The drive-in wedding trailblazer: Nathalie Selvon Bruce, Buttercup Bus Vintage Campers, Croydon
My company has been running for about 11 years now. It was my baby that I set up in response to expecting my first child. We had a little smart car at the time so needed to upscale with something more practical. I came back with a 70s pimped-up lowered-suspension camper van. My husband said, “Woman, what have you done,” and he was right – it wasn’t ideal for the family run to Tesco. Luckily, this was at the time when vintage was very popular in the wedding industry, so I decided to try break into it. From there I accidentally fell into a business that ended up being successful – until Covid hit.
One of the things that kept us afloat is the fact that we diversify across different sectors, but the core reason why our business ever started in the first place is the weddings and events sector, which has been hugely impacted by Covid. A lot of people in the industry have fallen through the cracks. The tight restrictions on weddings currently don’t make them financially viable, but because they’re not forced to shut down, people in the industry aren’t able to claim government support. We have managed to receive some support in terms of furlough and small grants through the council, but it falls woefully short. The only way we can plug that gap is to innovate and find other sources of income. I have been forced, as have many of my peers in the wedding industry, to try to think creatively and we’ve been lucky enough to come up with a couple of ideas.
‘I have been forced, as have many of my peers in the wedding industry, to try to think creatively’
The main thing that we launched recently is the drive-in vintage camper wedding. We collaborated with Lily Jones events – an amazing wedding planner – and we found two beautiful Surrey-based wedding venues, who equally need support in this time. The idea is that by using outdoor venues, it’s more Covid safe, and we can offer a fleet of camper vans that each host groups of six while following government guidelines. Just like you might go to a drive-in cinema, the wedding is staged at the front, and all the communications are done with speaker systems in each camper van. Then, at the reception you can still keep your groups of six and have a luxurious hamper.
We’re currently in discussion with local councils after submitting a massive risk assessment and questionnaire, and we’re hoping they’ll see that we’ve turned the wedding concept on its head and will allow us to operate with larger scale groups, in multiple groups of six. If we can get that, not only is it going to offer jobs and opportunities for people in that area, but it also is Covid-safe and responsible. Nobody wants to fight the cause of the wedding industry at the cost of jeopardising people’s health and safety; I believe this is genuinely an opportunity that is safe, keeps our couples happy for those larger scale events, and brings us an income.
See more at https://buttercupbus.com
The canned cocktail connoisseur: Nate Brown, Easy Social Cocktail Co. and Nebula Pizza, Hackney
My partners and I had been looking at setting up bars in London for a while, and had wanted to do high-end cocktails with canned cocktails as part of that proposition. There wasn’t much of a market for it a year ago, then the pandemic hit and we started considering it a bit more. We essentially ran with this idea which went hand in hand with the other business, a bar we opened up last September in the break between lockdowns.
Opening a bar at that time, all hospitality is deemed high risk by the banks, so you’ll obviously find life a little bit more difficult than pre-pandemic. We didn’t receive a penny from the government unfortunately. I became self-employed when I sold my last business, and because we opened up the business in September we were too new for government support.
We would have been insane to open up the bar last year if we didn’t have the cocktail company alongside, and if the pandemic hadn’t happened we would have had a much harder time launching the pre-packaged cocktail company. We went into this, knowing that our worst enemy at the time would have been wishful thinking. Trying to get the bar open fast was like living through an episode of Fawlty Towers, and we opened when we were about 80% ready; taking that into consideration, we’ve done very well. The bar itself did great when it was open and it’s due to open up its outdoor area on April 12, so we’re very excited for that.
The cocktail company has done really well too. It’s new ground for everyone so we have been very willing to adapt, evolve and sort of tweak what we’re doing to find the product market fit. I would say that we’re making the best of a bad situation by adapting the businesses to it. We haven’t been able to do any of the launches we would usually do like social events to get the word out, so my wife through her social media company has been the primary way of reaching new audiences. If social media didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist. We always wanted our tagline for the Easy Social Cocktail Co. to be ‘Life is better when we mix,’ but that’s technically illegal now so, not ideal.
