I’ve had this feeling of being lost in life many times in the short 25 years I’ve been on this planet, and always rush from one thing to the next in the hope it’s the right decision. I’ve had so many jobs, most of which I’ve only stuck out a few months before quitting or (on one occasion) getting let go. I’ve got both an undergraduate degree and a Masters degree, neither of which I use. I did one year of a PhD before quitting that, too. And then I jumped in to The Plant Academy, only to walk away from what I’d created after a little over a year.
First of all, I just want to say a huge thank you for the overwhelming response we got to our last post about why we left Southport Indoor Market. If you’ve not already read it you can read it here.
I have been feeling so much love from you all, and I am so extremely lucky to have found an amazing community in this town and it’s surrounding areas of people who share the same values as me and feel a genuine connection to The Plant Academy. It’s been an amazing couple of weeks which I didn’t expect, and I will never forget. Thank you for caring about both me and The Plant Academy.
It’s definitely important in life to look back on the good and the bad, but equally important to live in the present and not the past. With this in mind, I’m focusing on The Plant Academy in the now. I’m making plans for this month on what we can do and trying to figure out what I want The Plant Academy to be in the long run. A lot of you are asking about us opening up a new cafe and honestly, it’s not on the cards right now. But we are seriously looking in to pop ups and would like to do our first one early June ’18 – so keep your eyes open for more news on this. If you have a space in Southport or close by that you’d be interested in hosting a pop at, please get in touch with me via email@example.com as I’m looking in to all options at the moment.
We have a couple of more solid plans in the works, though. On May 12th and 13th we will be on Chapel Street in Southport all weekend selling our wonderful cakes and other goodies! I’m so excited to be doing this and I very much expect all of you to turn up as I miss you all already ❤ We’ll have tons and tons of snap bars and cake – let me know what cakes you want me to make so I know what you all want! My dad will also be there selling his ethical vegan gifts. He usually works the summer Formby Market, so some of you might have spotted him before.
The next thing we have coming up is The Plant Academy ebook! I’m so so so looking forward to putting this together as it’s been in the works for many months now. I keep talking to you all about it and not doing anything, but it is now a priority and we will be writing it over the early summer with the aim to release it in July/August. It’ll cost a small amount, but less than your average cook book and will contain all my original recipes that I’ve created for you all at the cafe over the past year. Is there anything that you really want me to include in the ebook? Let me know in the comments!
I also want to be posting at least once per week on here. I’m interested to hear what kind of content themes and features you’d like to see from me? Recipes? Vegan lifestyle advice? Vegan travel? More about living with my PMDD? How a healthy vegan diet helped my dad reverse some of his MS symptoms? Vegan nutrition? Plant based pet food? Please feedback to me as I want to give you all what you want.
The final piece of news I want to share with you is actually not my news but the news of my friend Ben Chew who some of you will have come across before. He’s the master mind behind Megafauna vegan catering and he’s working towards opening his own little vegan cafe in Southport!! Keep an eye on him on his facebook and instagram where he’s sharing his updates! We’ll be there supporting Ben as he keeps all of Southport vegans well fed. (Please all remember The Plant Academy was your first vegan love, though hehe).
That’s all for now, kids! I’ll update regularly on here with what we’re up to, but don’t forget to come see us on Chapel Street in Southport on Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th May!
Love you all a ridiculous amount!
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…
Welcome to a new series of articles called Lessons In Business. I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to create a website with a way of sharing more of ‘me’.
One of the biggest thing’s I’ve noticed as a young business women is that to be seen as just another human is, by some, considered a weakness. To show vulnerabilities is to be the opposite of a strong business women. We are thought to be strong when we portray the masculine. We work our butts off to show we can be just like any man, and on occasion, require the presence of a man to be taken seriously at all.
However, I am a strong business women. But I have vulnerabilities, insecurities and imperfections. I work hard, I break, I put the pieces back together, and I become stronger.
This series on Lessons in Business is about the things I’ve learnt in the 11 months since opening. I’ve much yet to learn, but I wish I had read something written by someone who told the truth. Not just another corporate article, but a real human, a real women, sharing her insight in to owning a vegan business in a small town.
In this lesson, I want to talk about the process I went on towards opening my vegan cafe. In the year preceding April 2017 when we opened, I quit my PhD after only one year as I couldn’t handle the stress (oh, if only I knew…). I loved studying, but in reality, I had reached the end of studying in that way. My passions shifted when I became vegan in 2015 and I entered a process of my entire world view being shifted to see the reality of the society I lived in. I wanted to make a change but I knew traditional activism was dying, it was no longer converting people, it only made them switch off. So I started a food blog and Instagram account like every other 23 year old vegan. I realised I was actually REALLY good at recipe creation and having worked part time in hospitality since I was 14, I decided to quit my job and open my own cafe.
Now here comes the tricky part. You can’t just ‘open a cafe’. Money, planning, and a lot of maths are involved. I could only afford to open a cafe because I sadly had two grandparents die in 2016, both of whom I was close to. I inherited a little money, I could either buy myself a small second hand car or open a cafe. I choose the latter (and I still don’t have my drivers license.) My parents invested in me too, buying me a coffee machine and setting my bank account up so I could make those first orders. Thanks Mum and Dad.
I looked at many units and even gained change of use of one, which then fell through. I decided I didn’t want to wait around for ‘the perfect’ unit. I felt that the time was now and I needed to find somewhere. I was walking around Shoreditch one day, as you do, wondering through the markets and around Boxpark and realised I could find a ‘for now’ space, somewhere small with low commitment. Where if my business didn’t work I could leave. So I approached Southport Indoor market. In all honesty, I knew from the first conversation that it was too expensive for what it was. But I didn’t feel like I could negotiate and so I took the first price and I’ve suffered that mistake ever since. We somehow have done well despite our rent, but I can’t help but think about how much I could actually pay myself had I negotiated the rent down. No one in business talks about money, I’m not sure why, I think it’s because money makes us feel awkward and vulnerable, but I pay over £1200 a month for our little unit, including rent, service charge and VAT. I pay all other bills like electricity and BID on top of this.
If I were to do it again, I’d learn, I’d go in as a strong female and ask for a smaller rent. I would probably have been told no and had to have made another decision, do I pay the crazy high rent or go elsewhere. At the time, there was no ‘elsewhere’ – but I could have started my brand on outdoor markets and/or pop ups whilst looking.
In the end everything happens for a reason, and I don’t regret a thing.
I then spent a month buying and building everything to go in my cafe. I invested where I needed to, for example in a really good coffee machine. But I skimped on my fridge and freezer as I knew I didn’t need much space to keep things cool as I was only a small vegan cafe – so no meat or dairy needing to be kept on their separate shelves. My start up costs were relatively low in the end for what I got, but I pay that back in rent. And unfortunately, when someone tells you your food is expensive, saying your rent is high doesn’t change how much they’re prepared to spend on lunch.
Whilst this has been a hard lesson over the past 11 months, I am happy I made the decision I did. I have managed to create an amazing little cafe that attracts wonderful compassionate people to it every single day. And, at 11 months in, I am able to pay both my husband and I a small amount each month. And it’s all from an idea that one day popped in to my head.