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My Business – Didier Penine, CEO, Say It With Champers

Is there a celebration you’ve been at (before the lockdown!) that didn’t have champagne or prosecco?

Was it even a celebration if not?!

One Bury St. Edmunds, England, based entrepreneur has developed an entire business around the bubbly stuff, and despite a drop off in sales on the corporate front, he’s optimistic about the future.

It took Didier Penine some time to act on his eureka moment though, having spent time as a quantity surveyor before jumping into the world of running his own business.

‘I’ve been trading about 18 months now. My business is based around personalised champagne and personalised mini prosecco. My main turnover is from businesses, you’ll get the likes of football clubs, or golf clubs or just any business that likes to gift people. Like for example, I do man of the match  awards for some football clubs and golf awards. Businesses tend to use them as a gift to the company. So they will have a bespoke label designed around their company logo and match their branding perfectly.’.

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A range of Didier’s branded champagne.

Once the idea of setting up your own business gets into your head, it’s hard to forget about and that was Didier’s experience.

‘I changed careers about five years ago. I was I was doing all right, but I had a kind of a niggling feeling that it wasn’t right for me. I developed an interest in construction from developing my own home. So I thought okay, I’ll do a distance learning degree and get into quantity surveying.

‘But that feeling of kind of unhappiness was even more.

‘In quantity surveying you are very bound by rules and everything is a strict procedure. There’s no real freedom, you know what I mean? And I felt really kind of trapped. I had the idea of personalised champagne about 12 years ago. It was at my wedding. My dad brought over about 30 bottles of personalised champagne themed around the wedding. As soon as I saw it, it just felt like that was what I was going to do. But then I just didn’t go for it and I didn’t have the courage to do it. I didn’t have enough need, you know what I mean? I was quite happy in my career. And it just felt too much of a risk. I was thinking about it when I changed careers, but it felt like quantity surveying was a safer option. And then when I was even more unhappy in quantity surveying, I felt now’s the right time to do it. I’ve just gotta go for it you know. I’m clearly drawn to that that idea. So I did it and yeah, I’ve been loving it so far.’

It helped that Didier’s family are producers of the sparkly stuff.

‘I have two types of champagne. One of them is the the more competitive one. It’s award winning. It’s very good value and I sourced that in the UK. This is a genuine champagne. What I regard as my premium champagne, is family produced. My family have their own vineyard, as a grower producer, they only produce maybe 25,000 bottles per annum. That  is a drop in the ocean, but it’s quite a standard kind of size in the region. It’s quite a usual size for a producer. There’s loads and loads of these sorts of sized businesses in the Champagne region. That comes from the family, is quite nice to be able to say.’

Didier’s family vineyard in Jonquery, France.

‘My family are seventh generation,  grower producers in Jonquery. All the all the all the grapes are grown on their own vineyard. They produce about 25,000 bottles of champagne, which is quite small compared to the big companies but in reality, the champagne producers are the similar sorts of size, you know, the family family. businesses tend to be about that sort of size. And it’s a superb champagne actually. It’s a it’s really, really nice. It looks great.  it’s got a distinctive foil around the neck. And when when it becomes personalised, it makes a great gift for people basically. ‘ Says Didier.

Like many companies Didier has been surfing the tidal wave of economic change brought about by the pandemic.

‘My business is split between the business orders and the general public. Businesses accounts for about 80% of my turnover. And that’s has totally dried up and not a single sale of those in six weeks. But I kind of expected that because my biggest customers are tied into the events sports, and well the large corporations so they physically hand bottles of champagne to people. So that’s disappeared. However, my general public sales have increased quite a lot. I’m probably having about three times the sales I was having before. ‘

‘People know they are unable to go to shops and supermarkets and are probably doing all their shopping online. I mean, it’s a it’s a noticeable increase in the last few weeks. For some reason, I fear that both of them would crash, but logically, the general public sales would increase because they’ve got nowhere else to buy their products.’

‘Once once things return to normal, the business to business is where I see the growth of my company. I think gradually over the years there has been a gradual shift from people buying in towns to online and I imagine that this will increase that shift, because people have been forced into buying online. I don’t think my sales will be as they are now when things return to normal, but they will I think they’ll definitely be better than they were before. So I’m optimistic.’

