Sticky Beaks’ Sporadic Musings

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This is the first post I’ve written since we started trading at the end of May/beginning of June. I find it highly unlikely that anyone has been checking back to our site daily, desperate for a Sticky Beaks update, if you have then all I can do is sincerely apologise. When I started the blog, I was thinking this could become a weekly or, at least, fortnightly thing to update. It would help promote the brand, maybe serve as a good way to keep our many, many followers up to date with the progress of our budding enterprise and, in some ways, act as a cathartic outlet, to talk about all the things which might be a bit too in depth to constantly bore our nearest and dearest with. That way, if you get bored reading the post, you can just stop, which is far more polite than telling us to be quiet face-to-face. 

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The issue with that is there’s very rarely nothing to do. When you’re trying new ideas recipes to keep your menu fresh, making sure the books are up to date, desperately seeking a new market to trade at and keep the money coming in or, in Laura’s case, holding down a full time job and doing Sticky Beaks which gives you, at most, one day off a week, the idea of blogging seems a tad self-indulgent and less important than the more tangible aspects of running a business. Case in point – I started writing this more than a week ago, and have only just got round to finishing it off.

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We absolutely love the gratification that comes after a good, or even average, day of trading – and it’s not just down to (very, very occasionally) being able to go home and roll around in a pile of £10s and £20s on your bed, but also getting incredible feedback from customers, making your friends’ festival a success, feeling part of a community of traders who genuinely want everyone to do well. The fulfilment far outweighs the sacrifices, but there are certainly plenty of them to deal with. I feel at my happiest when both of us are trading together on the stall, when we get a spare day or evening to discuss how to develop the business further or even just when Laura’s around to organise me. By the very nature of our current arrangement, the day-to-day running of Sticky Beaks falls mainly into my lap, and while I feel comfortable being a one-man band for 90% of the time, everything goes a lot more smoothly when she’s there directing me in which order to play the instruments. (The crowbar used for that metaphor is tax-deductible.)

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So there it is, the last three months, or Sticky Beaks’ first three months, have been physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding and dissecting it all, which I could very easily do, will not make for a particularly thrilling read. One thing I have noticed of late is the rise in popularity of buzzfeed-esque pointless lists, with intentionally non-round numbers of pictures/gifs/poignant advice, so in homage to that, I give you….

7 Highlights from Sticky Beaks first Summer of trading. #7 will literally blow your mind and change your life 4evs.

1. The Open City Docs Fest at UCL

This was our first big event, not long after we started out. Unknown to us until the day, we were chosen from hundreds of applicants because they liked our branding and menu, which apparently stood out from the crowd. We planned quantities perfectly, sold out of everything around 30 minutes before the end, but as well as this there was an incredible response to our food from the organisers and attendees, one of the other traders even bought three haloumi wraps and we have a potential source for future events with guaranteed high sales.

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2. Selling to an international star

Probably our worst day in terms of sales, so few that the girl organising it was too embarrassed to ask for a pitch fee, however the advantage of trading in Dalston is that you can easily be selling on the same street where a girl from Harry Potter and the verbose, back-combed, Fox News baiting, bedroom Olympic champion Russell Brand live (not together as far as I know). Being the only people offering a veggie option helped as he cycled past looking for some lunch. Laura got understandably flustered, I was a bit cooler, but also made reference to his drug addiction, not so cool.  It wasn’t just the thrill of selling food to a guy we’d seen on stage within the last 12 months, but the amount of social media interest and reaction having a picture of a well known celebrity eating your food can have. When you measure your success in Facebook post reach and retweets, it ended up being a good day. We still don’t know if he enjoyed it. 

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3. Buying a van

Maybe a slightly odd highlight, but I can’t even stress how vital it is to have your own wheels. For the first two months we rented vans, not only did that limit the number of days we could go and buy equipment and stock, but it would just eat into any profit we made over most weekends, which, fairly obviously for a new small business, isn’t huge and is even more vital for developing everything about your operation. That and it’s Postman Pat’s old van.

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4. UV fest

This was a micro-festival put on by three mates, by a twist of luck (possibly not how Ed would describe it) we ended up being the only food trader to a festival with 300 potential customers. It was a really encouraging day of trading, easily our most lucrative, but it’s not all about money. The day gave us some crucial experience of how to handle extremely busy rushes, which in conclusion is, you need more than two people. There was about a two-hour period where it just didn’t calm down at all, and without Ed stepping in and essentially acting as the director of the stall, I genuinely don’t think we’d have coped without him, and barely did when he was there.

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5. Fellow traders

You’d think in such a bloated industry as the London street food scene, there would be a lot of competition and animosity between you and your competitors. Traders are literally next door to their rivals. But it’s the complete opposite. The markets we have been at have been exclusively inhabited by kind, friendly, warm and unbelievably helpful people. Everyone is in the same boat and it’s a genuine community because we all know how difficult it is to get off the ground and make ends meet, especially at the start and it’s that shared experience that seems to create a genuine bond across the board.

6. Support of family and friends

It was a fairly large part of my first two blogs, but everyone is still stepping up in every way they can to help. Whether this is parents coming to visit and look after Lebowski or make our house look presentable after a week where we haven’t even looked at a vacuum cleaner, or Dave, Andy and Bobby helping me out at a new market when Laura has the audacity to not want to work 7 days a week, Neil designing the website for free or even just people asking how everything is going and showing an interest in what we are doing. It’s still a scary and daunting venture and the efforts however big or small of everyone around us that keeps us going on the difficult days. 

7. Being your own boss

I suppose it goes without saying, but being the man rather than working for him, is a wonderful feeling. The pay cheque that’s about as steady as a horse trying to play football (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AHVDJlKmKkdoesn’t matter when you’re starting out. I’d spent a number of years in an industry that I just didn’t care about, so got by on doing the bare minimum. Sticky Beaks, for both of us, is the polar opposite. It occupies every waking thought, I’m excited to be in control of our destiny. A quote that I keep reading, which is probably attributed to any number of people from Groucho Marks to Stalin, that helps inspire everything about Sticky Beaks is “Find something you love doing and work out how to get paid for it” – which is exactly what this business has provided. For the first time since probably my first couple of years at Sky, I am striving for excellence, and I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to food, so sailing through without much effort has already become an attitude of the distant past.

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