Hitting the road - How three entrepreneurs went mobile during the pandemic
- Credit: Supplied
What has it been like to start a mobile business during a global pandemic?
STUART ANDERSON spoke to three Norfolk entrepreneurs who have got their dreams on the road.
When she is not busy cooking up her next batch of wax melts, she’s filling online orders or selling directly to customers at a pop-up stall.
Running your own business, says Hannah Clark, is more than a full-time job.
“Every second that you have you have to put into it,” she said. “There’s no free time anymore."
Miss Clark, 22, and from Wood Dalling near Reepham, started her firm called The Scented Barn in 2020 not long after she was made redundant from her job at a holiday park due to coronavirus.
Spurred on by the pandemic, she has become part of a growing cohort of business owners who have ditched traditional shopfronts for a more mobile way of doing business.
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Selling a range of wax melts and reed diffusers, most of her sales are online, driven by fast-growing Facebook and Instagram pages, and she also sells at fairs and events.
"Social media has been a huge help - one person finds out and they share a post with friends and family. Within a month I was selling to people who I had no idea who they were,” Miss Clark said.
“The most challenging thing has been the work-life balance - it can seem all work, work, work.
“But seeing customers share photos of themselves enjoying the products in their own homes makes it all worthwhile."
Miss Clark said she realised the venture was a success when she recently filled more than 100 online orders in a month, and at an event there were more than 30 people standing around the stall.
And although she is enjoying the versatility of mobile working, she still hopes to one day open a permanent shop.
“I love speaking to customers in person, and I can’t do that online," Miss Clark said.
"I can’t wait to open up a shop with a workshop out the back, definitely local to where I am but also in a busy area. I’ll get there.”
Also embracing the mobile approach is Peter Thorogate, 48 and from Sheringham.
A former chef turned taxi driver, Mr Thorogate’s cab business took a huge hit during last year’s lockdowns.
He had a van kitted out as a gourmet fish and chip shop he called Chish and Fiddy, and started selling suppers in underserviced spots around north Norfolk's towns and villages.
During this year’s tourist season he cottoned onto the pandemic-prompted boom in camping, and he soon had all the custom he could handle.
Mr Thorogate said: “After we moved onto the campsite we got so busy we were selling out every night. It was really hard work - but I feel very lucky and very blessed.”
Mr Thorogate is now on a winter break from the business, and he had considered selling up altogether and putting the proceeds towards a deposit on a house.
But he has now decided to continue with Chish and Fiddy as a seasonal venture, combined with some taxi driving in the off season.
“In a few years I will have a bigger deposit and hopefully the housing market will have stabilised," he said.
"I’m chomping at the bit to get started again - I’ve got some wonderful ideas for 2022. I’m planning to do vegan and vegetarian wraps and burgers to help cater for all tastes.
“We’ve been really well supported - we went from being very small to big quite quickly.
“I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the communities in places like Aldborough and Overstrand.”
Connor Florence didn’t waste any time when planning to launch his mobile business - he started planning it aged just 17.
Two years later, Mr Florence, from Diss, said he was thrilled with how his venture -a coffee stall in a converted horse float called Florenco's Coffee - was going.
He said: “I was in Year 13 and I wasn’t enjoying school. It was a big decision, but I decided to drop out.
"I worked at Breckland Lodge in Attleborough for a couple of years and that’s where my passion for coffee, and for doing it properly, really grew.
“I wanted something I had complete control over. We looked at having a shop as well, and it would have been £120,000 to start up - for a 17-year-old kid that isn’t affordable.”
Mr Florence bought and adapted the horse float thanks to a loan from his mum and a bit of ingenuity.
He said: “The main challenge was that we couldn’t get hold of a lot of materials such as timber, so we used a lot of recycled stuff and old pellets.
“Another problem the pandemic caused was that I couldn’t get my trailer licence because they weren’t doing testing, so I had to get someone else to tow the float around.”
Although that slowed the business down for more than half a year, Mr Florence said he was now enjoying taking the trailer to spots across East Anglia including Sheringham, Cambridge and North Lopham to share his love of coffee.