Didier’s low overheads mean he’s well primed to weather the current storm. ‘On the in the French side, there’s four permanent people and about a dozen people for harvest picking on the English side or my side of the business, it’s just myself. Obviously, I’m looking to grow and I am growing. So hopefully before too long, I’ll be able to expand, to get people in to help me. Currently I’m doing it all myself essentially, which includes the marketing, the product research and the sales and everything. It’s a steep learning curve, in my previous roles, really hadn’t much involvement in this sort of thing. But it’s something I enjoy. I’ve got a natural sales side to me my first couple of roles. My first role after university was sales related. So I quite like kind of doing that sort of thing.’

Digital marketing tips

When you are a one person business team you have to be able to turn your hand to everything, but one item that sometimes seems like trying to master a foreign language is the business of digital marketing. Didier’s learned the hard way but he has some useful tips.

‘I’m focusing on digital marketing and more than any of the mediums at the moment. For me digital marketing is definitely the best way forward simply because it’s the most cost effective. However, it’s very very easy to have your budget just get swallowed up into a hole. I’ve I’ve wasted a lot of money on both Facebook, Instagram and Google ads. I suppose you kind of learn from your mistakes you the things that don’t work you don’t do anymore and the things that do work you pursue. There’s lots of ways you can advertise on the internet, but totally free. I mean, for me, my two most productive sources have been Twitter and LinkedIn.’

‘On Twitter, there’s there’s many many opportunities to work with people. There’s lots of people looking for collaborations and requests. For example, father’s days coming up, I have Father’s Day themed champagne and there’s lots of bloggers who will be looking for gifts to review. And for this for the cost of sending them or products. There’s not much you can do in terms of advertising for 20 pounds, or whatever it costs to ship and produce. And for example, LinkedIn is very very good for business to business. Okay, it’s kind of a little bit like cold contact reaching out to people. My big my two biggest customers have come from LinkedIn. And so it definitely does work.

‘I’m quite fortunate because my product is kind of a lifestyle product is, is quite it, you know, most people will give someone a birthday gift at some points in the year or give someone an anniversary gift. So I’m quite lucky in that. It’s a sort of product which is quite well suited to social media. And so for me, the social media and the giveaways is an obvious place to go. And so, I found it’s been very useful, who also has like long term effects. If I give someone a product on social media, they will I’ll get the instance traffic to my website, but also they tend to link back to me which you know, helps for long term search engine marketing. You can spend an absolute fortune on search engine optimization, Facebook managers Google campaigns and you can blow thousands and thousands of pounds and there’s absolutely zero guarantee of getting anything any of it back.’

On being an entrepreneur

People say you need to go into running your own business with your eyes open, and Didier confirms that experience but it’s an environment he’s embraced.

‘I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I think everybody has to think about it carefully. It costs to set a business up and it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and expense. This cost me quite a bit to set it up and even then, the sales don’t come overnight. You’ve got to be prepared for some barren months. I think it took me about maybe eight months just not to be loss making. And luckily, I was able to ride it through. But if you’re not aware of that, and you think that sales will come overnight, you could get a bit of a nasty shock. If you have, the financial position to be able to ride out a few tough months, and you have a clear idea what you want to do then then Yeah, why not? But there’s a bit more thought involved than just changing career, because it’s a lot more risk involved. I think I’m over the worst of it now. I’m just kind of looking forward to once all this is over and done with. This kind of came just at a point where things were moving in the right direction.

My Pitch

We invite featured businesses to do their elevator pitch for their enterprises. Here’s Didiers.

‘My business we’re a personalised champagne company with a range of themes for the general public. So whether you’re looking for a anniversary gift or birthday engagement, Father’s Day wedding, each bottle is a unique design by ourselves and each of them can be individually personalised and the price is 36 pounds 50 with free delivery.

‘And that’s a 48 hour delivery day. To the customer or to yourself and there’s also a range of photo uploads and obviously these are the the main kind of designs but if you want to put a photo on a bottle as well that’s also possible. Great. So yeah, there’s something for everyone basically.

‘Most of my business is UK. And if somebody is looking for deliveries to anywhere else, it can be done. There’s obviously the couriers carry surcharges so it is probably better suited to larger orders. I’ve only had one it was for a 15 bottles to Dubai. And it was for a wedding. So yeah, it does happen. Obviously it’s better suited to larger orders simply because the carriage involved but yeah, I can ship anywhere basically.’

Cheers to that Didier.