How to survive cash flow issues if you don't fail fast


Fri Mar 02 2018

In October 2011, Maria Savage and her partner Justin left their jobs in search of a spicier future. In January 2012, Bombay Burrito  was born.

Bombay Burrito does what it says on the wrap; it fills the Mexican burrito with Indian flavours. But Maria and Justin had to do more than fuse two cuisines to carve out a niche in the crowded London street food market.

Work hard, travel hard, raise funds

So they worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week on market and competitor analysis, costings, funding, branding and writing a business plan. Then they handed out the business plan to friends and family, who had committed, in principle, to funding the start-up, before heading off to India.

While they never planned to become the chefs at Bombay Burrito, they wanted the brand to be authentic. So they travelled around India discovering different regions, flavours and cultures, gathering inspiration for fillings, naming and branding. The name Bombay Burrito was coined on the trip, just before the couple returned to London. When they got back, the investors had had time to examine the business plan and they were ready to pledge money in return for equity.

Bombay Burrito Ltd started trading in April 2012, from a Brick Lane market stall, where the couple tried out different ingredients and new ideas. This testing phase was crucial for them ahead of securing a permanent location. In September 2012, they acquired the lease at their current Islington location, renovated the space and opened in December 2012.

The impact of starting up with very little money

They set up on a shoestring. Maria explains:

“The reality was that we probably didn’t start with enough money. We raised funds from friends and family because we felt it’d be counterintuitive to open the doors of a new venture and start making loan repayments straight away. But what that tight budget meant was that we didn’t take on staff and we didn’t do any marketing.”

The result was that the business didn’t move into profit for almost five years.

 

“We were at break-even for a long time, which is really tough – you kind of want to fail fast if you’re going to fail”, admitted Maria.

“You want to be able to say, ‘ok, this is not sustainable’ or start making some real money. We were in between for so long. We really needed to go beyond break-even in 2017, with the cost of ingredients going up, Brexit, a five-year rent review and with the rate hikes that every UK business had on 1st April 2017. Even with all of that, we’re doing great. It’s a bit disappointing that so much money is going out of the door, money that we would’ve held on to in 2016. But that’s the reality of it all.”

How did Bombay Burrito finally kick start this growth?

Introducing a summer menu

A big part of the business’ growth in 2017 was diversification. Bombay Burrito is right by a university so a large part of their customer base leaves London during Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. And because their product is spicy, it’s more popular during cold weather. To attract the lunchtime crowd from local offices and to keep trade up during warmer weather, Maria wanted to launch a new summer menu. She explains how they made it happen:

“When we got a flyer through about Barclaycard’s Transfer to Bank facility, we successfully applied to transfer £3000 of the credit limit on our Barclaycard Business Card  into our Barclays business bank account as cash. We used this cash flow boost to print new leaflets, pay additional staff to distribute these and to work in the restaurant itself.”

Still true to not taking on costly debt, Maria repaid the money in full within the interest-free period (three months).

“It was the perfect option for us; it meant we didn’t have to wait until October to launch a summer menu! It gave us the breathing space we needed to take positive action for the business and develop new revenue streams - while meeting our overheads and keeping the lights on.”

Maria happily explained that the new summer menu was pretty much the sole reason why Bombay Burrito averaged 30% growth year-on-year throughout June, July, August and September.

 

How can you stimulate growth in spite of cash flow restrictions?

Bombay Burrito isn’t alone in facing restrictions due to cash flow.

According to recent research, cash flow keeps 63% of small business bosses awake at night 1. 27% of those asked said they hadn’t been able to expand a product range because of a lack of working capital. The same percentage said they couldn’t carry out activities to attract new customers1 . 22% said it stopped them from opening in a new location1.

Anecdotally, Maria said that 2016 was bad for a lot of restaurants, while 2015 was good. So 2016 felt like a bit of a blip for Bombay Burrito. And while there will always be unexpected challenges in business, like rate increases, Brexit and so on, there are ways to counteract business challenges.

As well as introducing a new summer menu, Bombay Burrito grew by: 

  • Putting their prices up by about 10% in 2016. By doing that, they started to counteract the increase in the cost of ingredients. And because they’d established a quality product with their customers, they didn’t see a drop in sales numbers after the price increase. In fact, in years one and two, the average spend per customer was £5. Now it’s just over £7.
  •  Reviewing all their direct costs. This involved looking at supplier costs, renegotiating prices with existing suppliers based on higher volumes of ingredients, and finding new suppliers where there were better deals to be had.
  •  Adding new menu items that have good profit margins. Go into Bombay Burrito now and you’ll find sides, nuts, drinks and desserts, as well as the salads, curry bowl, burritos and chips that they already offered.
  •  Doing upgrades for a main meal. Now customers can do things like upgrade from a plain naan to a garlic naan for £1 extra, and add cashew nuts into the burrito for £1.50, and so on. 
  •  Signing up with food delivery services, including Deliveroo. This has given Bombay Burrito both a marketing channel and a new, local customer base. The result? A big boost in evening sales, which was notoriously slow for the business because they’re off the beaten track for Angel and Upper Street.
  •  Saying yes to big events and orders knowing they could borrow to buy equipment. Launching the summer menu was a big deal for Bombay Burrito and it led to a big outside catering event. The equipment they needed to fulfil the order wasn’t in the budget, so they used their Barclaycard Flex business credit card to buy the extra burrito rolling station and some other extras, totalling around £500. It meant they could say yes to the opportunity and pay off the unexpected expense at a later date or in regular, smaller payments.

Cash flow stunting business growth?

For Bombay Burrito, the answer to accessing cash, for growth was a business credit card solution.


These actions clearly worked for Bombay Burrito, and staying open for five years is in itself a huge achievement. So we can learn a lot from Bombay Burrito’s tenacious business owners, Justin and Maria.

Here are Maria’s words of wisdom for fellow small business owners:

  • "Open your doors every day, turn on your lights and start working. It would’ve been very easy for us to stop coming in when it was really bad and quietly go out of business. But we kept going and it’s paying off.
  • Keep a tight control of your costs. It’s really easy to get carried away because your sales are strong, but not realise until it’s too late that you’re not making enough to cover your overheads and make a profit.
  • Remember that there’s no such thing as overnight success. Owning your own business isn’t glamorous, it’s a lot of hard work. Stick with it if you can and you think you’ve really got something.
  • You can’t survive standing still. You have to constantly grow your business; so invent and reinvent with the resources available to you.
Third party disclaimer
The views and opinions expressed by any third party do not reflect the views of the Barclays Bank PLC Group nor should they be taken as statements of policy or intent of the Barclays Bank PLC Group. The Barclays Bank PLC Group takes no responsibility for the veracity of information intimated by a third party and no warranties or undertakings of any kind whether express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information are given. The Barclays Bank PLC Group takes no liability for the impact of any decisions made based on information contained and views expressed from the third party listed.

Sources

1. Barclaycard’s latest research on business cash flow concerns (December 2017)  

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