Alongside the rewards of being in business have come harsh realities, too. One of Lottie’s reindeer, which she had saved £1,375 to buy, died of a brain tumour within weeks and one of Tom’s customers went out of business owing him money.
But they have accepted the lows with the highs and have remained forward-thinking throughout.
The young Sweets credit their parents with gifting them enterprising outlooks. Kevin and Nikki had between them been made redundant seven times while working in the building industry. They then decided to take control of their own destinies and launched their own business producing cider and preserves near Lampeter, Ceredigion. Markets and food fairs are a major platform for sales from the Toloja Orchards Cidery and it was while Tom was 12 and helping to man the stall at these events that he spotted a gap in the market for dried herbs and spices.
He developed this idea further by producing a range of nine curry kits that take the hard work out of cooking. Each pack gives information on the additional ingredients needs to whip up a tasty egg kurma or a watermelon curry at lightning speed.
Tom even used one of his favourites, the watermelon curry kit, as the basis of a dish he prepared for his food technology GCSE.
He is doing a roaring trade – his turnover last year was £6,700 and 65% of this was profit. He admits his tender years have been a contributory factor.
“Suppliers have been very supportive and have given me discounts because they are impressed to see a teenager making a go of business.” He admits to an 800% mark-up on one of his products, an impressive figure that Lord Sugar would be proud of.
Tom doesn’t regret declining the offer to appear on The Apprentice. “I have been inspired by the show but I wanted to spend more time building up my business instead of taking part in it. I also think you need to be quite devious to be on that show and that’s not me.”
Although his business is doing well, he hasn’t turned his back on academic goals. He is awaiting his GCSE results and if all goes well he will study film production at college in September. As with his spice business he has set his sights high. “I’d like to be the next Jeremy Clarkson, I love cars,” he says.
Tom is dyslexic and setting up the business, Spice Thyme, has helped build his confidence. He was determined to prove the doubters wrong – and prove them wrong he has.
Not to be outdone by her older brother, Lottie has been earning £350 a time in appearance fees since investing in reindeer. Lottie, who also has dyslexia, had always dreamed of having reindeer – but the cost was an issue. then it dawned on her that if she made a business from them she could both realise her dream and recoup her investment.
She saved every penny she was given as birthday and Christmas gifts and earned pocket money helping her parents. Even coins she found on the floor or down the back of chairs contributed to her target.
Lottie took delivery of Snowdrop and Holly last year and will never forget that day. “I remember thinking that finally I had reindeer in my life,” she says. With dad’s help, she set about taming and training the pair before overcoming the final hurdle of introducing them to a harness.
Sadly, Holly died within weeks of Lottie buying her and not only did she have to cope with the grief of the loss but had to find another £1,375 to replace her. Lottie now has Nutmeg and, together with Snowdrop, they have attracted numerous bookings for public events. At £350 an appearance, the income has mounted up. Barrett Homes has taken a particular liking to the trio and they have been regulars at numerous openings of new housing complexes.
This year Lottie hopes to grow her herd by getting one of the reindeer in calf.
She admits that the pair are more work than she had expected. They need to be frequently handled to maintain a calm temperament and their diet has to be carefully monitored. They eat moss imported from Finland and specially formulated low-protein pellets.
With Tom and Lottie embracing a business ethos, it’s no wonder younger brother James wanted to get in on the act.
Although he is only 10 and still at primary school, James has just launched his new tropical fruit juice business, branded as Jimbo’s Jungle Juice. A major drinks manufacturer has already offered to assist with the testing and blending process.
One of Tom and Lottie’s most memorable achievements since setting up their businesses, meanwhile, was jointly winning the Junior Rural Hero category at this year’s Countryside Alliance Awards.
They were presented with their awards by television cook and countrywoman Clarissa Dickson Wright. Clarissa even gave Lottie a £20 donation towards her livestock trailer fund.
“I’m hoping to get a sponsor for a new livestock trailer and she had heard about this so she gave me £20,” Lottie recalls.
The Sweets admit there is no magic formula to running a successful business.
Tom says young entrepreneurs must be prepared to handle the challenges of a business. They must also be good at time management because of the commitments of school.
Making good use of available resources is another must. “I’ve been very lucky because my parents have a market stall so I’ve been able to sell my curry kits from these instead of paying for my own stall,” says Tom.
And Lottie has been able to take advantage of the land and shelter on their smallholding to keep her reindeer. “We have been very lucky to have had so much support from mum and dad, they have been through it themselves so they know how tough it can be,” she says.
Kevin and Nikki are proud of their children and are happy to help whenever they are needed. “It’s all down to teamwork. They help us when we are busy and we help them, but they already know that success comes from hard work and determination,” says Kevin.