Setting the scene in Zurich West
It’s early afternoon in Zurich’s covered market – Markthalle IM VIADUKT. The sliding doors at the front open and close seemingly every minute as people come in with empty shopping bags and leave with their culinary treasures. At The British Cheese Centre, Michael Jones peeks over his glasses each time the door opens. He’s always got an eye open for anyone who might be coming to his stall at the front of the Markthalle.
If you pull up a stool at his corner bar for a pint of his special Prince of Ales Yorkshire Pale Ale, you’ll see people tasting cheese and a group of others enjoying other beers and cheese boards.
Two years ago, Kaesenova GmbH, the company founded by Michael Jones that runs the British Cheese Centre, took out a loan on 3CF. After two years, we decided to follow-up with Michael Jones to see how things are going.
3CF: First off, I think we need to ask the obvious question. British Cheese in Switzerland?! Is that not a little crazy?
Jones: Steve Jobs had a great speech entitled “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.” When I first started over twelve years ago, sure people thought I was crazy. I always looked at it like a car dealership. Ever notice they tend to congregate around each other? Or another example is how all the watch brands are available on the Bahnhofstrasse. I looked at Switzerland and saw a country of cheese connoisseurs. What do cheese aficionados want? More cheese. Different cheeses *and British Cheese is very different!).
3CF: You don’t think that British cheese is better than Swiss cheese then?
Jones: No, not at all. I know that Britain produces a greater variety of cheeses and hence different flavours than Switzerland, but I don’t consider one country’s cheeses better than another’s. If you enjoy cheese, like wine, you appreciate variety and nuance.
3CF: You said that you’ve been selling British cheese in Switzerland for more than twelve years, how has that been?
Jones: I would say that like life, it’s been surprising. I moved from having a stand in the Main Station Wednesday Market into the VIADUKT when it first opened. In 2014, I started a beer bar after a disagreement with my then-partner and wife. And in 2017, I founded Kaesenova GmbH to take over the running of The British Cheese Centre independently from her. I’ve had highs and lows.
3CF: Why did you decide to get a loan with 3CF?
Jones: While starting Kaesenova GmbH and taking over the business, I knew that I wanted to make some investments in my stand to improve efficiencies and offer my customers a better selection of products. When you take over a company, there are many more costs than you first think, and I thought that a loan would help me get the work done faster. I had several customers who wanted to invest in the business, but after my previous experience, I wasn’t looking to take on new partners. Friends and business are hard to balance. I was aware of 3CF for a few months before I applied. I liked that I could set the interest rates and that there was a legal exchange of contracts. The platform takes care of a great deal of legal work that would otherwise be necessary when borrowing money from individuals. As a new company, I also knew that I would not be eligible for a bank loan.
3CF: How long did it take for your Crowdlending campaign to get funded, and what did you do to get the funding?
Jones: It took me seven days to get CHF 40’000. Before the Crowdlending campaign, I started talking with regular customers and people who had hinted that they are interested in investing in my business. I asked for advice and what they thought. I think that leg work was a reason for the quick funding.
3CF: You also sweetened the deal for your investors, too, didn’t you?
Jones: Oh, yes. Apart from the 7% interest, I also offered a tasting pack of cheese each month. I designed this incentive to get my creditors to come and visit the stand regularly.
3CF: Did your incentive work as you expected?
Jones: Yes and no. I would consider some of my creditors as some of my most frequent customers. But others don’t make it a habit of picking up their perks. I think they were just happy to earn interest with their money and support a local business.
3CF: Earlier, you said that you wanted to increase efficiencies and offer a better customer experience. Have you been able to do that and has it had a positive effect on your business?
Jones: Yes, together with the management of the VIADUKT and the designs by the design agency Aroma, the stand was rebuilt entirely. I have new beer taps and a little office space to take care of admin when the shop is not so busy. Overall, I’ve seen year-on-year growth in business, and I am delighted with the results.
3CF: Overall, how happy are you with the 3CF and what would you suggest to other small and medium-sized businesses considering raising funds with Crowdlending.
Jones: To be honest, I don’t think about it. I set up a standing order, and my payments go out monthly. Since the Crowdlending campaign finished and I signed the contract, I haven’t had to do anything. I would recommend 3CF to any SME looking to connect with their customers. With Crowdlending, you can turn customers into investors and fans, and that has a considerable value. Lastly, I’d tell them that they need to do community work. You need to explain why you need the money and make personal connections. For an SME, they’re investing in the business owner because they believe in you and your vision. If they don’t know who you are and what your vision is, they will not invest in you.
3CF: Thank you for your time, and we wish you much-continued success.
That was our interview with Michael Jones, aka The Cheeseman. You can visit him and support The British Cheese Centre in Zurich’s Markthalle IM VIADUKT or online at https://britishcheese.ch/.