I’m not massively positive for the industry as a whole now; as soon as the Covid cloud lifts, the Brexit one will descend which is probably more scary. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the businesses might look slightly different but they’d also be a lot further on. Personally, we sucked up the short-term pain for long-term gain, so we think we’re well set up for the future. We’re going to be coming out of this cash-poor but with no debt, which is better than a lot of people will fare in this industry in particular. I think there’s opportunities to find in any sort of change, and it’s all about trying to get in there.
The hands-free physiotherapist: Frances Lamberth, Fairhand Visiting Physiotherapists, Croydon
I started the business around 10 years ago after being a physiotherapist for 30 years. I needed a much more flexible working arrangement, so that was the driving force behind starting up my own practice. I now have two other physios working with me and we visit people either in their home or a care home; essentially, we take care of the older generation.
When lockdown hit last year, we had a 100% loss of income overnight. The nature of what we do meant that having to stay inside and not being allowed to go out completely halted our business. We could see it coming towards us, but equally when it happened it was very dramatic. We were able to access self-employment grants, and they’ve helped keep us ticking along. We’ve had to deal with not only the financial implications, but also the emotional toll that it’s taken. Our clients are elderly and often housebound and isolated, so to have them calling asking us to visit when we aren’t able to has been really tough.
I’ve spoken to other people and different business, and I think everybody felt a bit shocked in the first week, and then you have to put your thinking cap on. I worked very hard to stay in touch with all of our clients with either phone calls or personal cards, and from there I was taught how to use Zoom; that was a game changer. We can now offer some of our clients physio on Zoom; although this isn’t feasible for everyone, it’s been really effective for those we’ve been able to have these sessions with.
‘I think everybody felt a bit shocked in the first week, and then you have to put your thinking cap on’
We’ve adapted with what we’ve been able to do under the government guidelines, and since takeaways are still able to operate, we’ve made ‘takeaway physio.’ I wanted to make sure that we were catering to all of our clients, so this is an option for people that Zoom physio isn’t suitable for. I put together bags that I fill with tailored exercise sheets, heat packs and pain relief, that I can deliver to my clients’ front doors.
The fact that people are now getting their vaccinations is having a huge impact, and as health care workers myself and my colleagues have also had our first vaccination, so we’re starting to be able to visit clients with full PPE. Once things eventually return to normality, we’ll definitely go back to our traditional way of going out and meeting patients. However, it has definitely opened my eyes to new possibilities. I worked so hard to get the business to where it was, so to hit a complete brick wall through no fault of your own is incredibly difficult. As hard as it’s been, I feel positive for the future. While I think we’ll be wearing PPE for many months to come, I feel like we’re moving forward.
See more at https://www.fairhand.co.uk
The local business lifeline: Andy Szebeni, Croydon Eats, Croydon
I started Croydon Eats with my business partner Paul Sweeney; we both had businesses that were doing okay, but we realised things were getting hard. We thought it must be tough for takeaways and restaurants because they haven’t got any customers coming in, so we saw a market opportunity. We started looking around to see what’s out there, and Paul found the app ‘local eats’ that was licensing its technology – similar to other takeaway apps – to local areas.
In addition to there being a market opportunity, people are really focussed on localisation at the moment and wanting to support their local businesses. The pandemic has shown people what’s on their doorstep that beforehand they probably would have just ignored. People have had to shop local, and in doing this you’re supporting small businesses like ourselves, so we thought there was probably something there.
We are a local business for local businesses; that will always be our mantra. We’ve both been quite surprised with how much this has resonated with other local businesses. They’ve all expressed how they want to support us, because we’re helping to support them.
Covid has essentially been a double-edged sword for us. More people want to order food at the moment because they’re not allowed to go out. For our clients, that’s a lifeline, not a bonus. We have restaurants on board that have lost all their business, and now they’re actually able to get something back. For us personally, Covid has been good in the sense that it’s given us opportunity, but it’s been exhausting in terms of having to multitask looking after our families and setting up this business. It has been incredibly difficult, but we were determined, and we could see an opportunity for both of us to have a business that is welcomed and actually helps diners and local takeaways.
The government has left us high and dry. I’m among a huge group of self-employed people that have been overlooked; but I can be angry, do nothing and moan, or I can go out there and start a business. I’ve started a few businesses over the years, and I can confidently say that I’ve never started a business where we’ve had this much love from people.
See more at https://www.croydoneats.net