From a simple idea to take ‘Porridge to the People’ in 2004 Tony Stone has built a thriving business and now supplies a range of porridge oat products to more than 2,000 retailers in multiple global markets. He is a hugely inspiring and truly enterprising speaker.
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Tony is living proof that some of the greatest businesses are simple ideas, brilliantly executed.
Take the humble oat. To most people, a small and somewhat insignificant cereal grain. But in the eyes of this inspiring young entrepreneur, the seed of a simple, easy-to-grasp business proposition – to take ‘Porridge to the People’ – that transformed the sector and made a global success of his Stoats brand.
From an early age, Tony wanted to run his own business and make money. His early ventures included selling sweets in the playground for extraordinary margins. While studying at university, then during his early career in the hotel industry, he always kept an eye out for the ideal business opportunity.
That opportunity came in 2004, when Tony, then a fresh-faced 24-year-old poring over the national newspapers, noticed the growing popularity of porridge. Here’s where the born entrepreneurial mind got to work. If there were growing numbers of time-poor, health conscious consumers hungry for Scottish oaty goodness, why was nobody doing a modern on-the-go porridge option? Was this the gap in the market he had been looking for? After scrupulous research and business planning with his long time school friend and business partner Bob, they concluded that the answer was yes. With the help of a small Princes Trust loan, Stoats was launched.
Their first on-the-go porridge bar was a quirky mobile van that Tony and Bob drove to food shows and festivals up and down the country. Their first day of trading at one of Scotland’s largest music festivals brought a mixture of relief and panic. The long queues proved they were not bonkers for chasing the porridge dream. But in those queues were a lot of hungry customers. Now the chaps had to cook the stuff, and fast!
It’s a far cry from today’s business, which supplies the UK’s biggest supermarkets, including Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury, and exports as widely as the US, Dubai and Denmark.
What makes Tony’s story so compelling is the candid way he talks about the twists and turns of founding a successful business. He doesn’t pretend it’s been easy, and admits to making mistakes on the way. But he also shares the fundamental secrets that have turned Stoats from local start-up to international triumph: dedication to quality ingredients; the need for a strong, differentiating brand; maximising profits through premiumisation; a willingness to listen to consumers; the ability to change direction and take risks; working with trusted friends; loving your product.
Ambition, hard graft, tenacity and luck all play a part in the story. And while he doesn’t have a rose-tinted view of business, he brings an optimistic, can-do attitude that truly inspires. His easy-going nature and infectious enthusiasm make him a particularly motivating speaker for young audiences and fledgling entrepreneurs.
He has appeared on various TV shows, is a regular contributor on Radio Scotland and gives talks across the UK. Wherever he speaks, you’re guaranteed as much honest Scottish goodness as you’ll find in a Stoats porridge bar.