Thursday 1 August 2013, 19:10
January - October 2003
Tom Archer's business was running in a small but healthy way – organic pigs based at Bridge Farm, supplying Bridge Farm pork and sausages to local businesses. Then a supermarket chain approached Tom. They were keen to take an order of his sausages – 300 kilos a week, a vast increase in production.
Enthusiastic Tom prepared a business plan, looked at premises and got quotes for equipment. He'd need finance of around £60,000. But Pat and Tony thought it was just too risky and refused to back the plan.
Undaunted, Tom decided to launch the sausages under his own name. He approached his grandmother. Peggy was prepared to support him by acting as guarantor for a bank loan, and gave him a gift of £10,000 towards expenses.
Despite his parents' anger, Tom pressed ahead, recruiting part-time help: a butcher to make the sausages, Neil Carter as pigman, and Neil's wife Susan to pack the products. With a lease on a business unit at Sawyer's Farm, the exciting world of Tom Archer Sausages began.
But initial sales were disappointing. Tom ran a series of in-store promotions, offering samples to shoppers, but they had no lasting effect. It was only when the supermarket dropped the retail price by 30p to £2.99 (cutting Tom's margins substantially), that sales improved.
The big expansion
September 2004 - July 2005
Over the next year, things remained reasonably stable. But Tom had big ambitions for his eponymous bangers, and persuaded the supermarket to expand sales into the East Midlands and the West Country. He recruited Jazzer – then just a milkman – to help Neil with the increased pig herd.
Tom's girlfriend Kirsty Miller was concerned about the additional expenditure needed, but Tom was confident. He expanded into the adjacent business unit. Susan was unhappy about the extra packing work, until Tom promised her an alternative post as office manager.
Tom fell for the new supermarket buyer, Tamsin. He dumped Kirsty and they began a torrid relationship. But Tamsin was cold as ice when it came to business. Disappointing sales in the new areas meant that Tom had to step up the in-store promotions again, and Tamsin insisted on further discounts. Tom had trouble financing the expansion. He had to switch feed merchants when they refused to supply him any more. He even asked if Neil could pay back some of the loan Tom had generously given him when things were on the up. Shocked Neil could only offer £500.
Eventually Peggy lent Tom £3,000 to tide him over this "temporary cashflow problem".
Tamsin ditched Tom for being too needy a boyfriend. Then soon after she hit him with the appalling news that the supermarket was ditching him too. In three months, he would lose 80 per cent of his business.
Tom desperately tried to build up sales elsewhere, but the small amounts that customers such as The Bull and Grey Gables could take came nowhere near. Angry Neil and Susan knew their jobs were almost certainly doomed.
Tony couldn't resist ‘I told you so’. He and Pat were appalled at the size of Tom's debts, and reluctantly told Tom he must bring a hugely scaled-down operation back under the Bridge Farm umbrella. Defiant Tom insisted he'd go it alone, even though he had no real chance of doing so.
Brian - to the rescue?
August 2005 – July 2008
Aware of his nephew's troubles, Brian Aldridge took a look at Tom's books and eventually said that he was prepared to buy a half share in the business. Tom would keep day-to-day control but they would make strategic marketing decisions together. However, the pigs would have to come over to Home Farm and the product would lose its organic status.
Pat and Tony were appalled at Tom abandoning his organic principles and at taking Brian's shilling. Tony told Tom that sooner or later he would realise it was a mistake.
Tom had to get used to Brian's role as very much the senior partner. Brian required Tom to contribute £10,000 towards the creditors' settlement, to be taken out of Tom's wages over the next two years. He changed the packing for the sausages without consultation, and insisted on a reduction in the pork content. And when Brian entertained a group of pub managers, Tom's role was relegated to overall-clad pig man.
Parting of the ways
August 2008 – May 2009
Despite the friction, uncle and nephew managed to run a successful business. But the cracks really started to show when Tom and Helen persuaded their parents to buy their freehold. Pat and Tony wanted Tom to commit to Bridge Farm but Brian refused to let Tom wind things up and return his herd to the family farm.
Tom struggled to set up a small organic herd at home under the Bridge Farm brand, while still running the joint operation. Brian was simultaneously pushing him to develop a high quality dry cured bacon line.
Then in January 2009, Brian dropped a bombshell. He’d been in negotiation with a supermarket who wanted a large order of Tom Archer sausages – but it was clear they’d have to cut their quality so they could retail at £2.29 a pack. Still bruised from his own experience and dead against compromising quality, Tom refused point blank. But when Brian went ahead anyway, Tom felt he had no alternative but to dissolve the partnership.
Easier said than done, as he’d have to buy Brian out. At the time, Tom’s grandmother Peggy was too preoccupied with failing Jack, so Tom approached Matt Crawford. Matt was initially uninterested – until Tom’s girlfriend Brenda overheard a conversation between Matt and his corrupt business partner Steve Chalkman. Brenda effectively blackmailed Matt into the deal.
But it never happened, as the police swooped on Chalkman Crawford Capital Partners and both ended up in jail. Having already infuriated Brian with his decision to leave and talk of a silent backer, Tom desperately turned to Peggy again. She negotiated the deal and in May 2009 Tom’s pigs returned to Bridge Farm.
For all his toughness, Brian isn’t one to hold a grudge. He wished Tom well, and both men retained a respect for each other.
Keri Davies is an Archers scriptwriter and web producer.
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