Small Business: Simple recipe put the icing on the cake: William Raynor on a second-round success

IN TERMS of management, Robert Habermann is a minimalist - and more than a little unorthodox, he readily concedes. His company, trading as Robert's Fudge Factory, is a supplier to every British Rail buffet through Traveller's Fare, and to hundreds of other outlets, mostly small shops. Yet he remains in complete control.

He has shrugged off competition from what he calls 'me-too operations' and has refused offers from potential investors despite the depressed economic climate. 'I've seen too many people trying to go too fast and coming unstuck in the recession,' he said. 'Besides, I love my business and don't want any partners changing the way I run it.'

With no head office, Mr Habermann runs his business from the shop floor - and even has time to pursue a second career as a jazz singer.

He doesn't require staff to be full-time (other than himself and the chief sales representative) nor to have special skills. Nor does he rely on advertising or public relations campaigns: 'We rely on word of mouth.' What he believes in above all, he says, is providing the 50 people who work for him the freedom he was denied when he tried accountancy and stockbroking, his late father's professions.

Since abandoning the employee treadmill he has learned his lessons the hard way. One of them was listening to advice. 'Don't aim at making lots of money,' an American friend of his parents told him. 'Aim at being the best, and everything else will follow.'

The message took time to sink in: his first venture, franchising equipment and recipes for 'instant' toasted sandwiches, was undercapitalised and failed 10 years ago. But he still had the shell of his company, Toasty Bars, whose name he has not bothered to change, and an unexploited family recipe. He used the recipe to create chocolate fudge biscuit cake in the kitchen of his mother's flat behind Marble Arch in central London.

Answering the call of Norman Tebbit, he had a bike on which to carry trays of samples. In his first week he sold seven trays, or 105 pieces. Each week he increased his target by at least 10 outlets and he was soon able to buy a used car and repay his creditors.

His company now has eight delivery vans and - with 7,000 trays made every week from the original recipe and more than 20 others - a turnover of more than pounds 1.5m. 'Turnover's vanity, profit is sanity,' he said. Last year profit trebled.

From the start, most of his employees have been students from Australia and New Zealand, recruited at first through magazines and later by recommendation: 'I only wanted them to work two to three days a week because it's such a boring job.' Part-time working soon became company policy.

Cheap labour? 'It depends how you look at it,' said Mr Habermann. 'We've devised a system for the factory that allows them to choose when they work. They come to us and find friends, a base in a strange city. They're intelligent, punctual and nice to have around. They don't have time to get bored. The drivers, all female, are free to use their vans out of hours. If they don't like the work, they can always leave.'

His book-keeper is a retired professional who puts in one day a week, as does his personal assistant. His regional managers are self-employed and have built up thriving businesses of their own; so has the man who makes his caramel slices.

'It's one thing to have a good idea,' he said. 'But the secret is learning how to implement it - to hasten slowly, not be greedy, and let it grow.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine