After taking the leap to leave a job she wasn’t enjoying, Mehlikar, took over her father’s company, doubling the revenue in
less than five years. Listening to her over a coffee, it was evident that the woman I spoke to was not one to back down from a challenge. In this interview, she shares her journey in a male-dominated industry, to running a business and finding the ‘one’.
Life Bites is a series that aims to inspire through the art of story-telling. Each story is a reflection of the experiences, lessons and successes of the people I meet along the way.
So let’s talk about Mehlikar before Mr. Yoghurt, what were you doing?
I had a role in the fashion industry for three years. I was excited to get into the job until I started to really get into the depth of it, and that’s when I realised it wasn’t for me. And actually, it’s so hard, you have to have a certain personality type to work within fashion and I just didn’t have that personality.
What level was the business at when you took over?
In the last five years, I’ve managed to double the clients and profits are higher. We have been able to move to a bigger warehouse and buy new vehicles so it’s doing better. In the beginning it was very settled, the business was moving at the same pace it had but then the second year after I had gotten to grips with the whole business I could push things a little bit more.
I don’t downplay my success when I’m dating, but my business also doesn’t define me and that’s the thing, just because I own a business doesn’t mean that’s all I am
Talking about business, food inflation seems to have picked up again this year, even though rates had fallen for the last two years. Is this affecting you in any way?
The prices of things are more expensive, so everyone’s having to put up the prices of products. So for us, the price of cream, milk and everything, is going up so we’ve had to increase our price as well, but the thing is, because everyone is doing it, it’s become more acceptable in the industry to do it. I mean the restaurants aren’t happy about it but there’s nothing we can do. We can’t cut from our profits to make our clients happy, so if our prices are going up so does theirs.
How do you manage to stay relevant and different with the increasing competition in the food industry? Is there a lot of direct competition in the market you’re in?
No, see we’re lucky in the sense that there are a few other companies that do the same thing as us, unfortunately for them we don’t see them as competition as our product, quality wise, is the best in the current industry and is good price for what it is. Our customer service compared to other companies is excellent, we’re extremely organised and we know how all the other companies work. We know them inside out because everyone is so open as we’re from the same community (Turkish), and everyone knows what’s going on in each other’s businesses – but we keep our business to ourselves.
I’m really intrigued to find out how Mr. Yoghurt started! Tell us a bit about your dad and his journey.
He was born here and was working for a yogurt company. He was the delivery driver at one point then he started to work on commission base, which meant he would buy a certain amount of stock from the company then sell it. Eventually he got fed up of doing that because he was making bigger sales than the actual owner himself. So he decided to branch out on his own and that’s how Mr.Yogurt was created. He was one of the first people in our community to do this.
What was your experience taking over from your father as the business owner?
Yeah in a way, I mean people would still call and ask for him even though he had appointed me, but he’d be like, “don’t ask me, ask the boss”. So he would let people know that he no longer makes the big decisions and let people know that what I say goes. I feel he had to push for people to respect me as the new owner, because obviously since I was born he’s been running this business so people have known him for 20 odd years, so I understood it was a shock when suddenly his 23-year-old daughter has taken over.
Also, I’m in a male-dominated so to get your voice heard is quite difficult. I make sure my point is heard and I have to push myself. My advice is don’t give up too easily.
I can imagine! How long do you feel it took them to accept you as the new boss?
It was a shock to their system. First of all because the daughter had taken over and not the son, which was uncommon as the boy usually takes over the business. In their heads, the daughter gets married in her early twenties and your son takes over the business- and that’s it, the daughter gets married to a man and supports him for the rest of their lives.
My dad’s very different. My dad is a rebel so he’s never done anything traditionally and has always done what he wants – repercussions or not. For his first-born child, he always wanted a daughter first, so he’s a bit different from other Turkish dads I know. And he also knew I was a stronger character than my brother especially when it came to business so he gave it to me. He knew I always knew how to get what I want, so he was like “yep I know she can do it” – he just knew how head strong I am.
I love the fact that he chose you based on your ability not gender, it just makes sense! Focusing on your community, did you or your dad face any backlash from other community members?
Yeah like people would say: ’oh you left it to your daughter?’ We got that quite a few times, but my dad would be like, why not? And tell them, ‘if you were smart you’d do the same thing instead of leaving it to your stupid son who’s doing f*ck all’. He’d seen it happen with his friends where their daughters are working super hard at the business everyday but they’re waiting for their sons to grow up so they can give it to them! My dad never got that he would say just give it to your daughter who’s doing everything for the business, instead of waiting to give it to your son who hasn’t shown any trace of responsibility. I mean why would you do that when your daughter is there working so hard?
So what would your advice be to women who come from patriarchal cultures.
If you want something go for it, don’t let age or gender hold you back. I mean ever since I was given the business, every decision after that I’ve had to fight for it. I completely changed the business’s structure after my dad gave it to me. It’s like with everything, relationships as well, if you want something, you have to make it clear this is what I want and fight.
