Setting Up the Sweet Shop

The story of how I set up the Sweet Shop is one that encompasses so many of the principles that an entrepreneur should live by, and perfectly demonstrates how I have lived my business life.
Between 2009-2011, I was at my lowest financially. The impact of the financial crash had left bruises that would take a considerable amount of time to heal.

Around 2011, my Elders owned premises in the city centre that was occupied by a sweet shop, and the tenant had stopped paying rent.

With the combination of successful businesses under their belt, along with their knowledge, mentorship and guidance, I knew when they offered me the opportunity of taking on the sweet shop that I couldn’t say no. And we all know that I live by the motto of Carpe Diem!

“What do you know about sweets, Sean?”
My response? “Absolutely nothing.”

I was instructed to go away and do some research. I quickly learnt that at one stage, the sweet shop – in its prime location in Liverpool – was booming. But why wasn’t it now?

I went in to look around. I was struck by the dirty shelves and the lack of produce available to customers. The manager told us freely how her husband was ill; it was clear that she had lost her sparkle and with it, her interest in the business.

I quickly realised that there were so many things that could be done better, and that I was the person to do it.

With my Elders’ support, I took on the lease. My Elders were, of course, motivated by the idea of finding a tenant and securing rent. I was motivated by making this new business venture a success.
I spent 6 months going to every sweet shop in every major city in the UK. I documented everything, from brands on sale to how they were packaged and displayed.

When the day came that the lease was taken from the sweet shop’s former owner, I was ready to pounce.
Admittedly, I still knew nothing about sweets, but I was armed with excitement and determination and a basic understanding of display. How we pulled off the opening, I do not know.

The place was filthy and required a deep clean. As soon as it was clean, we painted it. Whilst this was happening, I sat and googled the top 3 suppliers of sweets in the UK. I rang each of them and had the shortest conversations I’ve ever had in business.

“I need £10,000 worth of sweets and I need them by next week.”
“What do you need?”
“I’m opening a sweet shop and have no idea, you choose!”

Phone down and repeat twice.

Within a week, the shop was clean, freshly painted and had £30,000 of stock in boxes. Unfortunately, the stockists saw an opportunity in my inexperienced self to offload around £3000 worth of sugar free spearmint chews on me that lasted around 18 months! Special offers galore on those!

I didn’t have enough money to buy the sweets, not even close to enough. I purchased them on a credit card and had 56 days before the first repayment would leave my bank account. I was determined to make this a success, for the sake of my credit rating and for the sake of my Elders. I just needed enough people to come through the doors; I needed enough sales to make my repayments. Nothing like a bit of pressure!

I gathered all the people I could trust – a roll call of faith – to help set everything up and together, we worked round the clock to label, bag, and ribbon jar after jar of sweets. It seemed everyone knew more about sweets than me!

About a month after the sweets had arrived, the sweets were still sitting there, albeit bagged up ready to sell, and we hadn’t opened yet. My Elders came to me and told me that I would be opening in two days. I tried to protest; there was stock everywhere and I didn’t feel close enough to opening. But one of them – let’s call him Mr. A – had a rich history in opening businesses, and whilst he reassured me, I realised he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ll figure it out as you go along. You’ll not make any money whilst you’re sat closed, so just open the shop!”

Two days later, we opened, and thanks to him pushing me and spurring me on, we were able to make enough money that I was able to pay the credit card bill when it arrived not long after. I immediately ordered more sweets.

Ultimately, by the second month, my stock was in, and it was all paid for. If I’d missed one credit card payment, it would have all collapsed around me. These were tight times, but I used my spirit and determination to get through and succeed, and succeed I did, with my tight team around me who are still involved in the shop today.

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