David Cole: Taking on the world one sweet at a time

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Right from a young age, David Cole was known by many as a team player, spending his spare time on the rugby pitch and helping to drive the team forward. Now, aged 48, he spends his time driving a new team of confectionary connoisseurs into an international market.

Today he is Managing Director of Jakemans, a menthol confectionary brand with a turnover over £12 million, that has been used throughout homes across the UK for over 100 years.

David, who has been married for 25 years and has two children, is committed to everything he partakes in – gaining such a reputation within the company that when the former MD stepped down, he was the only man they wanted for the job.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

As an employer of some 60 people, Jakemans’ name is known countrywide for its sweets, which are predominantly used for combatting cold symptoms.

A change of path

“Strangely enough, I started out as an engineer by trade. I was an engineering apprentice for a large company and then stayed on with them for another eight years. I then moved into another engineering company and did project management roles, so I had done a bit of design work as well,” David said.

It wasn’t until later on in David’s life that he decided that engineering wasn’t for him.

He said: “I had my midlife crisis really early and decided engineering wasn’t for me. Because of the project management work that I was doing I got more involved in the commercial end of the business so I quite liked the idea of sales and marketing.

“I got the opportunity with another local company who saw a flicker in me, a bit of talent. I re-trained in marketing and then I ended up at Lanes Health, which is the holding company that owns Jakemans.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

“Again, they took a chance with me because I had no consumer marketing experience, it was all business to business.”

David has now worked with Lanes Health for 18 years and has climbed his way up to the top through hard work and determination.

“I worked my way through the company as a product manager, marketing manager, head of marketing, head of NPD, then I took on the sales, so I became the sales and marketing director and then I took on the responsibility for international sales as well,” he added.

“Eventually, when the existing MD retired, there was a two-year caretaker position for our operations director and I kind of took over that role for two years in order to prepare me for taking on the MD role. I took that on in August 2016.”

Growing fivefold

Lanes Health acquired Jakemans of Boston in 2007, and since then, David has helped the company grow. So much so, the brand’s bank said that if they were ever to have a model for the ‘perfect’ acquisition, this would be it.

“What we have basically done with the company from 2007 is used our existing resources in our sales and marketing team to expand the distribution in the UK and grow into export markets by using customers and distributers that we already have so that is what has really driven the growth here, plus the investment that we put behind the brand.

“I think the owners that we bought it off had done a great job and they had managed to get it into Asda but there were all the others: Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots and all the pharmacy chains, which is where we are now really strong.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

David said he saw the potential in the company from the start and knew he could help in making it grow.

He added: “In brand terms, it was a really small brand when we bought it and we saw the opportunity to grow it so for me, being a part of the sales and marketing team, I thought it was actually a good acquisition to make.

“We had to go through the whole process of convincing the shareholders that it was a good brand to purchase, that was the first goal and when it happened we did celebrate with a glass of champagne or two.”

A flavour for everyone

Jakemans is made from sugar, specially blended flavours and menthol to make their signature sweets, making them perfect for the winter seasons.

David said: “It does have health benefits, our sales are really through the winter season. But what we have found with Jakemans is people actually like it as a product anyway so we don’t see the kind of really sharp uptake and downtake like you would do with normal cold related products.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

What is also surprising to know is that the taste in the UK has not changed, despite Jakemans bringing out new flavours including peppermint, blueberry and blackcurrant – throat and chest (aniseed) stays on top.

“When we took on Jakemans the throat and chest was number one and lemon and honey was number two and that is still the case in the UK. It is the two old favourites that are still there.”

Technology take-over

When Jakemans first opened in 1907, technology was sparse, with the old fashioned way of making confectionary prominent.

“When we acquired Jakemans in 2007, we looked at the site and realised that for how we wanted to drive the business forward, the manufacturing side wasn’t set up to do that, so we invested over £5 million in ripping out the old manufacturing process and put in nearly an all automated system, to make sure that we could have a product that was cost efficient, and also high quality,” David said.

The factory has seen new technology added over the years. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

“In our ownership the technological side is completely different to when we bought it. It was a very manual process before, and we realised after the first year really that we weren’t going to be able to keep staff, because we went from making 15 tonnes per week to almost doubling that in the first year and the guys just couldn’t handle it.

“We realised that we really need to change,” David added.

Taking on the US

Over the last 10 years, Jakemans has expanded into the overseas market, exporting confectionary to Europe, the Middle East and now the US.

“Expansion is obviously something we all need to do otherwise we stand still and international markets are one of those key areas that we are looking at. The US has been our priority for the last four years and we are making some good progress with Jakemans in the US,” David said.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Now that the company has broken into the North American market, David is looking to expand further into South America.

“We are looking for distributors all over the world for Jakemans. That’s just one part of it, we still have a long way to go in our home country. We have only really started scratching the surface in the UK and that is a really big part of our growth strategy in the next five years.”

Words of wisdom

So how has David got to where he is now? Hard work and honesty.

David said: “The thing I have always found is just be honest.

“Sometimes the toughest thing is to be honest but just be honest and true to yourself and in this industry hard work and honesty gets you to where you perhaps need to be.

“Everything is very competitive these days, nothing is easy but just stick to your guns.”