It seems just yesterday that I was writing about my sister J, her husband P and their 8 yr old son, N, who moved from Milton Keynes to West Sussex to take over an existing small business, a deli and bakery/cafe, but it was two and a half months ago! I’ve talked to J a couple of times since to hear about their progress, and not just with the business, as it’s been a huge adjustment to all their lives. It’s hard to catch them in to be honest as the business is open six days a week so their only real day off is Sunday, and it’s usually spent, shopping, washing, ironing and other chores. On a nice day, or one when they’re not too tired, they try to get out and explore their new location. The Wednesday is a half day, but they then do stock taking, ordering and accounts until N finishes school and they can go home.
They’ve had to overcome a number of issues with the business and they realised that they had been a little naive and perhaps a bit too trusting. For instance, they were shown the accounts, including the outgoings. They were shown utility bills for X amount, which also included water. But when those same bills fell on their doormat after they’d taken over they were for almost twice as much and they didn’t include the water rates! Another example: the shop and its stock were valued and a price was agreed upon between them and the sellers but when they did their first stock take they found absolutely loads of stuff on the shelf in the store room that was out of date and they had to throw it away. And it was the same story in the freezers, items with “Previously frozen, do NOT refreeze” written on them! And things wrapped up in cling film with no label as to what it had once been, how old it was or if it could be used! She reckons they had to throw out over 500 pounds of unusable stock.
And then there were the suppliers. They were left a list of companies and phone numbers, but no indication of who supplied what and when they usually came! In fact, on their first day of owning the shop not a single supplier turned up! They had nothing fresh to put on the shelves to sell! Things like bread and the ready made sausage rolls and stuff didn’t turn up! A frantic call to the baker on the list and it turned out that the previous owners had told ALL of the suppliers that they were retiring from the shop, but they had neglected to mention that the shop would still be open with new owners! They also found out that none of the suppliers would take a cheque off them, it was strictly cash only as the previous owners appeared to have a bank account at Dunlop! J & P soon proved that they were reliable and could pay their bills on time so they’re now allowed to have accounts with the suppliers and pay by cheque!
They’ve definitely had their eyes opened. But it hasn’t all been bad. The people of the village seem to have gone out of their way to welcome them, they’ve received cards and phone calls, as well as people popping in just to say “hello” and glad the deli is staying open. They even got a welcome in the Parish Newspaper. And the customers are realising that things are better than they used to be. The old owners would bake every morning and then that was it, if they ran out of pasties by 10am, they would shrug their shoulders and that would be it! J & P bake two or three times a day, and customers now realise that they can get fresh baked items at two in the afternoon. They have made two good purchases so far, a coffee machine that grinds the beans for each cup it makes so its nice and fresh and tasty; and a sandwich Panini machine, so they now offer hot as well as cold sandwiches at any time of the day. Both items have gone down well. They also made up lots of Christmas hampers and sold the lot and took lots of orders for Christmas hams which they baked, glazed and prepared themselves. They’re learning, some things sell and some things don’t. Some days you can bake and sell twelve sausage rolls and people keep asking for more, so the next day you bake extra and no-one buys them!
They don’t have a great home life at the minute but that mainly because they have to live in a small rented house until they can get on their feet, hardly anything but the essentials have been unpacked so it’s a bit like living out of a suitcase. They thought they’d be able to buy something in the area, but you need to show two or three years of business accounts for any mortgage application as its now their only source of income, and obviously they can’t do that at the moment. So they’re going to have to be renting for quite a bit longer before they can get a personal mortgage. They’re also up at 5:30 in the morning to start the first bake of the day as they open up at 7am! The thinking behind this is that they’re less than 200 yards from the mainline railway station, so they catch the commuters heading to work in either London or Brighton. Since they’ve started this J has lost 13lbs and P has gone down 3 notches on his belt as they’re so busy all the time!
It’s been quite an adjustment for 8 year old N too. He has to get up at 5:30am when they do, and go with them to the shop in the morning until it’s time to go to school. Plus he had to start a new school which can be nerve wracking at any age, but he’s settled down quite quickly and his new teacher is happy with him. He also has to be at the shop after school until they go home in the evening, which is usually about 6pm. It was all new and exciting at first but the novelty soon wore off! He can now be heard to complain quietly about “coming second to a bloomin’ shop!”
I suppose it’s very hard at his age to fully understand the venture his parents have taken on and the difference it will eventually make in all their lives. But despite everything I know they’re happier, and even if they’re working harder at least they’re working for themselves and their own future.