Ross Halliday who – along with friend Jon Baldwin – started the Leeds-based Out of the Woods cafe chain in 2006. While working together at a suit tailors in the city, Jon revealed that he had dreams to set up a juice bar which awakened Lisa’s then-dormant entrepreneurial aspirations.
Every day, many of us come up with a solution for a societal problem that we believe would be a business success. Unfortunately, responsibilities such as mortgages, families and existing careers put the handbrake on the venture getting past the pipe dream stage. If you find yourself in such a position, this series of candid interviews with inspirational entrepreneurs from across the UK aims to show you that the idea you dreamt up while doing the washing up can indeed come to fruition.
“I had always wanted to have my own business.”
She takes up the story: My background is catering. I worked for the Marriott Hotels for 15 years so I’ve got a hospitality management qualification. My background was always hospitality, food and beverages, that kind of thing. Jon didn’t have any experience in that and we just got chatting.”
Frustrated by working for other people and being unable to find something nice to eat for lunch, Lisa and Jon decided to solve both problems themselves.
Sidestepping slightly from Jon’s initial thoughts of an Aussie-style juice bar, they decided that the hardy folk of Leeds needed something more than a fruit drink to prepare them for the working day. As such, they decided to use their cafe as a showcase for the best produce the proud region has to offer. “Ninety per cent of our produce comes from Yorkshire, using as many small, local providers as we can. We do get some crazy Brazilian beans from the Amazon rainforest for our smoothies, and there aren’t many places outside of London that do the crazy Brazilian smoothies that we do.”
From Idea to Business Plan
So how did they get to the point where they could provide this delicious produce for the ravenous locals? “We started writing a business plan in Jon’s flat one January evening in the dark. We took that to the banks to see if we could get funding.” Luckily for the pair, this occurred before the recession hit. This means banks were much more willing to give entrepreneurs business loans to get their start-ups off the ground. As a result, the four banks they contacted all agreed to lend, so the next aspect to consider was location.
Identify crucial elements of your Industry
In an industry such as this, location is key. Originally, the popular suburb of Headingley was the front-runner, but with the area already being heavily saturated with cafes and delis, they decided instead to look at the up-and-coming area of Holbeck. “We both fell in love with the area, just because of the regeneration – the new and the old. We were quite sympathetic to the regeneration of the area, and we just felt that the type of businesses already down there – the architects, designers and so on – were the type of clientele that kind of get what we wanted to do.” After the usual long, protracted process of securing the unit was complete, the duo had another problem to overcome.
Think ‘Branding’ from Day One
“The main hurdle was coming up with the name and the brand. That was the most difficult part of the whole process. We both had really different ideas of what we wanted to call it, and going back now I can’t even think what they were. And then, we were at a stage where we had to register with Companies House. We had a design company come on board to come up with the brand.”
At this point, they really needed a name so that the designers could start mapping out the brand, and after weeks of suggestions from both sides receiving a simple ‘no’ text response, their hallelujah moment arrived. “We were in his flat one evening, I think I was going away for a couple of days so it was like ‘we need a name’. I don’t know where it came from but we were kind of talking around the box and I don’t even know who said it but someone said ‘How about Out of the Woods?’ and we just went ‘that’s perfect! Absolutely perfect'”. The design team did their job, coming up with the squirrels that are now so ubiquitous with the Out of the Woods brand that some customers even call it “the squirrel shop”.
In its first year, the venture was a roaring success, with Ross revealing she was “overwhelmed” by how prosperous it was. Then the recession hit, and with the formerly-bustling neighbouring offices now half full, footfall decreased. However, this didn’t stop them. They even made the brave move of opening up second premises during this period.
Dream ‘Big’ but think strategically
“It was in our business plan when we initially started out that we didn’t just want one shop. It was designed to enable us to have a chain of shops – we could step back from the business and allow other people to run it. We would manage the strategic side of it. Ideally, we wanted to open a sandwich shop within one or two years of opening on Water Lane – and we put that off because of the economy and the costs. We couldn’t find the right site and for us, it was about right location rather than just opening anywhere. So when we found the Granary Wharf site, we knew it was where we wanted to be.”
Despite the hard work needed to keep both sites open at the height of recession, the confirmation that the south exit for Leeds Train Station will soon be under construction means that when it is up and running, an estimated footfall of 200,000 people a day will be passing right by the second unit and if even one per cent of those visit the cafe it will make it all worth it.
From humble beginnings…
Ross and Jon’s story shows that even the smallest of hints of an idea can blossom into a successful and fulfilling business, as Ross will attest: “You could come in on a morning and think ‘I’m going to do this today’ and you didn’t have to run it by anyone. It was so empowering to be able to do that and think ‘oh wow, I’m going to create a new sandwich today. Having worked for a big company before, like Marriott, it was really liberating to be able to do that.”