A decade ago, there was just one company in the UK making pizza ovens. We launched The Stone Baked Oven Company as an affordable alternative to those big expensive prefabricated kits. Now you can get pizza ovens everywhere – from Aldi to Tesco – and there's been an incredible movement in the last decade, specifically in the last three to four years. Pizza ovens have truly transitioned from niche to mainstream.
I wanted my business to solve the exact issue I’d had – by creating a wood-fired oven that was accessible, easy to install and affordable. I spent five months looking at material compositions of prefab ovens and researching every single business selling wood-fired ovens across the world. Then, for first time in my life, I designed my own product. I had a £5,000 loan from my mum and £2,000 of that went on a fibreglass mould. Another £2,000 was spent on a website, then I found a manufacturer in the north of England that specialised in precast high-heat refractory concrete. I went and badgered them. I was wet behind the years, young and naïve and I didn't really know what I was doing, but I was super determined to make it work. I managed to get them to take a chance on me. I had a business model where they would manufacture the ovens, put them on pallets and ship them directly to the customers for me, while I was fulfilling all the orders for accessories, flues and doors that I was making with local fabricators. I shipped those out from my spare bedroom at home, and that’s how it all started.
The Stone Bake Oven Company had a very slow start. Consumers didn't think they needed a wood-fired oven in their garden. For a couple of years, we did a lot of agricultural shows demonstrating the ovens. There was an interesting bit of timing in 2013, about two years after we started, when Jamie Oliver bought into a wood-fired oven company and decided it was his new thing. It was the flavour of the moment for him for a year or two, and all of a sudden wood-fired cooking was all over mainstream TV. As a naive businessman, I was nervous, thinking, “God, we're not going to be able to compete with Jamie Oliver.” Actually, he generated a huge wave of awareness. And because our products were made in the UK, the designs were pretty and we were at a great price point – Jamie’s were more expensive than ours – we did well and The Stone Bake Oven Company evolved.
Because I was dyslexic and not too successful at school, I never learnt what my key attributes or skills were. Building a business was a much more meaningful education for me and I learnt how to market and how to do branding. I have a real passion for engineering and design, and I saw an opportunity to solve a problem in the commercial oven space. There were loads of pizza restaurants opening, but they were installing these ginormous, two-tonne ovens that came fully built. They were having to spend around £30,000 taking shop fronts off listed buildings and using cranes to install these ovens into the kitchens. I decided I would solve that. I developed and patented a modular fast-assembly installation system for large professional-grade ovens, which we could carry through a doorway or up or downstairs and assemble, and install in seven hours. That was game changing for the market.