Samba Swirl meets Innocent

Innocent Drinks Masterclass attendee and Samba Swirl MD, David Packham, reflects on how he brought a proven business model to a largely untapped UK market.

Entrepreneurs are always looking for a gap in the market – a niche in which to establish a unique selling point and build their business. But a balance must be struck. Find a niche with proven demand and the chances are your competitors will already be working on it. With a new idea, you’ll have the field to yourself, but with an untested concept.

David Packham and Lyndsey Packham, founders of frozen yoghurt company Samba Swirl, successfully found a middle way. “We saw that frozen yoghurt bars were very popular in the US, but it was a market that hadn’t really been exploited to a great extent in the UK,” says David. It was a perfect combination – a proven concept and a largely untapped market. Plans were laid and David and Lyndsay opened their first parlour in Battersea, London, in April 2011.

Unique selling point

Samba Swirl quickly established a unique selling point. The company’s first outlet was the UK’s first self-service frozen yoghurt bar. In other words, rather than going up to a counter to ask for assistance, customers simply choose their own flavours and toppings from a machine. The newly opened parlour was a hit with customers and attracted good reviews from restaurant and food critics. Now the company has four London stores.

For David, the launch of Samba Swirl marked the fulfilment of a long-held ambition to own a business. “I worked in the City of London in the banking sector,” he says, “but I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.”

“Samba Swirl was a perfect combination – a proven concept and a largely untapped market” David Packham, one of the founders of Samba Swirl

David’s corporate background proved useful. With a background in systems he was fully aware of the importance of putting proper processes and procedures in place right from the start. Put simply, a small business that is properly run on a spectrum from accounts to HR creates a solid foundation for scaling up.

The importance of branding

David is well aware that the self-service model is not in itself a defensible USP. After all, competitors can do the same. Instead, he stresses the importance of the Samba Swirl branding. “Samba is all about energy, colour and fun, and that’s what we’re about. There isn’t really another brand out there like ours.”

Locations are carefully chosen to serve residential areas, a tactic that has allowed Samba Swirl to build a customer base within communities. This, in turn, fosters repeat business. “Even when the next store opens, Londoners and the working community will be our target customers rather than tourists,” he says.

Lessons learned

As a delegate to the Breakthrough Innocent Masterclass, David felt a lot could be learned from the experience of the host company. “The day was aimed at a broad spectrum of companies, and a very diverse group of businesses attended. I think we were unusual in that our business was actually quite close to that of Innocent.”

As a healthy food business reliant on high-quality ingredients, it’s probably not surprising that David took a special interest in Innocent’s views on managing the supply chain. “Their view was that you can control the supply chain; you don’t have to accept it,” he says.

The presentation on culture, and in particular on ensuring you hire people who fit in, was also of great interest, as were Innocent’s thoughts on marketing and social media. “It was a very useful discussion on using social media to tell your story to customers,” he says.

With plans for more restaurants in the future, Samba Swirl has established itself as a unique brand in a market with rapid growth. The Masterclass was an opportunity to learn from a company that has already charted a course from promising newcomer to market leader.

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