"Two years of frustration" is how Simon Pepping describes the lead-up to opening his Wellington eatery. He explains why the wait was worth it and gives his top tips for setting up a new business.
Simon Pepping expected his new business to be trading by Christmas 2013. As it turned out, there were almost two years between signing the lease and opening the doors of the Egmont Street Eatery in Wellington.
“Pretty much everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong. We had two years of frustration.”
“But we’re still standing, and in a way it was good to have extra time to decide what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.” He say.
Simon was already the owner of a catering business, The Catering Studio, when he started thinking about opening the eatery.
The Catering Studio was doing brilliantly, but he’d noticed that 40% of his profits came from selling his products wholesale to local cafes. There was an obvious opportunity to increase his profit margin by selling directly to the public.
Simon and his wife Stephanie were convinced they wanted to create a new business by themselves, rather than seeking sponsorship or a partnership.
“Our long-term goal is to be financially stable in the future. Setting up a business that could dovetail with our existing business was a good way to do it,” says Simon.
“One of the most important things for us was to be independent. We wanted to have 100% control over what we did, and to be 100% responsible for making our businesses a success.”
The couple started looking for a “low-risk hole in the wall”, but there seemed to be nothing around till an agent asked them to view a possible site in a former industrial carpark. Simon immediately saw the site’s potential.
“I said, ‘This is awesome. It’s a winner - I’m in.’”
Plans for the site had to be redrawn three times, but Egmont Street Eatery finally opened in July 2015.
“When we opened, we had a couple of weeks of wondering if people were going to come. Then we started getting reviews, and people realised we were there, and we just grew and grew and grew.”
Winning the coveted best burger award at the Wellington on a Plate food festival just a month after opening also lifted the business’s profile.
Simon’s six top tips for others considering launching a new business are:
- Ensure you have a strong business model that makes you stand out from the crowd. “Do your homework and make sure there’s a market for your service or product.”
- Draw up a robust financial plan. “Take only calculated risks and be realistic about your start-up costs.”
- Do as much as possible well in advance of your launch. “Don’t muck around - get stuff done as early as you can.”
- Consider the digital tools that may make it easier to run your business. “When we started our catering business, we introduced online ordering through our website with Kiwibank. Catering is usually an invoice-based business, so you can wait up to six weeks to get paid. Online ordering improved our cashflow because we were getting paid straight away.”
- Ask your peers for advice about your business before you open. “We got great recommendations for everything from architects to plumbers - 60% of our tradies came through word of mouth.”
- Be prepared to work hard. “For a long-term goal, it’s worth it.”
Stephanie has now left her management consultant job to join Simon and a team of 40 staff across the two businesses - including Stephanie’s mother who runs the office - helping the couple to maintain a reasonable work/life balance.
“It’s always tempting to work longer hours, but we want to spend more time with our young son,” says Simon. “We’ve already had several approaches to set up more businesses on other sites.”
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