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Wednesday 24th July 2024

Diary of an SME Owner: nightmare British summer

Back with his regular monthly column, “Diary of an SME Owner”, Michael Taggart continues to tell all about the highs and lows of relaunching and running a tea company, MDTea, alongside his wife, Helen. 

This month, Michael tackles supply chain nightmares and bemoans the British summer. 

Find Michael’s past columns on his author’s page.

August 2nd 

We’ve landed a weekly order of our Rockerfella Cleansing mint infusion and various other teas from a boutique hotel chain (amazing) but we’ve run out of that blend because we didn’t order enough from our blender and we’re going to have to delay supplying it (not amazing).

When your business is based on supplying a thing to people who want that thing, the main competency you need is the ability to supply the thing to the people who want the thing when they want it. I’m not quoting Warren Buffet here, this is pretty basic business theory.

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Yet, our company is somehow failing at “possessing the thing we want to sell”. The delay should only be two or three days but it’s still pissing me off nice ‘n’ good. Any business owner knows that there are many, many things waiting for half a chance to fuck up your business. You don’t need to get stuck in yourself. 

August 3rd  

After a whole morning ranting on the phone to Helen, she counselled me to chill out. She had rung our client, the hotel group, and they are apparently fine about the supply delay.

I took this as my cue to channel a surface-deep Everything’s Fine vibe. Inside, I was still thinking of this situation as The Great Crisis. Later, I spoke to a friend with the vaguest understanding of supply chains. He advised me that our “core problem” was not having integrated our retail and B2B sales process with our stock management system.

He then attempted to explain how the tech to solve this problem works. As it happens, my last job was marketing this sort of software and I concluded that, to paraphrase the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Natalie Angier, there was much that was new and true in what he was saying. It’s just that the things that were true were not new and the things that were new were not true.  

August 4th 

Raining.  


August 6th 

I was running our Brighton retail store on my own today. A woman walked in, bought half the shop, slagged off our main competitor and left. I’m still elated hours later.

This must be how Dorothy felt when the Good Witch of the North appeared out of nowhere with the exact pair of ruby slippers Dot had been thinking about buying – along with a return ticket to Kansas. I shall fall to sleep with a smile on my face tonight. 

August 7th  

Oh brilliant, The Great Crisis has now made an appearance in my dreams. One minute I was making Sylvester Stallone a full English in the mess room of the Starship Enterprise – y’know, the standard dream stuff – and then I couldn’t supply him the tea he wanted. I’d run out due to an ordering cock-up.  

For the record, it’s raining again. Oh, and an old campaigner marched into the shop demanding coffee shortly before the end of the day – and then he upbraided me for not running a coffee shop. He was genuinely aggrieved, which tickled me all shades of pink.  

August 9th 

The Great Crisis is averted! Our Rockerfella Cleansing has arrived and we can ship that minty goodness to our client with barely a wrinkle in our service. In other stresses-made-good, I woke up this morning with a Zoom meeting weighing on my mind.

I was due to speak to the CEO of a luxury retirement village at lunch time and the omens had been bad since my first cold email, which was an intro to MDTea.

During the sales process (which can last six months with some clients), the signs you’re probably not going to get anywhere are:  

  1. The prospect ignores most of your emails and when they do respond, they take weeks. 
  1. They’re the most senior person in the organisation and they don’t delegate the engagement. 
  1. They miss planned video calls. 
  1. They’re called Robin, Claire or David. 

Our prospect had ticked three of those boxes and so I was feeling negative about the call when Helen and I sat down to meet him. Yet, from the moment his crinkly smiling eyes appeared on my laptop screen, I realised I had been wrong to half-dismiss the opportunity.

Our prospect was friendly and enthusiastic about our teas – and not only agreed to take our blends but made a first order during the call. Lesson: don’t judge a prospect by their emails. 

August 15th 

Helen was in the shop most of the afternoon blending all manner of herbs, spices botanicals and other ingredients with teas for a new health-focused range we’re launching towards the end of September.

We’ve upgraded our website in advance of the launch and we’ll start a Google Shopping campaign to support sales. Exciting! 

August 22nd 

I had to brush and mop the floor in the shop at least five times today due to the muddy footprints of tourists taking cover from periodic downpours. There are now five seasons in Britain: winter, spring, summer, not-summer-anymore and autumn. Winter, autumn and spring are roughly three months each.

Summer spans a single day between early and mid-June. Not-summer-anymore then stretches hopelessly, like some wretched victim of Torquemada’s rack, from mid-June to the end of August when it becomes too cold for shorts. Then the internet is suddenly clogged up with photos of gormless children in freshly-pressed school uniforms and it’s autumn.

This is the new reality and it’s exactly how things are shaking out so far in 2023. The mid-August heatwave everyone was talking up has not arrived. But I refuse to give up hope. We could still get some sun in September. 

Photo Credits: Michael Taggart

Michael Taggart

Mouthy Blogger

Ex journo turned media agency founder and now managing director of MDTea. As likely to be found ranting about trains or his misspent youth as doing anything useful.

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