We’ve come a long way since 1998, when Brian and Ruston founded ‘Apple Catering’. In his second blog entry, CEO Brian Allanson reflects on the early days of what became Blue Apple.
It’s an old cliché, but “it seems like only yesterday” that Ruston and I started Blue Apple. We were working as Sales Executives for a large Contract Caterer at the time, and we would drive round the M25 on appointments thinking of how we could improve the corporate approach that large organisations had to what we thought should be a very personalised service. The only answer was of course to do it ourselves and so Blue Apple was conceived, originally as Apple Catering then a few months later as Blue Apple — because Blue Apples are very different!
At the time we had the support and guidance from two other investors, Jonathan Evans and John Hecht, who had their own vending business and were keen to help two “young”, enthusiastic entrepreneurs venture into the world of contract catering and luckily, at the time start-up costs were minimal. We were subsequently in the fortunate position to thank them for their confidence when we bought their shares only a few years ago.
Although they had offices available to us in Luton, it was a bit of a trek from Wokingham where I lived and Ruston was only 15 minutes away from me in Yateley. We decided that using my front room as an office made sense and much to my wife Jo’s concerns, we set up our office and Ruston even had a key to my front door to let himself in and out whenever he needed to work!
The company was very much a lifestyle business to start with. Having only a handful of contracts it was easy enough to ensure we kept in touch with our clients, our staff and also enjoy the flexibility that running your own business gives you. With both of us having young families it allowed us to work when we needed to but still see the children grow up whilst doing so.
With business growing from strength to strength it was apparent that we needed to grow up ourselves and make the company a “proper business” with business plan, premises, website and an administration team. This allowed Ruston and I to work more on top of the business and with the guidance from our shareholders and the Thames Valley Enterprise Scheme we created the secure roots for the business we currently have today.
After 20 years, we are still forging ahead to create a better business. Our families have now grown up but the Blue Apple family has expanded to over 350 people in 70 sites and a £15 million turnover. Not bad from starting in my front room! It has been a fantastic adventure with all the ups and downs that running your own business gives you. We both recognise that we could have stayed with the large corporate company and enjoyed the safety and security it would have offered. But who wants to ride the roundabout when you can ride the roller coaster! I’m looking forward to the next 20 years!