Mumpreneur profile: Carla Garey of Saffron Catering Limited


Carla Garey

Name: Carla Garey, Managing Director

Age: 33 years old

About your family

I’m Carla and I’m married to Stacey Garey, my partner in Saffron Catering. Stacey oversees all the menu development and food preparation, whilst I manages the front of house operations and business management. We live in Appleby Magna in Derbyshire with our 4 children, Ben (13), Sam (11), Matilda (3) and Elliot (18 months). My mother in law, Kathy, mother, Valerie and sister, Nicola are also involved in the business.

What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?

I worked in catering and corporate hospitality since I was 18, and have always had an entrepreneurial streak. Taking on a pub and restaurant with Stacey in 2007 was my first venture into owner management, but running a busy local hostelry wasn’t really enough. I initially took on an additional job selling finance to catering companies, hotels and restaurants to raise enough capital to buy some stationery for a new catering company! My first business investment was £222 on letter head, comp slips and business cards which I thought was what I needed to run a business! Ha ha.It wasn’t long before I got the first booking – a staff meeting for 12 at a doctors’ surgery for £100! Running the pub, holding down the finance job and starting out with the new company meant I was too busy to worry about the transition – I just worked from 8.30am to 11pm every day!

When did you launch?

The company was started as a sole trader in 2010, and turned limited in 2012. At this stage, Stacey joined me in the business as a Director, and we both still ran the pub. In the meantime, I got pregnant and Matilda joined the family in November 2011. So, we are still very busy with new challenges!

How did you get started?

Slow to begin with, one step at a time building the foundations and trying to think ahead. My initial training was at Pizza Hut whilst at college and uni and this was invaluable for the early steps.

What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?

Making decisions, taking risks and knowing it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them. There’s also a lot of pleasure in being able to offer employment opportunities to local people, including taking on an apprentice.

What the thing you least enjoy about running your own business?

There’s a lot of responsibility with employing other people. Making sure you have plans in place for their development, knowing that their future depends on our success as a business. At the operational side, putting together 4,500 covers in December for parties is also a challenge, but one we’ve stepped up to!

What has helped you grow your business?

At the beginning of 2014, I saw an opportunity to buy a competitor – Occasions Catering. Through a cleverly structured purchasing arrangement, I was able to minimise the risk whilst optimising the customer growth opportunity. The acquisition doubled the business overnight, but I realised that I needed some help with business planning to ensure that the cracks didn’t show with this rapid expansion.

A friend in the pub mentioned the Government’s new Growth Voucher initiative to me one night. This scheme is aimed at giving small to medium companies financial support to access professional support in several areas including business strategy and leadership support. Following application, I was interviewed by the voucher provider and agreed to be a pilot case study.

The next step was to find the right advisor. I visited the online Enterprise Marketplace and selected Nicola Newall FIC as her business growth advisor. I chose Nicola because she was also a one man band and seemed friendly and approachable. She was also local and had some good testimonials about her work.

Together, Nicola and I worked through both businesses and developed a robust 5 year business plan to structure the growth of Saffron Catering and to incorporate Occasions fully into the one business.

In addition to planning, Nicola helped me Carla to find my first full time employee, an operations manager to help with the day to day business and to allow me to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ it.

What’s been your biggest business challenge? How did you deal with it?

Seizing the opportunity to acquire Occasions without the infrastructure to deal with doubling the business overnight was a big challenge! Within 10 months, Saffron had new premises, Stacey and I  sold the pub to concentrate on running the one business and a full team was employed to manage the business today…but the first few months were hectic and stressful. Knowing what the end game looked like helped with the stress; having a plan and sticking to it through the hard times.

How do you fit in work with family life?

Working with my husband has its interesting times, but we make a good partnership by playing to both of their strengths. Matilda was joined by Elliot in 2013, so balancing two growing boys with two toddlers and a fast growing business takes some juggling! Moving out of the pub means Stacey now works early mornings and looks after the children in the afternoon and evening, whilst I spend mornings with the family and works later in the day. At least once a year, the Garey’s ‘shut down’ and make sure they have some quality family time. And for the first time in 8 years, the Garey’s don’t have to work on Christmas Eve and have a Christmas tree up in the lounge ready for Santa!

Are you working towards a financial goal for your business?

The business plan outlines year on year growth at a rapid rate for the next five years, with a target of £1 million turnover by 2019. We are already 20% up on this year’s target, with a healthy order book going into 2015. A focus on going for the ‘right’ business and learning to say ‘No’ in order to grow a sustainable, profitable business has been a key learning this year.

Would you ever give up your business to do something else?

On some mad days,  I dream of lying on a beach in Australia relaxing, but with a work ethic like ours, its  be long before im back planning another enterprise to keep Saffron Catering growing!

Do you have an exit strategy?

At the moment, Im focused on continued growth and is loving running a thriving business. With four children and various relatives involved, I hope that in the distant future another family member or two will continue the enterprise!

Have you had your ‘I made it’ moment? Tell us about it. If not when do you think it will come?

Whilst it’s a bit early to be anywhere near ‘making it’, I have taken a lot of pride in being selected to be one of the ‘faces’ of the Great Business campaign. Seeing myself in national broadsheets and hearing herself on the radio certainly helps motivate me, and I hope it inspires others to take a step back and look at their business with support from business advisors. For Stacey his ‘I made it moment’ is undoubtedly his new 4000 square foot state of the art kitchen that has just been awarded 5* from his environmental health assessment. He takes great pleasure in showing his Chef friends around and showing off his equipment.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?

Running Saffron Catering, achieving our £1m turnover target and being rewarded for the hard work that comes from running a great company that makes special events happen!

Find out more about Carla and how she used Growth Vouchers to help her business grow.

 This post is in association with Growth Vouchers

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