So you've taken (maybe) the greatest leap of your life and started a small business. Maybe you started as a solopreneur, or with staff in your home, or in a brick-and-mortar space.
Time has passed, things have happened and it looks like … yeah, it looks like this little business of yours is not only surviving, but thriving. What do you do next? Do you have the often-spoken “entrepreneurial spirit” where you feel compelled to do and start something new? Or do you just ride the high of having a business not fail?
👋 I'm Lenore, and this is my story of how I made the decision to grow my business and what it looked like for me.
The Original Venture
My original venture was a brick-and-mortar scratch-method bakery and bespoke cake shop located a 15-minute walk away from downtown Kitchener, ON (the tenth-largest metropolitan area in Canada). We started retail sales with a very small baked goods menu and Kiwi-inspired single-origin espresso coffee. Before long, and due to COVID, we actually expanded our retail offerings and hours because we weren't getting as many large bespoke cake orders.
A year after opening and three employees later, my landlord said he might have a proposition for me: He'd just purchased another building in a village a 15-minute drive away, and he thinks I am the only person who could make something out of it. Why? Because it was a run-down, less than 200-square-foot shed, and he'd seen me navigate creating a takeout window during the pandemic at our original shop, and he thought that this shed could be a great place to sell in a similar manner.
A New Chapter
Much like childbirth (I'm told), the pain and horror of opening a new business were far behind me, and we opened The Shed (imaginative, I know), an outpost of LenJo Bakes, after a quick renovation to sell ice cream and baked goods.
We operated through the worst summer weather in history and through the winter until Christmas, despite it being FREEZING inside. Most of our customers knew of us from Kitchener or were told about us by folks who frequented Kitchener, and we were met with many questions: "Do you have coffee? Do you scoop ice cream? Do you have those *insert product here* that you make in town?"
Opportunity Knocks, Again
Again, my landlord approached me and asked if I wanted to move The Shed onto the main street of the village for higher traffic and increased visibility. This time I took it to my support network: my parents, my partner, my siblings, my friends, my staff. Most replied with a resounding yes, but that was just the start of it. I got to work jumping through the vigorous hoops of opening a brick-and-mortar store: permits, contractors, designing a space, imagining and reimagining this new part of the business. All the same steps I went through when opening my first location, but now with the added bonus of actually having a business to run, staff to mind, and customers who actually expected me to pay attention to them.
Everything after that is pretty much the boilerplate experience of opening a new brick-and-mortar business: Construction costs were higher than anticipated; trades made promises of getting things done and didn't; the bureaucracy of getting permits and approvals was still horrific, etc. The only benefit was that I was transferring two of my staff from my original location to this one, so I didn't need to train on culture or standards — we just needed to figure out how to do the new things together.
Six months after we intended to open (par for the course — we were six months late opening my first location as well), we finally opened The Shed: A Cafe by LenJo Bakes.
So that's the back story. But what's the why, the truth, the hope, and the learning? I'll tell ya! I've been asked these questions a few times, so I'll answer them here.
How did you decide to open a second location?
I don't really feel like I made an active decision to open a second location. Unlike my first shop, where I was intentional about seeking out a space that would work for us, this second location was basically just the result of a really great relationship with my landlord. I was offered an opportunity, it seemed like a good opportunity, and I took it. I was able to take it because I felt secure with the business that I had built; I felt secure in the team that I'd built to help run the business; and I was confident that I could do it again. And most importantly, if I didn't, at least I tried. I had the benefit of a pretty solid test market because of the first iteration of The Shed, which really helped me prove that there was a gap in the market that I could quite easily fill. I was also very keenly aware that if I wasn't the one to do it, someone else would come along in short order to do it instead.
What has it been like running a second location?
Pretty similar to my first location. Frustrating as all get out! The benefit is that this time I have experience on my side to know what I need to say, who I need to call, and just how persistent I need to be in order to get things done when I need them to get done. I was pretty timid with my wants when opening my first location, but not this time. I wasn't afraid to speak up, speak plainly, and ensure that everyone in the room knew that they weren't to take B.S. at all. Not with me.
Now that we're open? It feels like trying to learn to walk again after having been able to run marathons before or trying to live in a place where you only have a basic grip on the language. You know the mechanics of the skill you're trying to master, but you keep fumbling. However, now that we're nearly six weeks in, it finally feels like we're figuring out what works for us.
What do I wish I'd known?
Just how boring painting is. How tedious it is. How sore my body would be. I also would work 10–12 hour shifts at my original shop and leave and do eight hours overnight at The Shed — painting furniture, painting walls, painting our cash desk, putting up shelves, building furniture, washing crockery.
Add to that the fact that I was getting married on June 1, moving to a new house, and hosting friends from Australia for two weeks after the wedding in the house that I hadn't yet even moved into. I'm sure you can imagine the stress. I wish I'd known how to better prepare myself for the setbacks and have rally plans in place when I needed them. I wish I had been more proactive than reactive.
But there wasn't really a way to prepare well for the surprises. I couldn't have known all of the things I didn't know or wouldn't know.
What am I excited about?
Oh, all of it. The potential is the most exciting thing.
It's also just the fact that I know that this is the last intense expansion project that will have the LenJo Bakes name. We have another unit (the one next to our original location) that needs a bit of a freshen up (lighting, flooring, plumbing), but it will be NOTHING compared to this renovation, and it's not as urgent.
I'm mostly excited to have a much lighter stress load. I've built it. Now I just need to make sure that everything is prepared for our customers to experience what it is we do, and I'm good at that.
What about you? Have you thought about expanding your business? What are your fears surrounding it? Or have you already expanded? Share your experience in the comments below. We'd be keen to hear from you!
This article was first published as a post on the General Discussions board in July 2023.
Lenore Johnson is the owner and founder of both LenJo Bakes and The Shed, a boutique cake studio and café. When she isn't working (hardly ever), she loves spending time with her husband, her cat, and a good book (not necessarily in that order). She is also a Super Seller, providing help, guidance and support to members of the Seller Community.
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