‘Stay positive and find a way through pandemic’, says Newbury businessman
Founder of ITS describes how his food firm is coping during the coronavirus crisis
From an early age Mike Bagshaw showed signs of the entrepreneurial spirit that would eventually see him running his own business and creating some of the most famous flavours in the world.
He set up ITS – an award-winning flavour house – from his kitchen table in 2009 and, having steered it through the past six months of uncertainty, is now urging all business owners to stay positive and they will find a way to safely navigate the Coronavirus pandemic.
Like many companies Mike and his team had to evolve quickly to meet the new demands of a national lockdown.
And although ITS was a ‘critical industry’ and able to continue operating throughout, Mike says a downturn in business of up to 50 per cent at one stage, meant he had to find other revenue streams.
That salvation came in the form of producing hand sanitiser at its Abex Road manufacturing unit.
But father-of-three Mike’s ventures into the business world began early on.
He grew up on a council estate in Cox Green, near Maidenhead, one of six children, and admits things were “pretty tough”.
“I was always interested in little business ventures,” he says. “When I was nine-years-old I discovered that the figures from the Spitting Image game fitted on your fingers. So I started doing them up and selling them to my school friends.
“I earnt more money in a week than my dad did in his full-time job and I bought a bike. But then school found out and put a stop to it.”
After studying for A’Levels in the three sciences, Mike headed off to Reading University to read Biotechnology and Food, which is where his interest in flavours was really sparked.
After graduating he moved straight into the food and flavour industry and by 2009 he was sales director for a flavour house. That was also the year he quit his job and put all his money into launching ITS – which incidentally stands for International Taste Solutions.
He took out eight credit cards, grabbed a “thermos flask of coffee and a marmite sandwich” and went to work.
The company now creates flavours for a number of well-known brands, including McDonald’s, nakd wholefoods and Trek.
After 18 months of working from home the company moved to Greenham Business Park and by 2014 was expanding into the European market. It now trades in 15 different countries and is active in 20.
The following year ITS saw its successes rewarded, when it was crowned West Berkshire Business of the Year.
This award was to be the first of many. Two years later the company scooped the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award and was a runner up in the Export Business of the Year and High Growth Business of the Year categories.
With growth continuing annually it was only a matter of time before the company needed to move again, so in 2016 ITS bought the premises at Abex Road, which includes a state-of-the-art innovation kitchen and manufacturing facility.
The company was quickly awarded the British Retail Consortium Grade AA – the highest grade you can achieve and by the time it celebrated its 10th anniversary, in 2019, it had expanded its operations into the Middle East.
Profits were increasing and the accolades kept coming, but then the world stopped abruptly.
“It’s been an interesting time,” Mike says. “We were growing and then Covid happened.
“We worked the whole time during lockdown as we are a critical industry, but we saw a drop in business of 30 per cent initially and that momentarily dropped to 50 per cent. But we are now recovering and we managed to take advantage of the schemes available and cut our costs where we could.
“We started getting more and more enquiries and then after a chance discussion we started making hand sanitiser.
“We partnered with William Grant to get the alcohol and we gave a lot of it away to local good causes. The hand sanitiser kept us going.”
And although things have been tough, Mike has come through it with a very positive outlook.
The company now works 9am until 4pm, after research showed that you cut your chances of getting the virus by 12 per cent just by reducing the working day by one hour.
“People now work from home and that will continue as it is very effective,” he adds. “I think people’s happiness has generally improved.
“One thing the coronavirus has done is accelerate five years of change into five months. We are seeing a rapid acceleration of things.”
Things such as the amount of travel undertaken by the business. Mike says he would probably travel an average of 65,000 air miles and 20,000 miles in his car every year, but that will now change.
“We will be looking at the quality of the travel rather than the quantity now,” he adds. “It’s been hard for small businesses, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel if we can see if through now. There are opportunities, just don’t be frightened to make changes.
“It’s important to keep pushing forward, keep taking action and stay positive. We will all get through it.”