Freedom. I guess that’s the word that sums up my new business and the model that attracted me in the first place.
To be free to focus on what’s important to me.
In life. In business. In the community. In nature.
Having run a bike shop and cafe in Brighton station for almost 5 years I had first hand experience of the realities of small business in modern times.
I was drawn into starting that business for the same reasons. Passion really. For cycling and good coffee, and for bringing people together through sport and friendship. It was an incredibly exciting time and very satisfying. I managed to carve out a unique business in a busy market place and became really well known and loved for creating a safe place for cyclists of all abilities to come together and have their bikes fixed or upgraded. The cafe side was a nice bolt on to the bike side of things and drew people in from all walks of life. It was a wonderful time and we had great success over the years growing from being pretty much a ‘one man band’ to having a few full time staff and a loyal following.
However, what I struggled with was the scaleability of the business and the negative economic effects that had on a small premises with limited space. To consolidate, the busier I got, the less profit I made, and with rising annual fixed costs as well as ludicrously cheap online bike parts being sold, we could only make money on labour. And we couldn’t turn over enough bikes to pay the bills.
Acknowledging this took me about 18 months if I’m honest. It was similar to being in a relationship you loved but knew, deep down, wouldn’t last. I didn’t have a plan B and just ploughed on with it until the end of the road.
I closed N+1 in November 2019 I was keen to acquire another local cafe and pursued this until the opportunity was lost. I found myself just before Christmas with dwindling capital and absolutely no idea what to do next. I started considering getting a job and conforming. I reached out to a few companies but wasn’t overwhelmed by their response. It seemed that having been successfully self employed for over 12 years didn’t exactly make me a great candidate!
Then, one night my wife Jenny and I were talking. Trying to figure out the next step. What about a coffee van we thought?
It was literally a light bulb moment. It shed light on an otherwise desperate future. So I started researching and it all started to come together. I can’t really put my finger on why it felt so right but I think again it comes down to the freedom of it. The idea of investing into an asset like a coffee truck rather than channelling that money into rent, rates, staff and alike was also a major attraction. Once set up and trading I knew that my running costs would be relatively low in comparison to running a cafe or shop. Plus, I had the confidence in knowing that if the idea didn’t take off I’d have an asset to sell giving me a sense of security and safety to pursue the idea full gas.
So that’s what I did. And despite currently being in a nationwide lockdown, I’m so glad I took that step. I only managed to trade for around 6 weeks before having to put things on hold due to the pandemic, but the growth I experienced in that time and the love and support offered from everyone truly blew my mind. I literally couldn’t make the coffees fast enough and the feedback was excellent.
And the cherry on the cake (or should I say the chocolate sprinkles on the cappuccino) was being able to have Ditching Beacon as my home and office. A beauty spot like that is such a pleasure to hang out in. It’s an amazing spot with incredible views and genuinely it’s own weather! And the people are absolutely spot on. Everybody that finds themselves up on the Beacon share so much in common and I couldn’t be happier there. I hope to be back as soon as I can but in the mean time I’ll be thinking of ways to improve on what I’m already doing and would welcome your thoughts and feedback.