Harry Cragoe had an early insight into what makes entrepreneurs tick. Most of his parents’ friends were self-employed, and at the age of eight, he would sit under the table when they came round for dinner and listen to their conversations. He says: ‘I would hear them talking about their businesses and what they were doing.
I’m sure it had an effect on me as I never really considered a life working for someone else.’ He left school at 18 and started working as a commodity broker in the City but soon quit to set up a company with three friends selling air and water filter systems. The business took him to Los Angeles where he developed a passion for drinking smoothies, a cold drink made from blended fruit.
He says: ‘When I left England I was unfit and pasty white, but once I got to Los Angeles I really got into the Californian way of life, going to the gym and running along the beach. And part of that was about putting good stuff inside your body.’
Enthused by his discovery he sold his share of the water filter company and came back to Britain determined to find a way of bringing smoothies to a new audience here. He became convinced there was a gap in the market for them after visiting dozens of sandwich bars and discovering that in most of them the only healthy drinks in the chilled cabinet were apple and orange juice.
He asked a friend to help him, and between them, they raised £100,000 to invest in the venture. Cargoes says: ‘I sold pretty much everything I owned to get the business going, including my flat in Battersea, my car and every investment I had. The only things I had left were my clothes and shoes. I totally believed that smoothies would be a success.’ He quickly discovered, however, that none of the juice manufacturers in Britain agreed. He says: ‘People would look at me blankly. They didn’t think smoothies would work over here, and they were not remotely interested in helping us make them.’ But Cargoes refused to give up on his idea.
Back home cargoes found a designer to create the packaging and then spent 12 hours a day going from store to store trying to find retailers who might be interested in buying his product. He decided to call his drink Pete and Johnny Smoothies, later shortened to PJ, after two of his friends. The first order was placed by Cullen’s supermarket in Fulham and in October 1994 they took their first delivery. It was not the best time of year to try to sell a chilled drink that customers had never heard of. Cragoe says: ‘It was freezing cold outside and they were twice the price of anything else on the shelf.
But half of them sold within two hours of being put on the shelves. It was very exciting.’ It was also extremely daunting. He says: ‘It was all quite scary because all the time people in the retail trade were telling us that smoothies were just a flash in the pan and that they would be like alcopops, here today and gone tomorrow. I had many sleepless nights.’ He was, however, also convinced they were wrong and to prove it managed to secure orders from supermarket chains Tesco and Waitrose.
British drinks manufacturers were still not interested in getting involved, so cargoes had to spend two years shipping over frozen smoothies from America – and laboriously thawing out each one individually – before he eventually decided to take the plunge and build a factory of his own in Nottingham. He says: ‘It was a major decision to buy our own factory because a factory is a very hungry animal. As you expand you continually need to put more money into growing it and buying more equipment. But it also allows us to have more flexibility in launching new drinks.
Cargoes says people should never be put off trying something new: ‘I’m not convinced that having experience is that important to becoming a successful entrepreneur. I think that it is about totally and utterly believing in what you are doing and being passionately committed to it.’