Monday, 22 April 2019

Let's get down to business

Let's get down to business

CHARLOTTE CAVANAGH is the proprietor of Time for Tea. Originally from York, she studied print and textiles at Leeds University and got a part-time job at Ampleforth College involving silver service. She then developed a passion for ornate china crockery. After graduating, she spent several years managing a bar in Leeds, where she met her partner. They now share a home between Henley and Marlow.

Describe your business

A “vintage afternoon tea” catering company. We provide china hire, afternoon tea, buffets and bespoke floristry. We specialise in all kinds of events in and around Henley, including weddings, boat trips, horse trials and private events.

How many people does it employ?

I have a team of 15 freelance “vintage ladies”. They dress in vintage costume, including petticoats and pin curls, and manage my pop-up tea rooms. They set everything up and take it down afterwards.

What did you do before you started this business?

After moving to Henley, I worked for a company called WindowFlowers where I installed large floral displays at prestigious venues in London. I then worked at White Gdn florist in Hart Street, Henley.

When did you start your business?

Four years ago. I started by hiring vintage china but the business quickly evolved to what it is now.

What was your objective?

I had always wanted to do something for myself. I knew there was a gap in the market so took advantage.

Who influenced you?

Nobody really but my partner was very encouraging.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

No, but I’m inspired by people who take the plunge and start a business from scratch, with very little money or capital, and do well.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would have started earlier.

How is your business doing?

Very well, even though the hot summer last year gave us some problems. It was difficult to keep all the cakes looking good in the heat and, of course, nobody wanted a hot cup of tea, so we made lots of iced tea and coffees — diversity is key!

How do you market your business?

I really don’t do any marketing now. Initially I did, attending wedding fairs etc. Nowadays much of my business comes from referrals, my website and Facebook. My brother built my website and he was brilliant in getting me to the top of the rankings on Google. I have some excellent relationships. especially with Hobbs of Henley, where we provide afternoon tea river cruises.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Freedom and fresh air. We travel anywhere in the South and have lots of fun on tour setting up in fields and back gardens. We often dress up for themed events. For example, we’ve been storm troopers at a Star Wars-themed wedding and catered and built a 3D shark’s head for a shark-themed party.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Staying injury-free. It can be hard work setting up huge tea rooms in fields and carrying very heavy china around in all kinds of weather. I always have to make sure I’ve got back-up staff just in case.

Where is your business headed?

I’ve just bought a vintage caravan from my grandmother and am currently renovating it to be able to serve coffees and teas at events. I’m always looking for ways to expand our services during the winter.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Having a great team of happy tea ladies beside me is the key to success — they are the face and soul of my business. First impressions count.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Just go for it! Know your market, research your competitors, plan your spending and make sure you provide something that other businesses don’t. Keep telling yourself that you will succeed.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Spreading myself across too many events in one go. My health suffered and so did my mindset. I quickly learned to cut back and concentrate on a smaller number of events that were more manageable.

How organised are you?

Very. I am a meticulous planner and timekeeper!

What three qualities are most important to success?

Know your market and the client’s needs, being approachable with a bubbly personality and having extremely good organisational skills.

What’s the secret of your success?

Having passion for what I do. I truly feel excited and a sense of pride when I have guests sitting down and tucking into their afternoon tea with big smiles on their faces. My goal is to make lasting memories and give customers something they weren’t expecting.

Do you have a five-year plan?

Just to continue at a steady pace.

How are you planning for retirement?

I’ve yet to have any children so I need to see how that works out first.

How do you dress for work each day?

Mainly smart casual unless we are dressing up for an event… we’ve even been garden gnomes!

What can’t you be without every day?

Caffeine and my phone.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

While working and when I remember! It usually consists of tea and sandwiches, naturally.

Do you continue to study?

I tend to study hands-on arty things, such as calligraphy and signwriting, which I can use in my business.

What do you read?

Motivational books and ones about how to make your business better. The Henley Standard, of course.

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