We're proud to support a wide range of busineses at Virgin StartUp, covering a variety of locations and industries. One of these is Sugar Muffins - a 50s-style diner/bar based in Wolverhamption, inspired by founder Nadine Dixon's experience running a vintage-themed mobile cocktail business. Here Nadine shares her story of getting her business off the ground.
Sugar Muffins began her journey as a 1950's rock ’n’ roll-themed mobile cocktail bar travelling to vintage fairs around the Midlands and catering for hen parties with cocktail workshops. The “Sugars" uniforms are pink 1950's style diner outfits with petticoats, and we served 1950’s-themed cocktail, mocktails and milkshakes. However my dream was to open a 1950’s-style rock ’n’ roll-themed diner - like the mobile bar, but permanent. And in October 2017 I was ecstatic to open our (retro baby pink and black) doors to the public.
I had the experience of running the cocktail bar, and knew there was a demand for it, but one key hurdle was funding. After researching and hitting brick walls with business loans and basically trying to beg, borrow and steal from anyone and anywhere, I applied to Virgin StartUp. After eight nervous weeks I received the most important email in my life to date: I had the “Yes!” I so desperately wanted. At last someone believed in Sugar Muffins.
Finding the right location
Finding the right location for your new business is key. The diner is part of The Wulfrun shopping centre in Wolverhampton, but located on the outside. There are so many benefits to this. It's situated directly by the main car park and bus routes (the reaction to people passing always makes me smile!) There’s a new outdoor market being built as well, as part of a larger regeneration of Wolverhampton, which includes new builds and a new cinema - and as luck would have it, we’re located directly opposite this market. As it’s part of the shopping centre I receive free social media advertising, and it’s also free for me to hand out flyers within the centre. The shopping centre managers also work with me to find new ideas to help promote the business, which is incredibly useful. The city is having a new wave of life, and I feel excited to be a part of it - it’s the perfect place to be a new business.
Community and knowing your purpose
I am a great believer in community. Although the diner is 1950’s theme we will be holding events and live music to suit everyone's taste, young and old - everything from bands, vintage singers, private events such as hen parties and birthdays, and workshops during the school holidays. Customers can pop in and have a chat or sit and read the paper. We want to make sure that everyone feels they belong. Knowing our purpose and what’s at the heart of our business from the beginning is important at any time when you’re starting up, but especially in those early days; it keeps you going when things get difficult.
And as with all startup stories, things can get difficult! The greatest challenge I faced were estate agents. I wasn't taken seriously and asked to produce evidence of my financial situation, refused viewings or told premises were under offer (these are still now vacant), or they tried to exploit my situation why offering to locate a premises for a fee. Which of course I politely declined.
Support and achievements
However, as well as rougher patches, I encountered some amazing support. Relief came particularly when I located the diner premises, as one of the heads of LCP who own the Wulfrun Centre is female. She contacted me herself with such enthusiasm and encouragement, and came to meet me the day I received the keys. I also received 100% support from Wolverhampton Council in regards to my applications.
I can't actually name one biggest achievement as every step of the journey has been important and a learning curve. I suppose just getting to this stage after years of sacrifice, researching and educating myself, and believing when no one else did, says it all. No one truly understands or knows what a business owner goes through and always presume that it's suddenly happened. They don't see the sleepless nights of worry, no money and the amount of tears and tantrums there has been and still more than likely plenty more to come. But the feeling of running your own business - walking in the door and seeing what you’ve created, hearing from happy customers, and seeing your dream made real for the first time - is a truly amazing feeling.
From my experience so far I would tell any new entrepreneur who has an idea to research as much as possible. Talk to as many people as possible. Never take no for an answer, and if something doesn't feel right do not be pressured or persuaded into saying yes. Always ask "Why?"
Things don't happen overnight and there will be some very frustrating times; but hang in there, as at the end of the day there will only yourself to believe.
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