Running an independent business is like pushing a rock up a hill, but keeping up the pressure will slowly but surely result in moving ahead, according to a Lynn businesswoman.
This is the strongly held belief of Maria Hooker, owner of The Filling Station in Norfolk Street, whose philosophy has paid off and who successfully took the title of Independent Retailer of the Year in the 2014 Mayor’s Award for Business.
Maria first set up her business in 1994 in Norfolk Street to “test the water”, just over a year later moved along the street closer to the town centre where the business served food to take away, and in 2012 moved once again to the other side of the street, where she opened a cafe with a spacious seating area.
“I realised that over the years the whole shopping experience had changed. At first people wanted to come into town, get what they needed and then go home. But now it has become more of a day out for people and part of that day is for people to have something to eat,” said Maria.
“We moved to our present premises at the beginning of 2012. Opportunities come along in a recession that would not necessarily come along at other times. It was a bold move at the time, but I had enough confidence to know that I could make it work. Even in the recession, I made sure that we never went for lower quality but maintained our high standards.
“The move completely exceeded our expectations. We more than doubled our annual turnover within six months of moving here. I had five members of staff then and now I have 12. There is a very low turnover of staff, who are loyal and like working here – we are like a family.”
Maria’s cousin, Sarah Mallet, has worked with her from day one and prepares all the food on the premises daily. “Having products like home made cakes and quiches has proved a big selling point,” said Maria.
She also is a firm believer in using other small independents as her suppliers for things like bread, meat and cheeses.
“Winning this award is a big pat on the back for my staff, who build up a friendly rapport with people and who go above and beyond the call of duty. And it’s also thanks to all our customers, old and new, who have stayed true to us,” said Maria.
With success behind her, Maria is now looking to continue pushing that rock up the hill and aims to set up another cafe in a different town to continue to grow her business.
n Sponsors of Independent Retailer of the Year were Mapus-Smith and Lemmon.