Never was there a man more self-made than Nelson’s Pic Picot. The New Zealander has started a stupendous amount of businesses – flogging handmade sandals to his schoolmates before taking his hands to furniture making, giftware, cannabis fertiliser (no joke) and a whole darn restaurant, sailing school and laundrette. Then came Pic’s Peanut Butter – just a little something he whipped up in retirement – that’s now one of the fastest growing companies in the country. Currently working out of its fourth factory (with a fifth in construction) Pic’s is the bestselling peanut butter in New Zealand, fast-spreading its way across Australia, the US and Asian markets. And did we mention Pic’s eyesight started failing at 50, and he’s now considered legally blind?
Here’s some sage advice from this seasoned entrepreneur:
FIND WHERE YOU’RE NEEDED
Pic started his first business in high school, making leathergoods for his mates. “But I discovered that my mother and her friends had far more money, so I made bags that old ladies would like.” Years later, as owner to a catalogue of charter boats, the classifieds section of a boating magazine changed his tack (“there were two or three pages of charter boats for hire and about 16 pages of sailing schools”) and he started a sailing school. “The neat thing about peanut butter is that everybody eats it, so I’ve got something to talk to anyone about,” says Pic, adding that aside from the odd allergy sufferer, the stuff is a sure-fire people pleaser.
“The idea that you go off and develop drawings and prototypes and go to venture capitalists – it’s tragic. It stops people from actually getting stuck in and doing stuff.”
MAKE AN EXISTING PRODUCT BETTER
“I started doing a bit of peanut butter for myself after I got really cross with the rubbish stuff I was buying at the supermarket. It was the sugar that got me.” So Pic made his own out of pure, Aussie-grown peanuts. “I’m working on baked beans now, because I think they’re the same. Every supermarket tries to sell baked beans for under a dollar, and they’re horrible! But nice baked beans are such good food – beans and tomatoes are such a wonderful combination. So that’s my pet project at the moment.” As is an electric baby stroller – another bright idea that currently has Pic adapting half a dozen golf buggies.
Pic’s 15,000-jar a day outfit started with an oven and a Vitamix in his kitchen. As demand rose (and the Vitamix went bust), he found a supplier in Australia who sold him a tonne of peanuts on the cheap, and had a rotary roaster made out of a concrete mixer. “So I stuck that in the garage, bought a little grinder and made the peanut butter on a Friday morning and sold it at the market on a Friday afternoon. That was where it started. I had no more intention than to get my $200 back,” says Pic. “The idea that you go off and develop drawings and prototypes and put together a fancy brochure and try and go to venture capitalists – it’s tragic. It stops people from actually getting stuck in and doing stuff.”
Many years ago, Pic was in a friend’s shower, where he noticed a bright green bottle of shampoo. “The label said something like, ‘Bob’s Shampoo. It smells like mint sauce.’ And I thought, man! This is so wonderful! And I felt such a surge of affection for this bloody shampoo because it was really honest, you know? I thought, if I ever make something like this, I’ll just try and do it as if you’re talking to somebody.” Which is why Pic’s peanut butter comes in a plain glass jar with a brown-paper label – saying little more than ‘Pic’s really good peanut butter’.
Pic’s 15,000-jar a day outfit started with an oven and a Vitamix in his kitchen. As demand rose, he found a supplier who sold him a tonne of peanuts on the cheap, and had a rotary roaster made out of a concrete mixer.
LET THE PRODUCT DO THE MARKETING
It’s widely known as the stuff with the red star on the lid – that Pic only put there because early on, his supplier said ‘if you order 100,000 lids, you can have free printing on them’. “It’s totally unregisterable,” says Pic, of what’s become the brand’s signature symbol. “We can’t trademark it or anything, but the really cool thing is that people hang on to them. So you get a jar of chutney from your aunty and the chances are it’s going to be in one of our jars. These things get reused all over the place and everybody knows they’re our jars.”
The underside of Pic’s shipping boxes reads: ‘please respect the privacy of this carton and avoid looking at its bottom,’ there are poems tucked away behind jar labels. Then there’s the airstream he converted into a giant toaster. “I thought I’d like to do a peanut butter tour,” he says. “I’d always fancied airstream caravans and I could justify [buying one] by sticking toast in the top, so that was really fun. I towed it from one end of the country to the other and people would see us coming and they’d turn around and travel for miles to catch up with us.”
BUILD A TEAM YOU CAN TRUST
A staunch soloprenuer, bringing on a team was a new thing for Pic. “All these businesses I’ve had in the past, I’ve always been pretty much by myself. I would get gifts from suppliers saying, Merry Christmas from Bob and the team’, and I’d think, team? Horrible, awful, ridiculous nonsense. But actually getting to be part of one now, it’s so cool,” he says. “Initially I’d be in there sort of throwing in my 10 cents’ worth about why a machine wasn’t working as it should… but [now] I don’t. I completely trust the guys that we’ve got here.” He’s got 35 on the books today – not to mention Fido the guide dog.
“A lot of people come to me and say, how do you get into the supermarkets?” says Pic, who likens supermarkets to trucking companies. “They’re just part of the route along the way between you and the customer. The supermarkets don’t eat anything. But the guys who work there eat stuff. The buyer eats stuff. And I’m happy if I go into a supermarket and sit in front of a buyer and get them to eat it… because it’s people that drive it. It’s not the product and it’s not the advertising; it’s people who feel engaged with it and like it. And I see our company as being the heart of a community of people who love what we do. That’s our thing.”