March 2022: Trader of the Month - Catford Fire

Meet Steven from Catford Fire! Do you want to know more about Catford's most popular, 100% vegan, artisan hot sauce purveyors? We've got the inside scoop below!

Tell us a bit about you and your business:

My story is simple. I grew up in South East Asia, so the seed was planted early for me to be a chilli lover. I’m lucky enough to have travelled around the world and have eaten a lot of food – much of it spicy.

I got into the whole hot sauce thing on my frequent trips to the US and other places for work, and realised that making chilli sauce couldn’t be too difficult.

Fast forward to now, when we’ve all had a lockdown project or two. One of mine started when my beloved shop to get my sauce fix was closed due to the pandemic and supplies were starting to dwindle. I thought – now is the time to give it a try. I surprised myself by my first effort (in a good way), and started offering tasters to my friends. The feedback was really good. Now, my friends aren’t “reach for the stars” kind of people. If the sauce was rubbish, they’d have told me. Then, one of them said “you should sell this”. And that’s how it started.

I knew I wanted to do fresh ingredients. I knew I wanted to use only UK ingredients when in season.

How do you promote your business?

I promote myself using word of mouth, as well as via local businesses. Instagram in particular has been great, as well as Facebook for use in local community groups. I also use my mailing list and website for special promotions with my customers and subscribers. I believe that momentum comes from consistent messaging but also a consistently fantastic product.

How important is branding?

For me, this is almost as important as the product, though you can't have one without the other. The Catford Cat is a core part of my branding and I can't imagine Catford Fire without it. It's important for building roots locally, but I'm comfortable it would scale nationally if needed. Baby steps, though!

How important is customer service?

I'm not a believer in the customer is always right. That's old school. I believe that if you treat your customers with dignity and respect, and talk to them like human beings rather than a target for sales, the rest will follow. Respect works both ways.

How eco-friendly is your business?

I use recyclable/reusable glass bottles, and don't waste any part of the chillis. Everything else is composted. I also deliver all local deliveries using my bicycle or feet, meaning it's all carbon neutral, and I get great physical and mental health benefits as well. Any non-local deliveries use recycled packaging, and labels are made from recycled paper as well.

What does it take to be a successful trader?

They need to be in control of all elements of their production and marketing, from farmer to table. They also need to have soul and personality. People want to buy from someone they engage with at a personal level, so trust and rapport are essential. Traders need to leave their ego at the door and listen to their customers, hear what they like and what they want to see more of. Oh, and have some fun along the way.

Have you been to Catford Food Market before?

I've been as a customer, and I love it. It's amazing to see businesses that started here open up physical locations of their own. I feel a sense of pride that it all started at Catford Food Market.

What are your plans for the future?

Make it through the week. One week at a time! Honestly, I don't know. I'm already impressed at how well things have been going since I launched the business, and I currently want to keep the local magic. That said, I'm a big believer in never say never, so who knows. I do want to keep innovating, though, and making new and interesting products. Most likely, I'll expand from 'just' doing sauces to something else. Rubs, marinades, ferments, that type of thing.

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