Following the 2 Sister Food Group chicken scandal, it so important for companies to keep an eye out on their supply chains. How do you manage to keep your eyes on everything to ensure the business is ethically being run?
Because it has been running for a long time, it has fallen into its own process. With our products we don’t store things for a very long time. We are very particular about how long things stay in a fridge and for that particular reason we do not over produce. By the end of the week I will only have a certain amount of stock left so new stock is ready to go out- so I won’t have any stock from two weeks ago. Even in our storage, anything that comes in today, we put at the back and push older products to the front.
And I feel this feeds into our values, it’s about freshness for us. For me to get a complaint about a product is unheard of. If I do I take it extremely seriously, I literally call the farm and I’m like ‘Why am I getting this complaint! I have a hundred downstairs I want a fresh new batch!’
Talking about the farmers, where are your products made?
It’s made in Hayes, then we bring it to Tottenham. We meet up regularly with the company that make it.
Who are your target audience?
Restaurants. Or anyone who uses products like ours in their food. It’s all wholesale and they come in 10 kilo tubs. We’re open to work with anyone. What makes our product different is the quality, for example, people compare it to the thickness of ice-cream. We currently target Greek, Iranian, Middle Eastern cuisine. We’ve even got health cafes and shops that specialise in healthy products like smoothies. As long as people use the products happily that’s all that matters to us. We don’t get too involved as long as they’re happy with it.
What do you love the most about your product?
It’s a strained natural product and it’s so versatile so you can eat it on its own, make soups with it, smoothies, add it to some granola. It’s something you can do a lot with. I mean it’s a quality product, and even though we offer different quality and price ranges, they’re all still a good quality, so it depends on how much you have, obviously the more expensive products have a higher quality.
How do you manage to balance personal relationships and your business?
I mean I’m lucky in the sense that my business is super organised for example, if you want to meet for a coffee at one in the afternoon I can work around my business. On a typical day I finish at 4 and then head to the gym. But sometimes it’s different from week to week depending on what challenges come up, so for example, this week I’ve had a lot of paper work to do so I’ve not been as free with my time, but one of the days my friend messaged me for lunch and I went. Really, the main thing that has to be done is to have my products out of the warehouse on time with the right balances.
How has the business changed you?
I mean I got a lot of responsibility from a very young age, so I’ve had to grow up quicker than most of my friends and actually I was speaking with a friend the other day, she said, you grew up very quickly but I’m still here trying to figure out my life out. I mean like growing up fast has had its downfalls, I mean I was with someone who age gap wise we were close in age but I grew up super quick so it caused a distance between us.
At my age, a lot of people are out having fun and partying which is great but for me right now I want to be more settled, like with a family everything and maybe I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for all the responsibility I had.
When you outgrew the relationship, did you feel the business played a role in this?
Yeah I feel like the business played a role in making us distant. He’d just say stuff like, ‘you were lucky you had something given to you’, which I always found very patronising. I think that experience has taught me what I want from a relationship and friendships. For me, the people I keep in my life right now have to be positive, go-getters, passionate and active. I can’t be around negative people or people that are always ups and downs, but I’ve cut off friendships with people because they’re continuously negative. I mean everyone has their difficulties, so I try not to undermine what someone else is going through. But I just need to be around people who want to push through whatever they’re going through and we can help each other.
You’ve now met someone new – how has that been for you?
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. But he gets me and you know it’s refreshing to be with someone who goes with my flow and he’s not intense if you know what I mean. Like we talk about work but it’s not the be all and end all and when I’m with him he lets me escape from being ‘Mehlikar the business owner’ when I’m with him and allows me to be the fun 27-year-old I want to be- sometimes I’m like fun Mehlikar exists! So I can be me without having all these big responsibilities on my shoulders.
How has being in a relationship played a role in your life and as a business owner.
I mean he’s really supportive, when I’ve had a hard day or I’ve been really stressed out, he’s so supportive and he’s like the voice of reason I need sometimes. Finding someone who can calm you down and help you see the other sides of things is important. He gives me balance, so when he’s had a crap day I help him too. He’s quite active so we take our mind of things by going to the gym together, tennis and cycling. You just need to find someone that’s gonna snap you out of it, especially when you have a business. It’s just about supporting each other no matter if you’re a cashier or working in management, support is so necessary. Just knowing someone is there for you is a comfort in itself. I don’t need to lean on anyone but having someone there is so helpful.
Let’s talk about picking the right guy?
I don’t downplay my success when I’m dating, but my business also doesn’t define me and that’s the thing, just because I own a business doesn’t mean that’s all I am, there’s so many dimensions to me. If a man cannot deal with your success then it’s simple – he isn’t for you. Just be honest and be proud about what you do. For example, if I was a cleaner and that’s what I do, the person I am with needs to accept that. I don’t believe in lying I love honesty, sometimes it doesn’t work, but I love honesty.
What are your goals for the next five years?
We’re going to start manufacturing more products hopefully within the next two years. So, more product lines are coming. I just need to dedicate myself to what I want for the company.