'The pandemic showed we could not only survive, but thrive through extremely challenging times'

'The pandemic showed we could not only survive, but thrive through extremely challenging times'
Robyn Salter
Robyn SalterSalters Events

Posted: Fri 30th Sep 2022

Robyn and Ian Salter are the chefs and husband-and-wife team behind catering company Salters Events.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the couple had to quickly pivot their business to creating food kits for delivery. A service that was unplanned turned out to be very successful and generated several new customers who are still with them today.

Robyn shares her inspiring story, explains how the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme has boosted her entrepreneurial skills and outlines the impact of rising costs on the business.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with your business idea?

"Ian and I are both chefs and we’re very passionate about food and how customers experience and interact with it. We want our customers and their guests to try something they think they don’t/won’t like, and then love it. Beetroot is a great example of this! Our business, Salters Events, was a slow burner over many years and is very much a labour of love.

"I'd been working as a head chef for a corporate catering company for a few weeks when a supplier site tour to a sausage factory had been arranged for the senior chefs in the London area. Ian had been working for the same catering company for a few years by this point. I met Ian, and many other now good friends, that evening. We discovered a mutual passion of, and similar values to food. Friendship turned to romance and we married three years later. We even catered our own wedding!

"We both continued to work for the same corporate catering company whilst discussing and developing our ideas to do it for ourselves. During this time, we would get a production kitchen set up and registered with the local authority, cater private events, host local pop-up supper clubs, and start building up a financial cushion to make the leap into working for ourselves.

"I left the corporate catering company five years after I’d started, when we had our son, and took time off to be a stay-at-home mom. I returned to work part time in a local modern grocery/high end deli as their head chef. I would be there for another five years before I left in December 2021. Ian finally left the corporate catering company after 15 years there to work full time for our own catering business in 2019.

"Making that final leap to working full time for our own business has been a long time coming. It’s terrifying, exciting and extremely gratifying working for ourselves!"

What start-up challenges have you faced?

"It's one thing being a great chef and loving what you do, but it's something else completely running your own business.

"The biggest issue we've faced, aside from COVID-19 and the current cost-of-living crisis, was deciding when to make our side hustle our main source of income. There’s no magic formula (or at least I haven't found it yet) that tells you when to make that leap. We had to have the confidence to believe that it would work, and the determination to make it happen.

"At both points of us leaving our full-time jobs we still weren’t sure we were doing the right thing financially. I mean; leaving well paid jobs to push a side hustle with no guarantee that it will work?! But, as we’d been planning this for so long, and we’re great at what we do, we knew we’d make it work."

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business?

"When COVID-19 was first being reported in China at the end of 2021 we were doing well with our catering business. Ian had been full time for six months, the consultancy side of the business was growing, as were the events and pop-up supper clubs. It looked like we’d made the first push at the right time as things were panning out as we’d expected.

"Then it started to be reported here and we were scared for ourselves and the business. What are we going to do if we get this new mystery super bug? How is it going to affect the business? Will people still want to go out? What are we going to do?

"After many conversations asking these same questions, we came up with a solution that we felt would work for us and our customers. In March 2020 when the government decided to shut things down, we were working behind the scenes to get our new offers right. By April 2020 we launched our Fine Dining, Delivered meal kit offer. This was shortly followed by our Luxury Picnic Boxes and Afternoon Tea Boxes later that year.

"As COVID-19 spread, mutated, and caused general chaos in our daily lives, we developed variations to our Afternoon Tea boxes to cover Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and a dinosaur themed afternoon tea box for the children. The Luxury Picnic Box got the Kids Mini Picnic Box version to keep the little ones happy. Our Fine Dining, Delivered meal kits offered our customers the opportunity to enjoy our food through regularly changing menus and easy to follow cooking instructions. We had so many people booking this for Zoom dinner parties!

