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A Day in the Life: Nick Brown Co-founder of Cook & Nelson

Cook & Nelson was established six years ago by husband and wife team Nick Brown and Becs Caughey, seeking category challengers for the New Zealand market.

The business imports artisan and disruptor brands from McClure’s Pickles, Seedlip distilled non-alcoholic spirits, Fair Trade chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely, and more.

Behind the scenes, Nick and Becs look after everything, from distribution to retail, to social media, advertising, marketing, and campaigns.

For Nick, his role involves getting products to New Zealand and into stores and supermarkets nationwide. This involves late-night calls and bidding on auctions to get space on trucks and ships.

Becs’ role is working out what to do with the products from a marketing perspective – managing social campaigns, marketing campaigns, and late-night calls with HQ’s in the US, UK, and Netherlands.

Here, we chat with Nick about what a day in his work-life looks like.

What time do you wake up?

When our kids do… that’s usually around 6am!

What kind of work do you do? 

Together with Becs, my wife we run food and beverage importing company Cook & Nelson bringing epic products like Seedlip Non-alcoholic spirits,  McClure’s Pickles and Tony’s Chocolonely into New Zealand. 

We also have a food manufacturing company Huffman’s Sauces based in Wellington and are involved in another project making Good Sh*t Sodas right here in Auckland… it’s fair to say our pantry is well stocked!

What’s the ideal way to start your day? 

I like to get straight into it with a coffee and out the door to get stuck into my day asap… Becs is more of a night owl and tends to take the opposite approach, often working late which helps when we are working with suppliers on the other side of the world.

Do you have any morning rituals? After grabbing my coffee I go… Becs will share her toast (Vogels with Fix & Fogg) with Ralph our dog and then take him for a walk after getting our children Ella and Harry sorted for the day and then she gets into it…

How soon do you begin doing work-related things each morning, such as checking phone or emails? 

I check my emails on my phone pretty much straight away, first discarding anything not relevant and leaving the rest to tackle when I get into the office. Then I’ll check the news here and overseas. Lastly I’ll look at exchange rates!

What’s your media consumption or interaction like – which podcasts, radio, videos, books, magazines, and new sites do you read or listen to?

I listen to RNZ National radio on my way into work unless I’m avoiding the Formula 1 results in which case I’ll usually listen to a playlist or else a podcast… I’m a fan of WTF with Marc Maron… whilst I’m at work I don’t like any distractions so tend to be head down… evenings are Netflix and I read to wind down. Becs has rituals around the MiNDFOOD crossword and is an explorer of lots of sites, especially overseas food and beverage start-ups etc… that’s how she winds down.

What do you think is unique about the way you approach your work? 

We’ve been told that our approach to working with the people and brands we represent under Cook & Nelson is unusual in that we do a lot more than a traditional distributor might, taking on the services an agency or others might usually perform. For us, as with Huffman’s and Good Sh*t, it’s about doing right by the products, doing everything within our capabilities to do them justice and give them the best chance of success here… we work as a collective with people who are brilliant at what they do, each of us focusing on what we are good at and like doing. This makes what we do, close to who we are, which makes everyday a whole lot more fun that it might otherwise be!

What responsibility do you have in a typical day?

What takes up most of your time? Currently my role with Cook & Nelson is focussed on getting our products into the country and on to the shelf… so I work with our suppliers on lead-in times for production, our shipping agents on getting the products here, our main stockists with ranging and compliance etc. Whilst with Good Sh*t I’m looking at export opportunities. With Huffman’s it’s everything! 

Becs is focussed on getting our products off the shelf so she’ll work on promotions and sales initiatives as well as driving our social media.

Where do your best ideas come from? 

Usually I have my best ideas when I’m not actively pursuing them. I like to walk and I will generally have what could be a good idea sometime on the walk or shortly after! I look for inspiration in all sorts of places, and often find it in the things that people with passion are doing that they most love.

What has been the most transformational business practice you’ve implemented at your work? 

Committing to working remotely and creating strong logistics partnerships that have enabled us to focus our resources on those things that will grow our business. For me, real growth has come from letting go, trusting others, acknowledging what I’m good at and what I’m not –  and resourcing accordingly.

What social or environmental issues inform the work you do, as well as what you’re aiming to do with your company’s overall vision?

This is a big one. We try to put our values at the heart of what we do and that includes how we work, who we work with, and what our impact is environmentally and socially. Minimising and offsetting our emissions. Sourcing responsibly; seeking products, companies and people who have a wider environmental and social plan. We challenge ourselves every day to look at ways we can work better and we are committed to becoming B-Corp certified not as an end goal rather as a way of ensuring we hit a high standard across all measures and keep hitting it.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

Most days bring challenges and if I feel I’ve risen to them and met the challenge in good heart, conducted myself well and learnt something, then I really feel satisfied and that for me is probably the biggest reward. I also get great satisfaction from sharing our mission with the great people we work with, and in those moments when I’m aware of how we are pulling together in the same direction, with a sense of common purpose… it’s great.

What about the least enjoyable? 

Some things that are beyond our control like shipping delays or damaged goods can be quite frustrating to deal with at times…

Do you have any side hustles you’re juggling alongside being an entrepreneur? 

Sort of though I’m not sure it could be described as a hustle… but I recently returned to bell ringing which I did in the village I grew up in England as a child. I’m terrible and I can see it may take me many years to become even passable but I have a mentor who has rung for more than 55 years who is incredibly generous with his time in helping me along.…It’s something I’m really committed to. 

I also take both our children to Little Ninjas even week and it’s wonderful to see how they’re developing there. Whether I will become a competition dad or not remains to be seen!

What’s your best productivity hack?

I don’t put things off till later. I prioritise the things I need to do and do them and I’ll tackle the stuff I least want to do first… that’s a winning hack!

Do you get stressed? If so, how do you manage it? Do you practice any mindfulness or meditation?

 I probably do get stressed but I try to channel it into taking action… also I exercise with a trainer Steve Kumo who pushes me hard and that’s great because when all I can think about is the need to breathe I find there’s little room for anything else… and I’ve recently taken up sitting in the sea at high tide when it’s cold and trying to slow breathe and it’s been fantastic as a quick and intense way to relax!

What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?

I can switch off… and what helps enormously is doing as complete a brain dump as I can of things I need to do or that are bothering me that I need to address, as a to-do list at the end of my work day for the next day… then I don’t look at my phone or emails and I focus on our children home life etc… trying to be present there.

What do or don’t you eat or drink to maintain your performance throughout the day? 

I don’t eat meat anymore or dairy, drink alcohol or eat flour potatoes or rice… basically its lots of fruit, vegetables and nuts which may all sound quite restrictive but I find it makes me more conscious than I was, of what I eat, and that engages me with food and my energy levels are better, resilience better and I sleep better.

What time do you go to sleep? How many hours sleep do you try to get each night? Any special techniques for a good night’s rest? I try to go to bed early-ish, around 9:30 and read for a bit and hope for eight hours sleep. I feel goodish if I get seven-plus hours … for me I try not to think about work or talk about it which can be hard when we work and live together but if I can leave work at work slowdown, read and not eat too late then I generally get a good night and that makes the next day an easier one… 

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