This young couple chose to live a vegan lifestyle after seeing coverage of the Chinese Yulin dog meat festival. Fed up of paying costly prices for their produce they decided to open up shop to provide the rest of Middlesbrough with a cheaper, greener alternative to living.
As part of our Young Entrepreneurs series, Business Advice caught up Matthew Wilson (23) and Charlotte Bottomley (24) to find out how they funded their startup and the importance of their business plan.
What inspired you to start your own business?
The idea came about when we first went vegan three years ago. We found it difficult to find vegan products locally and had to buy it all online, frequently with high postage costs. We wanted to make veganism more accessible to people in our area, by stocking specialty products alongside staples used in everyday life. We sell meat, milk, cheese and egg alternatives, vegan confectionery and crisps, as well as more specialist products such jackfruit and seitan. Our best sellers are vegan sausage and beans!
We also believe strongly in reducing waste as much as possible, which inspired the idea for a minimal waste section in our store. Here we sell bulk dried foods, as well as vegan shampoos, conditioners and detergents, to customers who bring their own containers, although paper bags and containers are also available in store.
What are the barriers to starting your own business as a young person?
For us, it was lack of experience, though Charlotte previously worked in local health food shops for a number of years. Neither of us had any previous knowledge or training in business, so it was initially quite intimidating having to start from scratch and learn everything ourselves, but we did get a lot of help and guidance from David Harris, the Dundas Market Manager. That being said, it’s been incredibly rewarding getting to where we are now, knowing that a year ago, we didn’t have a clue!
How did you fund your business?
We went through a start-up loans company. For us this was the best method, as we weren’t able to cover the cost of the start-up ourselves. We have also received support from our families, as well as putting in what we could.
What do you think the younger generation can bring to the business world?
Growing up with the technology we now use for business and having an innate understanding of its possibilities and limitations, coupled with a fresh perspective and innovative ideas is something that gives the younger generation an edge coming into the business world. Before launching The Little Vegan Market we used social media extensively to test our ideas and find out what products local people wanted to see in a vegan shop. This worked really well and we had a queue of people waiting for us to open on our first day of trading!
Will you ever work a 9-5 job?
Hopefully not, it’s great being able to decide how best to use our own time and we’ve become much more productive as a result.
Is a degree a necessity?
Though it depends entirely on the business, for us it wasn’t. Anything that we needed to learn was easily accessed by doing our own research, and while there’s still plenty more we need to learn, it’s great being able to cherry pick the information that you need.
What tip do you have for young people starting their own business?
Business plan. Business plan. Business plan. It’s so useful having the numbers down in front of you to see whether your idea is viable, although we struggled to see its practicality initially. A lot of it was just guesswork, but even now it’s proving invaluable in our first year of business. It provides us targets to aim for and helps us adjust our business model as necessary.
Market research also helped us when starting out, hearing feedback from potential customers really helped us tailor our business to our customers needs, which ultimately benefits both parties.
Who is your celebrity icon?
Charlotte: Emma Watson, she’s passionate about what she believes in, she’s hardworking, dedicated, and a great role model for young women.
Matthew: I’m going to be boring and say I don’t have one. There are so many answers, I just try to learn what I can from each of them.
What app do you use the most?
Without a doubt it’s Instagram. It is proving to be our most popular social media platform. It’s brilliant for marketing, allowing us to post to Facebook and Twitter simultaneously, making the whole process so much quicker.
Where do you see yourself at 50?
We’d love to still be working for ourselves, in whatever form that takes. We’ve got plenty of ideas for the business, so we’re looking forward to seeing where it takes us. Watch this space!
What song would be your life anthem?
Charlotte: I’m going to be the boring one now and say I can’t decide, there are too many!
Matthew: Africa by Toto. Amazing song.
Netflix or a night out?
Easily Netflix, clubs are far too loud, aren’t they?
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