Saturday, September 24, 2011

So what went wrong? Or was it right?

Only a week has passed, so I thought it would be a good time to take stock and offer some thoughts on what went wrong at the SourdoughBaker Cafe.  And some thoughts on what went right.

What went wrong:
1/. We embarked on a very labour intensive enterprise, without a clear idea of how labour intensive it would be. Thus, with our initial turnover, we could not afford to pay market rates for labour. Thus, we had trouble attracting and retaining staff.
2/. We had no capital to begin with - and in 18 months of operation, we only managed to attract $20K in little bits here and there. The equipment we were able to purchase was minimal with this budget - for the first year, we made all the doughs by hand! (One wonders how much that cost in labour!)
3/. Because I had to be so focussed on the operation of the cafe, attracting people to help with the not inconsiderable task of looking after the business side was essential. However, it is really hard to find people who have the skills to tackle this role. If they can be found, it's even harder to ask them to work for nothing! We needed someone fully functioning in this role who is NOT operational, and we got me, occasionally. In the end, the back side of the business became a heavy load I simply couldn't carry alone. This part of the business can really bite you when you neglect it, and it did.

But we also managed to get a lot right too.
1/. Our team grew highly skilled, and good at operating the business.
2/. We made some world class bread, coffee and food...most of the time.
3/. We communicated some of the concepts behind our enterprise to the general public effectively, and in turn, the general public embraced us.
4/. We established a professional, human and intelligent place where all people felt welcomed and warmly accommodated. We had some great conversations, some great moments...
5/. We developed a series of technologies that effectively meant that our cafe had virtually no waste. If you have been in the bakery or cafe business, you will be aware of how much waste there is. While growing soil out of food waste is often done, our methods meant that our waste became fuel. This is probably the most significant thing to emerge from this experiment in social enterprise.
6/. We also refined our woodfired technology to the point where it cost less to run than equivalent equipment powered by gas OR electricity.  There are significant advancements available to us in the future here, with Bertha 2 currently on the drawing board.
7/. We got our sourdough classes up and running and fully booked. We got some decent bakers trained too.
8/. We got lots of media attention, and built a solid customer base from all around the country, as well as Newcastle.

The list of things we got right isn't finished. As I reflect on these, there are a lot more rights than wrongs, and they are bigger rights than wrongs too. But the SourdoughBaker Cafe is gone anyway. For now.

But you can't hold this baker down for long, and in an upcoming post, I'll be able to tell you what's happening in the very near, as usual, keep an eye on this space!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Warwick,
    As someone whose career has included supporting the development of small businesses and watched my father develop a very successful travel business I admire the courage, tenacity and sheer bloody commitment of people such as yourself. Whatever fate throws at you, you seem admirably equipped to spit in its eye and grow and develop your fantastic business.

    I look forward to hearing the next chapter of this amazing journey and I wish you every success as you enter the next phase of this venture

    All the Best