Introducing our friend, Bert, at TOG – maker of the best production knives in the world.
We met Bert Beagley-Brown at the Made Beautifully Here pop up in Yorkshire, hosted by our mutual friends, McNair Mountain Shirts. We were immediately attracted to his minimalist stand and the beautiful set of kitchen tools he presented. We love a great knife here at SEVEN FEET APART! Moreover, we love to meet new makers and share experiences, stories and products. We are delighted to introduce TOG Knives to our friends and offer you an exclusive saving offer on the best knife you’ll ever own.
In this interview, Bert tells the story behind his incredible brand, explains what brought him to knife design and production and shares what’s next… .
TELL US ABOUT ‘LIFE BEFORE TOG.’
“At school, I never really knew what I wanted to do. Kind of by default, I enrolled for an Engineering course at Cambridge University. It was incredibly theoretical. I think I’ve always been creative as well as technical and my course wasn’t creative at all. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (whose DNA is in Seven Feet Apart!) was definitely a designer as well as an engineer. When the two disciplines come together, that’s when things get exciting. A turning point for me was seeing Seymour Powell (a product design consultancy) on TV. Those guys were having so much fun – making prototypes, drawing, testing, creating. Right then, at that moment, I decided to pursue a career in product design. I found that the Royal College of Art offered an MA in Industrial Design Engineering. The course was for engineering graduates – it was perfect. After getting my MA, I worked in a branding and design consultancy for a few years before starting a consultancy of my own in 2004. We investigated the environmental impacts of products as a starting point for innovating new and better products and worked with some pretty big clients. I’d always wanted to take a product to market myself, too, so that I could learn about marketing, business, customer service etc. I guess I’m a jack of all trades but product design is my passion.”
“I feel pride in my products and my business – in fact, anything that I can say I created myself.”
PEOPLE HAVE VARIED REASONS FOR STARTING A NEW BUSINESS. WHY DID YOU?
“Honestly, I find it so exciting. There are so many challenges and you are always doing and learning new things. Having had my own business before, it would have been quite difficult to go back to full-time employment and I’m not sure who would have had me! I feel pride in my products and my business and that’s very important to me. Another thing about working for yourself is that it can give you quite a lot of flexibility in your life if you plan correctly.”
“I bought a Global 14cm vegetable chopper in 1997 (while I was still at uni) and it changed my food prep experience forever. What a pleasure to use a good knife for the first time! Since then I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Japan to design knives and I’ve collected quite a few – I love how each knife has its own story. There’s something fundamental about a knife because it’s possibly the first tool ever created by man. It demands respect and care. I’m passionate about Japan, too, and the way old and new sit alongside each other. Visiting a Samurai swordsmith in Seki was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. The sheer amount of skill, work, history and meaning that exists in that one object is mind-blowing. The cutlery industry in Seki, where TOG are made, owes everything to the Samurai sword industry that it grew from.”
SOME PEOPLE IN BUSINESS TALK ABOUT ‘A WHY?’ DO YOU HAVE ONE?
“Well, my goal has been to design and market the best production kitchen knives in the world. Now I’ve done that I want TOG to be the UK’s top online kitchen knife brand! But at a deeper level, I believe in challenging – even reversing – our culture of cheap, disposable products. I believe in producing quality products that people will love, look after and keep for a very long time.”
“The product has to deliver at every stage of customer experience.”
FROM THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED TO START TOG KNIVES, WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF GETTING THE PRODUCT TO MARKET?
“Well, having run a design consultancy, I’d had quite a bit of experience in developing products. For TOG, performance was equally important as aesthetics to me – kitchen knives normally compromise one of these in favour of the other. I saw an opportunity to excel at both, using my skills in product design and innovation. Customers start forming a relationship with the product online before they buy, then there’s the out-of-box experience and then a long-term relationship with that product. The product has to deliver at every stage of customer experience. I involved top chefs from the offset, making and testing and refining many prototypes until I had something I was confident would perform brilliantly in every way, in professional kitchens as well as at home.
I had to set up a complex supply chain. I had to design and manufacture packaging, commission product photography, set price points, create a logo and name, build an e-commerce website etc. etc. – There was a lot to do!”
WHAT KEY CHALLENGES HAVE YOU OVERCOME?
“I think the greatest challenge has been in setting up a supply chain that can deliver sufficient quantity and quality, consistently, at the right price and on time. This is incredibly difficult and there’s certainly still room for improvement. SO many problems to overcome. There are at least 14 small businesses providing different components and services that go into every TOG knife and it takes 8 to 9 months to make every batch. That’s what it took to make sure the final product was as good as it possibly could be.”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT, CREATING TOG?
“I’ve learned that you can’t just set up a website and hope that people find it and buy your products! Marketing is a lot of work and there are a lot of things to get right. With online marketing, there don’t seem to be any answers – you just have to try everything and monitor what’s working and what isn’t. Everything changes so quickly and every business is unique. That can be frustrating! I’ve learned that word of mouth is free, so we try and treat every customer like a King. Customer service is normally so rubbish these days that as a small company it’s quite easy to stand out from the crowd and deliver the sort of customer service you’d like to receive yourself.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS PROVENANCE TO YOU, THE BRAND AND THE PRODUCT?
“I think product performance (form and function) are probably more important, but provenance is certainly very important too, and increasingly so. People want to love their food prep experience but if they know the amazing story behind the product too, it’s a massive bonus. The modern consumer has a lot of choices and I think TOG stands out from the crowd because of how it came about and because of how the knives are made.”
“…a chopping board, knife block, magnetic knife rack, whetstone, sharpener, strop, the list goes on…”
“I’m working on a plan right now! I certainly want to develop many more products – not just knives but a chopping board, knife block, magnetic knife rack, whetstone, sharpener, strop, the list goes on… As well as that I want to build a new website and scale direct sales through better online marketing. I also want to increase distribution through other channels so that more people can discover the brand and so the business can grow.”
WITH THAT IN MIND…
Bert has very kindly offered SEVEN FEET APART friends an exclusive savings offer on TOG Knives. You can order now and receive both the best kitchen tools and a 15% saving. Simply add SFA0118 at the TOG Knives checkout.
We would like to thank Bert for this interview, his time and friendship. We use TOG knifes and we can tell you, they are perfectly balanced, beautiful and brilliantly efficient.
BERT WEARS SEVENS
THE PIONEER 396 GOODYEAR WELTED BROGUE
THE ORIGINAL 172 COGNAC SUEDE