Andrew McGuire: "Now I can work on the 'dream' parts of the business that were key to me starting up."

Andrew McGuire: "Now I can work on the 'dream' parts of the business that were key to me starting up."

Posted: Thu 5th Oct 2023

Back in May, Enterprise Nation and digital design and marketing services firm VistaPrint awarded 20 small businesses a share of £150,000 in grant funding through their joint programme Realising the Remarkable.

As well as the grant money, each of the winners received 12 months of free subscriptions to Vista's graphic design software VistaCreate Pro, £500 to spend on marketing materials at the VistaPrint UK website, and access to the 99designs by Vista silver logo and brand guide package.

A few months down the line, we were eager to find out how the grant money and prizes had helped the winning business owners with their ventures. Here, we talk to Andrew McGuire, founder of Chala Chai, who tells us how the £7,500 grant will help him to rent premises, increase production and hire marketing expertise from outside.

Andrew, please introduce us to your business.

Having spent time in India during my gap year, I was gutted to find out when I got home to Northern Ireland that I simply couldn't find any high-quality, natural, additive free chai. I decided to make my own, and after a lot of awful chai blends, I finally landed on our Original Chai.

I established Chala Chai in August 2020 to bring a healthy chai alternative to a market that contained only natural and whole ingredients. We make our chai using seven high-quality spices, Fairtrade black Assam tea, fresh ginger for a little warmth and local Northern Irish honey to add a natural sweetness that chai is known for around the world.

I'd never worked in the food industry before or given it much thought. So, setting up a drink-based company was huge for me. Figuring out how to establish a company, keep accurate figures and learn how to develop a drink recipe were all firsts. This can be a lot for most people, I reckon, and is in itself a huge success.

One adversity I've always had to face is the fact that I'm dyslexic. I struggle particularly with receiving and relaying information as well as learning in a heavy written or spoken context. But I don't let this stop me.

For every one thing I struggle with, I have many more things I have learnt to recognise as strengths. These include creativity, problem-solving and being comfortable making mistakes. I've also learnt over the years to ask for help, and I know when I need to tell someone if I'm struggling to keep up with how they're communicating.

While my dyslexia often pops up in unexpected ways, like many dyslexics I've learnt to celebrate the strengths it offers me and not to focus on the struggles it can present.

When you heard you'd won a Realising the Remarkable grant, how did you respond?

Since submitting my entry, I'd spent weeks trying not to think about it. I didn't want to get my hopes up but I'm also a dreamer and so, naturally, I dreamt. I'd already thought about how I'd use the grant to grow and take Chala Chai to the next level.

The morning before I found out I'd won, I was driving to work and I said to myself, "If I win, I'm going to be able to do so much more to grow Chala Chai. But if I don't win, then I just keep going and I grow as best as I can!"

This grant allows me to do all of the big things so much quicker and work on the "dream" parts of the business that have always been key to me starting Chala Chai.

When I finally found out I'd won, I was buzzing and couldn't stop smiling. I sent a screenshot to my wife as soon as I read the first few lines, then read the rest of the email and had to frantically tell her not to tell anyone else before we were able to announce it!

I'm now just really excited to be able to use the grant to grow Chala Chai and give back to my local community in some fun and exciting ways.

Tell us how you've used the grant so far.

After six years as a youth worker, I made the decision to hand in my notice and go full-time with Chala. I was planning on leaving the job (which I loved!) anyway to focus more time on the business, but the grant has helped so much.

Since receiving the money, I've so far spent about £1,000. I've secured a unit in a local business park, with the grant covering 12 months of rent and rates. That gives me time to fully go for it and at the end of the 12 months, I'll see where the business is at. This new unit will be my production unit, office and store.

I've worked out of my home for the past two and a half years and have outgrown it. So having a dedicated business space will allow me to increase the quality of content I create for social media. I also plan to invest in an industrial mixer to cut production time and help me increase the capacity of chai I produce.

