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Extensive research pays dividends for cookery school

Seasoned Cookery School

Having experienced the London life as a graduate, Clare Major moved backed to her roots on the Staffordshire, Derbyshire border to start her own food business journey.

Eight years later, Clare has established her own very successful cookery school; ‘Seasoned’, but not without a lot of hard work and commitment along the way.

Getting started

Having previously worked as a Product Manager for large, corporate organisations, Clare had developed a strong skill set in the commercial and marketing aspect of business that she wanted to put to good use. But, rather than working for someone else, she wanted to do it for herself.

After moving back to Staffordshire, she spent her first year carrying out business research analysing all her options.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the food industry, so I researched lots of ideas, put together lots of business cases, spoke to some great people and read some inspiring books,” explains Clare.

“You can’t underestimate the value in spending time researching a business idea and how it could work for you. I knew I didn’t want to be a chef but wanted to use my skill set within the food industry.”

Clare set up the business on a ‘test and learn’ model which saw her rent a temporary unit and set up a pop-up cookery school to gauge the interest in what she was offering. “We did this for two years and then we were fortunate enough that a unit on the Catton Hall Estate came up for rent, and this is where we are today.

“With my moto being to inspire people with food, where better place to do this than in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside?” she says.

The team

“I have always worked with independent chefs as it has never been my aspiration to be a chef or to teach.

“We have 15 chefs who all work on a freelance basis to teach the courses. The joy of this is that they all have different expertise which means we can offer a truly authentic experience for our guests.

“For example, Monisha Bharadwaj comes up from London once or twice a month and runs all our Indian cookery courses. Her food is amazing, and our guests get that real depth of experience which is really important to me and the business we’ve built. It’s our unique asset and means we offer something different.”

Clare herself focuses on managing and running the business alongside a close-knit team. “Anna supports me with the marketing and administration side of the business, and then we have two part-time ladies, one of whom helps with the operations and another is our ‘Kitchen Fairy’ who hosts all the courses.

“We are a small team, but having good people working with you is a blessing.”

She explains that when starting your own business you’ve got to be tenacious and not afraid of failing. “With my husband being a farmer, we always come back to the phrase ‘be prepared to sow a lot of seeds and be happy if a few of these grow’.

“This can be attributed to many things in business from your staff, to the sourcing of suppliers. Without putting yourself out there, it can be hard to get your foot in the door.”

Clare also explains that you have to be prepared for the time it takes to build your business and your brand. “People said to me when I started that it would take a long time to start seeing the ‘fruits of my labour’ and they weren’t wrong.

“The amount of time invested, be that days in the week, or years, is big. It took me about three years to start seeing the return financially, and four years for the phone to start ringing without me chasing down every lead or phone conversation.

“It’s taken a long time, but I love what I’m doing and the business is profitable which has encouraged me to keep going,” she says.

Marketing for returns

Spring and autumn are the busiest periods for the cookery school with three to four courses each week hosting 12 people on each course.

“In terms of the demographics we attract, it seems to be either those in their 20’s and 30’s who have been given one of our courses as a gift or those in their 50’s who are wanting to learn something new and how to create different dishes or new styles of cooking.

“All of our marketing is done digitally. I’ve had to learn this, as it was something I had not done in my previous line of work, but local courses and blogs such as Moz have been brilliant.

“Search engine optimisation and Google AdWords have really worked for us. Because we’re offering something so niche, people are searching for specific terms to get the results they want and this is where we’ve focused our marketing spend.

“If money was no object, I’d love to run a big brand awareness campaign but when it’s your money you’re spending it needs to be cost-effective and giving you something in return.

“In the future, I’d love to grow the business but for now I’m happy with the work-life balance. With three young children it can be a challenge to juggle family life with business, but having good support has been a huge help.”

The thrills and spill

With any business, there are going to be thrills and spills. Clare explains that she never stops getting a buzz from people leaving happy with what they have learnt to cook. “This is where I get constant job satisfaction. Seeing 12 happy faces at the end of the day gives me a real sense of fulfilment.

“Equally, we often hold charity events which local people attend. To see that you have the support of the local community and have built this following is very rewarding.

“On the downside, I hate it when we get let down by suppliers or agencies that we’re paying to help us. Our suppliers are integral for us to be able to run our courses. If they don’t deliver, it’s a real nuisance to sort.

“It’s been a long time coming but we’ve got there, and I can honestly say I love what I do and what we’ve developed. We’re inspiring people with food in the heart of the English Countryside. To me, you can’t get much better than that,” she says.

Considerations of starting a food business

When starting a food business there are several considerations you need to be aware of and act upon: (Please note this is not a complete list, contact your local council for more details)

  • Cost of required infrastructure to get started
  • Equipment maintenance and replacement
  • Food hygiene and safety regulations (HACCP)
  • Insurance
  • Health and safety
  • Risk assessments
  • Food hygiene exams

www.seasonedcourses.com

Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas

Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas

About The Author

Clare Major

Founder of Seasoned Cookery School

More Information

Top tips when starting a rural business

  1. Focus on the skills you have and how these could be used
  2. Focus on something you really enjoy
  3. Fill the gaps with good people. Your team are your support network

 

Recommended reads

  • The e-mist by E-Myth, by Michael E Gerber
  • The new business road test, by John W. Mullins

 

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