My biggest mistake: Lack of confidence that left us behind and in the soup

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The Independent Online
Simon Bell, 35, left university to join United Biscuits, working in sales for McVities. He moved to Jays UK Ltd as a senior executive, then was appointed sales director of the New Covent Garden Soup Company in 1994. Last year, he became its managing director

MY BIGGEST mistake was missing an opportunity - failing to open soup bars six or seven years ago, when we first had the idea. Now we'll have two in the Millennium Dome and we've just opened our fifth one, on Fleet Street. But we have only just got into it.

When I joined the company in mid-1994, we used to discuss the idea of setting up restaurants or bars at almost every board meeting. We thought we could make a success of this concept. But we also realised our expertise was in marketing, and we were all nervous about maybe losing a fortune.

We were doing a lot of other things that took up our time, so we never got round to doing it. We all thought it was a good idea, but somebody should have taken responsibility and done it, even if the timing wasn't quite right. Then in 1996 we began to set up kiosks in railway stations, but we didn't prioritise it properly. When I became managing director in 1998, I wanted to a new strategy and bars seemed one of the greatest opportunities - we'd already seen the success of the coffee bars.

When I joined the company, we were struggling to find the money to market our soups. The ironic thing is that our soup bars are the best 3-D advertisement. We always get more people ringing up to say they tasted our soups in a bar than those that saw an advert of ours.

We opened our first bar in April this year on Marylebone High Street; if I had known the concept would work so well, we could have had 100 by now. We could have been the ones to pioneer the cafe concept. If you spot something and you genuinely believe in it, then you've got to go for it. If someone does it before you, you'll be kicking yourself. Provided you plan carefully and don't take undue risks, you can't really lose.