We chat to Tracy Vardy, director of Sim Trava, the family run franchise business partners with Costa Coffee and Pita Pit.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
I’m Tracy Vardy and I am a director at Sim Trava – a business my husband, Simon, and I set up 12 years ago. Sim Trava is a franchise partner of both Costa Coffee and Pita Pit, a healthy Canadian fast food chain, based in the North of England. Our aims are to create a great place to work and provide great customer service – while making a profit in the process.
What time does your day usually start and end?
It doesn’t feel like there is a start or an end time because I love what I do – it isn’t like coming to a regular job. There is no separation between weekdays or weekends either, but I guess that’s just part of the mix of running a business.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
For my husband, Simon, who is also a director, it’s making the deals and growing the business. However, for me, it’s about the colleagues we employ and seeing them grow alongside our business. In all honesty, there isn’t any aspect of my role that I don’t take enjoyment from.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I think mainly the frustration of working for someone else is what spurred us on to take the decision to start Sim Trava. Simon and myself are both from large corporate backgrounds so the pair of us know what it’s like to work for a business and not have a say. The powerlessness of this is what made us want to move away from that kind of life and become our own bosses.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
We had talked for a while about starting our business and going down the franchise route, but we needed to make sure we properly researched our options. At around that time, Simon had taken four weeks off work to recover from an operation and so was stuck with having to rely on the coffee served in our local cafes in Altrincham. The coffee was really poor so we began researching coffee franchising opportunities. Then, as if by fate, Whitbread announced it was opening its hugely-popular Coffee Costa brand for franchising. 12 years on, we’ve just opened our 25th Costa Coffee store, with more in the pipeline over the next few weeks.
How did you fund your business?
We launched Sim Trava by matching a capital investment of £70,000 with our own funding. From here, we’ve been able to open all new stores by splitting funding 50/50 with the banks. A turning point for us came last August when we refinanced with HSBC. This has seen us being given access to finance of up to £3 million for new store developments and refurbishments, which means now we have the ability to make decisions swiftly and expand quickly while the opportunities are available.
What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?
Simon comes from an engineering background and worked as a company director in a local manufacturing company so he has experience in making those crucial business decisions and deals. I myself come from the social housing sector which has taught me about the importance of developing your own people.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
I think making sure your business idea is safe and allows you to make money is probably one of the most important pieces of advice for those starting their own business. Always prepare a realistic and comprehensive business plan – if the plan doesn’t make money, then don’t do it.
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
This is something Simon and I have had to work on but has definitely got easier – particularly since we’ve employed a fantastic senior management team. This includes an operations director who is responsible for the overall running of all Costa and Pita Pit stores. We’ve also created centrally-functioning teams such as facilities, people support and finance, who all contribute to running a large business. While the ultimate responsibility does still lie with Simon and myself, we’re fortunate to have a great team of people within the Sim Trava family to support us and help find the right work/life balance.