These days, the experience of food shopping can be mundane and dull. This is why a husband and wife duo from London set out to create Middle Lane Market—a high quality shop with space for the community.
After working in the food industry for 10 years, Kelly and Andrew Shearer had always dreamed of opening their own shop. They envisioned a space where customers could purchase high quality and sustainable food with a focus on being transparent about where the produce was coming from.
By hosting regular events such as cheese and wine tastings and fermentation workshops, they could connect the community to the food and the people who produce it. They would also encourage their customers to reuse containers to help cut down on waste.
Soon enough, they discovered the perfect site which was only a fifteen minute walk from where they lived. They had fallen in love with the area and knew it deserved a shop like the one they dreamed of.
Though setting up a business in London would be costly.
After having secured the premises and some of the equipment, they set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise £5,000. The money raised would help them set up shop and purchase a tap system for wine and beer. By using a tap system, they could drastically reduce their packing and refill their customers empty bottles!
Kelly Shearer, Middle Lane Market’s co-founder explained, “Ten years ago I made and sold vegan chocolate truffles when I worked in a restaurant in Texas, and five years ago I made and sold kombucha in London. In some ways I’ve always felt like I wanted to own my own business, but it took some time after both of those experiences to build up the courage to try again. I felt this mixture of wanting to do it so badly, but feeling afraid that I didn’t have the experience. I knew I wanted to create a physical space that was important and useful to the community, and I knew I wanted good food to be at the centre of it. When I realised there was a vacant space not far from where I lived, in what seemed like an underserved area, I had a good feeling and I started seriously pursuing the idea.”
Middle Lane Market and Back Her Business
As half of the business was owned by Kelly, the duo were eligible to take part in our Back Her Business programme. Through a combination of expert coaching from Crowdfunder’s coaches, networking opportunities, and grant funding of up to £5,000, this initiative aims to help close the gender gap in business.
Kelly said, “I know my number one obstacle was getting over the fear of taking a leap, and I think that’s something that a lot of women struggle with. It’s great that Back Her Business is helping support women who have talent, experience and drive, but maybe just need that push like I did. It’s so important to know you have extra support when you need it.”
Within 28 days, their crowd of 57 supporters had raised £6,129. This included a match-funding grant of £2,500 from us as part of the programme. The extra-money they had raised would go towards a charcuterie slicer so their cured meats could be sliced to order and sold without plastic packaging.
Kelly told us “The extra funding has been immensely helpful, as starting a business like this takes a lot of upfront investment. We have only just started building up credit with some of our suppliers, so that means we had to pay for all of our stock (not to mention building works, solicitors, rent, etc.) upfront. Knowing that we have had this funding has allowed us to experiment with a more diverse product range and see what works best for our customers, and it has also meant that we can get better pricing for some products, which means we can offer products at a more competitive price.”
Where are they now?
Since their crowdfunding campaign closed in October 2019, the duo have opened the doors of Middle Lane Market to the public. In the future, they hope to take on an employee and continue expanding their business.
“We’ve grown so much in less than three months! We’ve at least doubled the number of our shelves (and the products on them). We’ve had four public workshops that sold out and are planning more for the new year. We’ve served over 1,300 different customers and we have met so many people who we would not have met otherwise! Most of our customers live nearby and we see many of the same faces day to day. We know many of their names and love feeling connected to our neighbours. I also left my previous job as I had still been working there part-time to make sure we had a secure income, and now I am looking forward to being able to focus all of my energy on the shop. Our builder recently completed the box for the beer & wine tap system (which was a big focus of our Crowdfunder) and we are scheduling it to be installed in the new year.”
After taking part in Back Her Business, Kelly gave us her advice to inspire entrepreneurs of the future.
“The timing of the campaign was really important for us. We opened in the middle of the campaign which meant we could use the campaign to promote our shop opening, but then we also used the shop to promote the campaign. Our pre-opening party coincided with the biggest peak in our pledges. Don’t be afraid to ask, if you can explain what it means to you then people will want to listen and they’ll want to help.”
She went on to say, “Find as many people as you can for advice before you get started. Before we signed the lease or had paid anyone a penny, I wrote to and approached other local business owners, friends, and, in some cases, people I only knew through Instagram to ask for general and specific advice. Along the way I was referred to a solicitor and I learned some great advice for negotiating the terms of our lease, but I also started relationships with people who continue to support me today. Accountability is also so important. Set a date and tell people. We planned a date for a pre-opening party which we advertised several weeks in advance. If it hadn’t been for that party, we would have delayed opening by probably at least a week or two. But having that date made me push myself and our builders and contractors to make sure we were ready on time.”
Thinking about starting your own business but not sure where to start? Join Back Her Business today and find out if you could be eligible for match-funding, coaching, and networking opportunities!