The duo behind an innovative café experience believe foresight, planning and a goal of multiple revenue streams helped them to successfully trade during the current coronavirus crisis.

Photo of Black Milk founders

Andy Young and Olly Lloyd-Taylor, founders of indulgent café experience, Black Milk, took an early decision to shut the doors of their three high street shops before the lockdown was introduced.

Their decision was to put safety before profits, but they also had an air-tight plan for continuing to run the business. They were able to pivot from packed cafés selling cereals, shakes and waffles to online orders selling sauces, spreads and snacks.

Andy said: “We had pancake day and it was our busiest day ever, with queues out of the doors. We were doing really well - and then, suddenly, the café shut.

“We had been working on our side project for a while, so it was easy to stop and focus on that. It’s really come into its own now. We lost our main revenue stream but were able to focus on another. The lockdown has allowed us to give time to focus on things that had been neglected. 

“We shut the day we knew it wasn’t safe. We didn’t want to ask our staff to do something we weren’t prepared to do. For the first time in our lives, we didn’t want a full café.

“We saw the tables turning early on, in December and January. We spoke with our friends who worked in manufacturing in China about the effects it was having on society, so we started planning. In the end, we shut before the lockdown was imposed.”

Now in its fifth year, Black Milk has shops in Manchester and London. The brand quickly amassed a good following after starting out, but Andy and Olly wanted to take it to the next level.

A couple of years in, the guys received a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp, allowing them to scale up.

Olly added: “We set out wanting to create a place to live out your childhood in a café and enable people to share those experiences at home.

“The loan allowed us to take the business further. We were bigger, better, faster, stronger. It allowed us to take it up a notch.

“We’ve actually had three employees who’ve gone on to start their own businesses with help from Virgin StartUp, too. We’ve had the benefit of learning from good mentors. Learning from others is a key part of business life.”

And with life throwing up different challenges for business owners to overcome, Olly thinks it’s a good time for founders to focus on parts of their businesses that might have gone by the wayside.

Olly said: “I think it’s a good time for businesses to focus on things they normally wouldn’t have had time to think about. It’s a good time to look at your online presence, at deliveries and things like that. A lot of businesses we know have seen their online orders quadruple in recent weeks, so it’s a good time to get it right.”

To follow in Black Milk's footsteps, find out how a Start Up Loan could help you and your business today.