"These offers, and the bespoke cakes and cupcakes we were already doing, is what kept the business going. It gave us an opportunity to make new customers, many of whom are now very happy regulars. COVID-19 showed us that we could not only survive, but thrive through extremely challenging times."

How did you market to customers during the pandemic?

"During the pandemic I spent a lot of time pushing our business on social media, namely Facebook and Instagram. We already had a following of happy customers from pre-COVID days, but the new offer needed to be promoted. So, there were many posts to the business pages and local groups on Facebook, and pictures of our meal kits being prepped, customers plating their meal kits up etc on Instagram.

"I used our email marketing list of past event attendees to let them know about these shiny new products and how they could buy them.

"Happy new customers left us great testimonials for our website and spread the word on social.

"I sent a few emails asking our customers to leave us a Google review, and gave them the link to make it really easy for them.

Salters Events food

You have various types of customers. What is your marketing strategy for reaching them?

"Marketing is not my strong suit but I’ve enrolled in a free digital marketing course online to help me with this.

"We now have a few different types of customers with very different needs. I've had to adapt and learn to find what works best for them.

"Emailing our regular event customers to promote our next pop-up supper club works well.

"Social media is great for brand awareness and getting our name out there. We generally have one or two different brand awareness campaigns running on Facebook and Instagram.

"The wedding market is an area of the business that we’ve been pushing over the last year. We’re just starting to promote our services on Pinterest, as that’s a great place for wedding inspiration. We’ve also signed up with Hitched and Rock My Wedding to support this side of the business.

"We keep our Google Business Profile up to date and regularly post events on there. We also have a general event catering advert running.

"I keep the website up to date and have just refreshed the look and feel of it with new professional photos. We also use the custom logo links the various organisations we belong to provide for us on our website.”

How has the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme inspired you?

"I've had to learn a lot of new back of house skills; website management, digital marketing, photography, accounting etc. Enterprise Nation and the Amazon Small Business Accelerator have been an invaluable source of information.

"The 'Introduction to making sales' video from sales expert Paul Durrant really helped me to focus on what steps I needed to take to keep my regular customers happy and find and introduce new customers to our business.

"Business coach Rachel Whittaker's video on 'Where to build your community' got me thinking about all the touch points we have, or should have, with our regular and potential customers. It’s not all about social media.

"All of the e-learning videos are really useful. They're not too long either, which is perfect when you're having to juggle the various aspects of running your own business."

How is the cost-of-living crisis impacting on your business?

"As a catering business, the cost-of-living crisis has not been particularly helpful for us! Event catering, nights out and fancy dinners are one of the first things to go when people don’t have disposable income.

"We've kept our prices as low as we could, and have only just increased them over the last month. As a business it wouldn't have been sustainable for us not to.

"For all of our events we are completely transparent on our pricing, so customers know what they're getting for their money. We're also happy for clients to supply their own drinks and don’t charge corkage.

"For our wedding clients we've introduced a payment plan to help make budgeting for the big day easier.

"Our practices have always been to use up as much of a product as possible to reduce wastage. This has been an extremely useful system to have in place, given the current climate. We're keeping an eye on our energy consumption by switching off equipment when not in use and making sure they're serviced regularly, and therefore running efficiently. All of our lighting is run on low watt LED bulbs."

What are your plans for the future of your business?

"As always, we're continuing to grow our business by offering our customers a great experience with food.

"Through the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people missed so many life events. Significant birthdays, weddings, family gatherings etc; the list is endless. We want to help our customers make up for the lost time and truly enjoy their events, as their guests would, with amazing food and a seamless service."

What are your top tips for business success?

"Just keep trying. There are no failures, only ways of how not to do something! You only need to find one way that works for you.

"Have confidence in your abilities. If you believe in yourself and your products or service, your customers will too.

"Be flexible and open to suggestions. Advice from people outside of your inner circle might be perfect to help you through to the next step. But you have to be open to hear it."

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Robyn Salter
Robyn SalterSalters Events

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