'We hired refrigerated lorries - it was like selling out of a car boot'

Stuart Yip, 40, is opening a giant Chinese supermarket in Manchester this summer, but his business - now worth an estimated pounds 25m - started with the sale of surplus spare ribs to restaurants

The Chinese like to have a good name for a business. The name of our company, Chi Yip, comes from my partner's middle name and my surname, but in Chinese it means "fortunate business".

The first stroke of good fortune came while I was managing one of my father's restaurants, Wing Ho, in Manchester. My family knew I wasn't very enthusiastic about the business, and my father was asking what my intentions were. But I didn't know myself until one of our regular customers noticed we had spare ribs on our menu.

He worked for a sausage company that sold most of its production to Poland, where the owners came from. Unlike most English meat processors, they didn't have the equipment to scrape the meat right down to the bone, so they had spare ribs left over and didn't know what to do with them. My customer asked me if I would be interested in buying them for the restaurant.

The price was quite good, but they had two to three tonnes - more than we could possibly use. So I rang around some friends in other restaurants and take-away businesses. I sold the lot in 10 minutes, making pounds 300, which was a lot of money in 1979.

For the next six months I managed the restaurant in the evenings and spent the days building up a meat and poultry wholesale business. Most of the Chinese people in Britain, about 80 per cent, were in the catering business. At that time they were buying from their local English butcher. But many of them spoke little English and sometimes they were not able to express what they needed. Being able to speak both languages gave me an advantage.

Also at that time, the Chinese restaurant business was rapidly growing, but people were having trouble finding labour. Getting a visa from Hong Kong is difficult. And the second-generation Chinese who were taking over from their parents didn't want to work such long hours.

So I asked my suppliers to give me semi-product meat that had already been de-boned. I also bought chicken breasts from Holland. Although the price was a bit dearer, the semi-products saved a lot of time and labour for my customers in the kitchen.

My business was growing so quickly that I made a decision to leave the restaurant and set up in a small industrial unit near Oldham. I put in a cold store for pounds 5,000 and bought a couple of refrigerated 307 Mercedes vans so that I could deliver locally - up to 60 miles away. I had 200 to 300 customers a week then. Shortly afterwards I asked Jack Lui to be my partner. He had good business sense and he was a person I could rely on.

At first we often had to pay slightly higher prices than other wholesalers. People would just say take it or leave it. But as we have grown bigger that has changed. We're more in the driver's seat. Our turnover is pounds 25m to pounds 30m a year. About 60 per cent of that is still with the Chinese community - restaurants, takeaways and local wholesalers. The rest is mostly with English butchers and hotels.

One bit of good fortune at the start was that we didn't have to borrow any money. We didn't take out a loan at all until 1989 when we bought the 4.5 acre site in Middleton, near Manchester, where we are now located. But there were other hiccups, with suppliers, customers and our own operations.

I remember one hot summer day when the plant suddenly went very quiet. The cold storage had broken down. We had a lot of commitments and I had to immediately make arrangements to store the goods somewhere else.

I called the public cold stores first, but they were too busy. Instead we hired refrigerated lorries, parked them outside the plant and moved everything into them for a week. It was a bit like operating out of a car boot.

There were also problems with suppliers. Sometimes a pallet would go missing from a shipment, or the quality would not be what we expected, or we would get the wrong type of meat. When that happened I had to go out and buy from other wholesalers. It meant we took a loss on the deal, but it kept our customers happy.

One thing we have to be aware of is that this is a credit business. We make every effort to check out our customers and to visit them, but sometimes they just disappear. We don't use debt collectors but we have had to go to court a few times.

There is one important lesson I've learned about being in business. You have to invest in people. If there's anything I don't know, I'll employ people from outside who do.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn