I’ve been putting off writing this post. I put so much of myself in to The Plant Academy, and meeting all of you, all of my lovely and supportive customers, has been the absolute highlight of everything I’ve achieved this year with The Plant Academy. You all deserve a proper explanation of what is happening over the next couple of weeks, even if it hurts me and scares me to tell you all. I respect each of you more than to just keep all this to myself.
Saturday April 21st 2018 will be our final day trading in Southport Indoor Market. Our lease is up and we have made the difficult decision not to renew. I guess you want to know what does this mean for the future of The Plant Academy and why we are leaving?
The Plant Academy is leaving Southport Indoor Market, but this doesn’t mean we are saying goodbye. We always knew that Southport Market was not our forever home and after our first 6 months was done, we spent a lot of time looking for a new home for The Plant Academy. Honestly, it’s slim pickings in Southport and we couldn’t find anywhere we considered to be suitable within our budget. At the end of 2017, we found a place in Crosby we really liked in a good location at a good price, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful and the unit went to someone else. I think ultimately it was a good thing we couldn’t find anywhere new to move in to right now, because it allowed us to think outside the box. We have quite a few ideas of where we want to take The Plant Academy, including pop up opportunities, potentially a food truck and cooking courses and retreats. This is all stuff we are going to work on when we have a little headspace following leaving the market.
So, why are we leaving Southport Indoor Market? There are many reasons I could tell you but I’ll focus on the key points. For our first year here in the Indoor Market, we were on a reduced rent. This along with the low start up cost in the market, and the short term lease we could get was appealing when opening a vegan cafe for the first time in Southport’s history. I didn’t know how many vegans, vegetarians and open minded omnivores were in Southport and surrounding areas and I didn’t want to sign up for a 5 year lease that most Southport landlords were offering. However, to continue for a second year we would be paying over £17,000 per year in rent, service charge and VAT for our little unit in Southport Indoor Market. As a small independent this is a tough target when you take in to account our higher than usual food cost (due to using mostly whole foods over cheap processed ingredients), staff costs, other costs that crop up and to try and pay ourselves. It’s not that I don’t think we could achieve this, as The Plant Academy has been very successful this year, but I don’t want to continue to work so extremely hard just to hand most of our money over to Sefton Council whilst paying ourselves very little. The number of traders who have recently left the Indoor market, and those who are threatening to, makes that £17,000 number even more ridiculous to us. If you also think this is crazy, I’d let you local councillor know…
There are other reasons that go along with this. Such as our own personal goals, both personally and with our business. A lot of you know I have a hormone disorder called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and that I give half of each month over to suffering from this disorder. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years trying to help manage it without any hormone filled ‘medicines’, and over the past 2 or 3 months I’ve really been engaging with it, learning more about my own body and how a women’s hormonal system actually works. I believe the stress I’ve been putting myself under this year has been part of what has made my PMDD more difficult to manage recently.
Running a cafe is such hard work, I can’t stress to anyone considering this type of venture how demanding a job running a cafe is. Every time I overwork and put a lot of pressure on myself I have a terrible month with my PMDD, which makes running this sort of business even more challenging than it already is. I’ve realised that running a cafe is too hard for me with the limitations I have with my body, and that I need to find a way to run The Plant Academy in a different form that works for me and my menstrual cycle – as weird as that might sound. This isn’t a sob story so please don’t take it this way, I’m just aware that I have to take more responsibility for my own body. I need to give it more love, care and attention, and once it is in a healthier condition, I can start to really pass that love, care and attention on to others. Something I’d really like to do is use my knowledge of food, health and wellness to help other women with menstrual problems and in the back of my mind I am thinking of ways I could achieve this through The Plant Academy in the future.
I don’t want you to think The Plant Academy has in any way failed, and in particular I don’t want you to think that running a vegan business leads to failure. The Plant Academy has smashed it this year, we’ve done amazing and have been able to pay 6 part time staff members over the past year, who have become some of our best friends. Liz, Kirstie, Leah, Dylan, Lily and Poppy were all amazing workers who shared my passion for The Plant Academy and helped make it so successful. Guys, we love you all for that and can’t thank you enough for you time here. The past few months it’s just been me and my husband, Andy, running The Plant Academy and we’ve been paying ourselves a little which has been a great achievement, particularly in our first year of trading. We’ve also managed to hand over £340 a week to Sefton council and pay all our suppliers and wholesalers. We’ve never had a situation where we worried we couldn’t pay rent, staff, a supplier or anything like that. We’ve had it pretty good being busy from the get go (thanks to the power of social media and all of you!).
So no, our vegan business didn’t fail. To those of you who want to open you own vegan business, DO IT, don’t listen the haters or the doubters, just keep you overheads low, do the maths, make a solid business plan, and spend a lot of time on social media – Facebook and Instagram were the secrets to our success and learning how to properly make the most of these platforms is time well spent. And if you want any advice, we’ll do what we can to help. Email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reply as soon as I have an opportunity to.
And a message to those of you who don’t want to open a vegan business but still love all this stuff. Independents can only exist as long as you support them. When another vegan cafe opens in Southport, support it. This is the best form of activism you can do, in my opinion. If you want veganism to have a place on the high street for everyone to see, to be confronted by, to enjoy and for you to make the most of, then you need to give them money. Visit regularly – I mean weekly or at least monthly. You vote with you £££ and if you’re giving that £££ to Starbucks, Costa or another non-vegan cafe instead, you can’t expect the vegan cafe/business you say you’re lucky to have in your town to survive. It sounds kind of harsh, but it’s the true reality. Remember the power you as a consumer have.
I’m going to wrap this up now, so thank you for reading this long but important post. I can’t thank you all enough for being our customers this year! I am so unbelievably lucky to have met each and every one of you. Please keep in touch, we’ll be keeping active here on our website, as well as our social media accounts. We are also thinking of doing a potluck gathering at some point soon, if this is something you’d be interested let us know! I’ll bring the snap bars…
Love you all so so so so so much. Thank you again for an amazing first year in business.
Here’s to many more years of The Plant Academy…