They say that a good cup of coffee is one of the first victims of an economic downturn but Vicky Livingstone spoke to one entrepreneur taking no notice of the recession.
As far as business ventures go, deciding to start up your own small coffee shop during what some are calling the worst recession since the 1930s may seem baffling to many observers.
But it has been argued that some of these smaller enterprises are more “recession-proof” than others and can actually thrive in spite of the difficult financial climate.
Assessing whether coffee shops fall into this ‘recession-proof’ category has been a difficult task, particularly with the wide range of conflicting reports on their recent sales.
In January, globally-successful coffee outlet Starbucks announced it was to close 300 stores worldwide. But fast-forward to March and chief-executive Howard Schultz, who angered business secretary Peter Mandelson in February by claiming the UK economy was “in a spiral”, had given the go-ahead to further expand the chain in London.
Business graduate Anna Hubble, aged 23, is hoping that a combination of factors will mean that her new coffee and juice bar won’t fall prey to the continuing financial turmoil.
Impulsive, which opened last week, offers a range of made-while-you-wait smoothies, coffees, food and snacks located in Market Street in Kingswinford.
Anna, who grew up in the area and is a former pupil of Kingswinford School, showed the first in a series of business savvy decisions by choosing to open the doors of Impulsive at Friday lunchtime – just as the surrounding local schools finished for the Easter holidays and hundreds of pupils would have two weeks’ free to spend their time – and money – in coffee shops.
Seizing the opportunity, she co-operated with her former teachers at the school, which is less than half a mile away, informing them of the impending opening and also offered a student discount to the pupils who, during term-time, flood the streets at lunchtime and after school.
Although she doesn’t want to limit the appeal of Impulsive to just schoolchildren.
She said: “I don’t want to alienate any part of the market, I know I can’t afford to. I want Impulsive to be accessible to everyone from pupils to people who just want to drop in for a cup of tea as they’re passing by.”
Much of the past month has been spent on a publicity blitz of distributing flyers, spreading the news by word of mouth and even offering discounts to the businesses near to the shop.
Leaving no stone unturned, she also advertised in local gyms and doctors’ surgeries, hoping to attract the more health-conscious members of the public with her range of fresh fruit-based smoothies and juices.
Passers-by were enticed in for the grand opening with free samples of traditional Italian ice cream and, of course, samples from the Impulsive menu.
She said: “The place was decorated with balloons and we had music, as well as samples of the products for customers to try.”
Although she only began work on the shop at the end of February, she has managed to turn the place around in time – owing at least in part to a bit of generous help from others.
Former colleagues, friends and family have all been on hand to offer advice and help out with the odd spot of painting – and it looks as though it may even help some of them out in return.
“I’m good friends with some local artists who are creating unique pieces of artwork especially for the shop,” she said.
“It’s great advertisement for them as, although the pieces we have here won’t be for sale, their details will be displayed for any customers who take a liking to their work.”
Although Anna only graduated from Aston Business School last summer, with a BSc in business management, she has been working in the hospitality industry since she was 18.
“My degree was largely theory-based but I learned a lot about the practical and managerial side from working in pubs,” she said.
She eventually worked her way up to the position of assistant manager where she acquired food and hygiene qualifications and a licence to sell alcohol – although the most alcoholic beverage you’ll find on the menu at present is a Cointreau-flavoured hot chocolate.
In terms of local competition, Anna doesn’t need to worry about wrestling customers away from any popular coffee-giants – the nearest Costa is four miles away in Stourbridge and the nearest juice bar is also four miles away at the Merry Hill shopping centre.
In fact, it seems that word of the new enterprise has left other local businesses quaking in their boots – before its doors have even opened.
“There’s a more traditional cafe just around the corner from here and I’ve heard that they have now started to sell smoothies,” she added.
“The difference is mine will all be made from scratch using fresh produce.”
The budding entrepreneur has high hopes and ambitions for her enterprise and, if all goes well, plans to open more branches in the future.
She said: “I’m hoping that if Impulsive takes off I can expand to other places nearby, maybe Bridgnorth or Telford. What I really want is for each shop to have a unique feature, as this branch has a garden which you don’t find in many coffee or juice bars.”
While many would see Anna’s foray into the business world as destined for failure, it’s worth noting that she’s following in the footsteps of others who began in similarly financially troubled times.
Microsoft-founder Bill Gates formed his billion-dollar company in the recession of 1975, James Dyson launched his vacuum cleaner company in the middle of the recession of the early 90s and Hewlett-Packard was born in a garage at the end of the infamous Great Depression.
One of the most surprising successes of the recession in the 1990s was Haagen-Dazs ice-cream – while it was luxurious in its sector it wasn’t hugely expensive and therefore seen as an affordable treat.
Anna is hoping to replicate this success with her range of affordable treats. She said: “At the end of the day people still want to be able to treat themselves and a coffee or a smoothie is a lot cheaper than buying a new sofa.”