Launching a retail business is a huge job, whether it be a shop, café or restaurant. Chatting to our customers, many of whom are small retailers, we often hear about how making a business successful can be struggle. So, to get a taste for ourselves of the challenges that are involved, the team at Opus Energy (we’re the ones behind Brighter Business) decided to set up our own: the Kinetic Café.
Setting up shop for 48 hours in central London, the plan is to offer our patrons energising juice in exchange for their thoughts on the challenges and highlights of running a SME, partially powered by bike-blenders within the café. Sounds simple enough; and by the time we’d chosen a location and found suitable premises, we thought the main struggle was behind us.
If you’ve ever set up a small retail business of your own, chances are, you’re laughing at your screen. Needless to say, we’re learning along the way that opening a café takes preparation. A lot of it.
Here are just a few of the logistical hurdles we’re having to jump:
Anything to declare
If you’re working with food, it goes without saying that you need to be transparent about what you’re serving your customers. Not only are we legally required by the Food Standards Agency to make sure we’re clearly displaying all potential allergens in our recipes, but we also had to contact the local authorities to check we had the correct licence to even serve food and drink. Likewise, we’ve had to make sure that a member of the team had the necessary food safety qualifications.
We’re only serving juice in our café, but for an entrepreneur who might be setting up an entire restaurant, this part of the process alone can be incredibly complicated and time-consuming. We’d recommend consulting the government’s dedicated licence checker, available here.
It might feel at first like there isn’t a huge amount of equipment required to open a café, especially in comparison to the likes of a bar, nightclub or restaurant. When you stop to think about it though, even a café like ours, which will only serve juice, needs fridges, freezers, blenders and juicers.
Once you begin to add the cost of equipment, furniture and decoration, the costs really start ramping up. That’s not even taking into account the cost of maintaining electrical equipment, a process which is required by law, and replacing disposable items such as takeaway cups, straws and napkins.
Beyond the logistics of fully stocking our café, we had to consider our impact on the environment. Many of us are – quite rightly – conscious of the environmental impact of single-use plastic products, to the extent that consumers might actively avoid a business that doesn’t offer a more sustainable option. We’re choosing to serve our juice in recyclable cups with paper straws; helping reduce our footprint on the environment, while keeping sustainability-conscious customers happy, but at the cost of a more expensive supply chain.
It may sound obvious, but even with a small business, it’s vital to create the most comprehensive cost prediction possible. Think beyond your immediate expenses, and try breaking down your predicted expenditure on replacing and maintaining your equipment over the next year, so that you don’t find yourself scrambling to cover unexpected costs six months down the line.
Disappearing down the rabbit-hole
You could be forgiven for expecting a few aspects of setting up a shop or a café to be pretty straightforward, but we’ve learned the process can quickly become incredibly time-consuming when you least expect it. Getting hold of a PRS (Performing Rights Society) for Music Licence for our café, for example, has been a minefield. While we were expecting to simply pay a fee and acquire a licence, we’ve found ourselves having to read up on the legislation governing the use of music in public venues, and even giving a prediction of the number of people we expected to enter the shop.
The process became so complicated that we ended up calling a customer helpline to move the application process along. For an entrepreneur who’s branching out on their own, possibly without a steady income until the business is up and running, having to invest more time than you were expecting in what seemed at first to be a simple requirement can be a real speedbump.
There’s no place like home
One of the most exciting parts of setting up a shop is mapping out the layout. Making your mark on the venue by planning where you’ll have your stock, the tills and the customer area is a hugely satisfying part of the process.
However, it’s important to make sure you’ve also considered how the location will have a logistical impact on your business. For example, the road outside our shop is marked with a red line, meaning that suppliers can’t park outside the front door to drop off ingredients. We’re also trying to use local suppliers where possible, but because of our Central London location, we have to factor in the fact that drivers to the café have to pay a congestion charge.
These are exactly the sort of hiccups that we – and, we’re sure, many other budding retail entrepreneurs before us – hadn’t expected until they were quite literally on our doorstep. As well as visiting and thoroughly scoping out your location in person, speak to the locals about their experience of running a business in the area and find out what information the authorities have published on the various charges that are at play. Any London-based entrepreneurs, for example, should make sure to thoroughly read Transport for London’s guidelines on the inner-city congestion charge.
Launching our Kinetic Café has, without question, shown us the importance of getting your ducks in a row. Whether it be qualifying for the correct licences, ironing out any kinks in the supply chain or properly informing your customers of dietary information, there’s a vast amount to think about when opening a retail business.
To help any SMEs who are gearing up to launch their own shop or café, we’ve used our experience of unveiling the Kinetic Café to the world to create a call sheet, available to download, which we hope will help ensure your preparations are looking shipshape.