I've chatted to a few of the schools I worked in as a youth worker about the possibility of doing some of the business development work with pupils who are dyslexic. I'm excited to get this started at the beginning of 2024.

All in all, I'm very excited to start full-time with Chala Chai and I look forward to seeing all that I can accomplish thanks in large to the freedom the grant has afforded me. As I sit at the moment in my home office, it's literally full of Chala things. Being able to move everything over to the new space will allow me to expand and develop without limitations.



We're in a cost of living crisis right now. How will the grant help there?

I'm currently increasing our number of sales, which has resulted in me spending more time in the kitchen making up larger batches of chai. As mentioned, I plan to invest in an industrial mixer (currently worth around £1,200), which will allow me to more than half my production time.

With the cost of living crisis putting a strain on everyone's finances, by decreasing my production time – and my time spent in the kitchen – I can pass these savings on to our wholesale clients, which will allow me to grow my customer base. This shift would incentivise coffee shops to swap their high-in-sugar syrups to natural chai, which means getting our chai in the hands of more coffee shop customers.

I'm also going to use around £2,600 of the grant to update our packaging – and especially source the high-quality, plastic free, recyclable packaging that we know our customers want.

And how will the grant aid your design and marketing?

With the money left after buying an industrial mixer and updating our packaging, I intend to invest in marketing by hiring an SEO specialist to help me improve my website and make it stand out from the competition.

Due to both the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, I've done everything myself to save money. This includes website design, SEO, product photography, graphics and all of our production work. To be have some money to invest in our website and social presence via Google Ads and so on would be a business- and life-transforming opportunity.

As a one-person business, it often feels like trying to look after a room full of toddlers who are intent on causing chaos. It's tiring and a lot of work and sometimes you just want to sit in the corner and cry. I like to think I've managed quite well up to this point, but as I prepare to scale for growth, I know this model isn't sustainable.

Being able to offload work such as SEO, website development and Google Ads means freeing myself up to get back to the part of the business I'm great at – being creative. It will also help me keep the business relevant and ahead of the curve with innovative blends and products.

How will you take advantage of Vista's marketing and branding expertise to support your business?

I'll use the 12 months of access to VistaCreate Pro to create content for our social media and email marketing. I plan on investing time over the next few months to really learn the programme and create higher-quality content compared to what I'm currently able to produce.

There are a few things I've wanted to do for a while on the marketing side, including buying a pop-up banner for markets and events.

I'll use the £500 in the VistaPrint store to buy material to go into our orders, such as branded bookmarks and coasters with fun and attractive quotes on them. That will help with brand awareness and keeping Chala at the forefront of people's minds when they enjoy their chai or book.

Finally, what are your plans for growth over the next 12 months?

They revolve around increasing brand awareness and breaking into the coffee shop scene in Northern Ireland and the mainland UK. It's estimated that there are about 7,700 coffee shops in the UK (not including pubs and restaurants that serve coffee). Most of these pride themselves on quality coffee. Yet, when it comes to tea and chai, they default to tea bags and syrups or powders.

I want to raise the standard of chai served in coffee shops to the same standard as coffee and, as a result, get our chai in front of thousands of customers every week.

By decreasing production time, I can allow for larger margins for coffee shops. That means I can spend more time on following up with and meeting more coffee shop owners and getting our product into more of these locations. When people think of enjoying a chai, I want Chala Chai to be the first brand they think of.

In January 2024, I want to be in a place financially where we could explore the opportunity to open a tea and coffee house which would not just serve quality and well-made coffee, but also tea that's created by skilled and knowledgeable tea sommeliers.

Speciality tea is increasing in popularity at an exponential rate, and in the UK and Northern Ireland there's currently very little in terms of selection for tea lovers to enjoy when out and about. 


Realising the Remarkable: A £150,000 cash grant programme by Enterprise Nation and VistaPrint

Other Realising the Remarkable success stories

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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