Harriet Hastings co-founded Biscuiteers with her husband, Stevie Congdon and they are also co-directors of catering company, Lettice. Harriet and Stevie started planning Biscuiteers in the spring of 2007 and launched online in September 2007, before opening their first Biscuit Boutique & Icing Café in Notting Hill in London in October 2012. In 2014 they launched a second Biscuit Boutique in Battersea.
“…Think carefully not only about your business idea but about the marketing and USPs. The greatest ideas don’t work if people don’t get to hear about them. I feel that marketing is at the centre of our business and it is tough to get visibility in a very crowded retail market…”
Harriet, we read about Biscuiteers and as biscuit lovers, we thought this was our kind of business and we had to know more. How did it all come about?
A bit of good luck I think! I had just left my job as consumer brands director at a PR company and was looking for a new challenge. My husband has run a London based catering and events company called Lettice for many years and I believed there was a gap in the market for premium food gifting. I was very keen to set up my own e-commerce brand as I had a lot of experience in that sector and we landed on the idea of iced biscuits on a weekend away in New York. We knew that nothing like that existed in the UK market at the time and felt that we could bring our own design twist to the idea.
In addition to your own direct distribution channels, where else are your products sold?
The largest part of our business is online as we offer a gifting service but we also now have two Icing Cafés – one in Northcote Road, Battersea and one in Notting Hill Gate. Additionally we sell in range of stores including the Conran Shop, Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnums.
You deliver worldwide. Where are your furthest flung clients? How do tastes differ from market to market?
We deliver literally all over the world as happily our biscuits like to travel. We send quite a few to Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. I think the taste for sweet treats seems to be quite worldwide. We are very British in our design ethos but proudly so and I think that adds to their appeal abroad.
You also create bespoke products. What are some of the most memorable creations you’ve delivered and what were the clients’ reactions like?
Bespoke design for corporates and private clients is a very big part of our business. We have done some amazing designs for incredible brands like Cartier, Mulberry, Louis Vuitton and Charlotte Olympia. Recently we have started doing huge biscuit installations including Selfridges main Christmas window in 2013, which was a huge gingerbread model of Lost London. This year we are so excited by a project we have done for Leeds Castle in Kent recreating the inside of the castle (as a dolls house) and the outside of the castle entirely out of gingerbread and fondant. We have also decorated 12 huge Christmas trees all with different themes with biscuit decorations. It is currently on display and forms their Christmas theme for this year.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you established the business?
All our biscuits, chocolates and cakes are entirely handmade and so working out how to scale production particularly at Christmas remains a challenge. The very first crisis we had was working out how to keep the biscuits safe in the tins when they travelled. We solved that problem by accident with our very own biscuit icing glue, but it was literally a make or break solution!
What would your advice be to other women who are thinking of setting up their own businesses?
Think carefully not only about your business idea but about the marketing and USPs. The greatest ideas don’t work if people don’t get to hear about them. I feel that marketing is at the centre of our business and it is tough to get visibility in a very crowded retail market. Also while I think running your own business is an amazing and rewarding experience, you need to be prepared to take the knocks along the way and realise that you will never work harder in your life!
What is it like to work alongside your husband?
Well we try to keep some space between what we do. He still runs his own business but also heads up production at Biscuiteers. I focus on product development, marketing and sales. It can be overwhelming because it means the business comes home too but equally you are working with the person you trust most in the world.
What is next for Biscuiteers?
Well we have just opened our second shop so we are keen to keep on developing the Icing Café model and also to start exploring international opportunities.