Sugar Shack: How a lockdown pastime turned into a community icon
From Hobby To Business / 12.12.2023
In the heart of Swindon’s Orbital Shopping Park, a delectable tale unfolds – the journey of Sugar Shack Bakery. What began as a lockdown hobby has blossomed into Swindon’s first Instagram-famous café. Their story is not only one of remarkable growth but also of adaptability, overcoming challenges and a commitment to community collaboration.
Join us as we delve into the unique tale of Sugar Shack and explore how they used effective social media strategies, partnerships and digital payments to foster their success.
Starting a business amidst a pandemic
Sugar Shack’s journey began during the lockdown, a time when the world sought comfort in newfound hobbies. For the owner of Sugar Shack Bakery, Elluisa Vitale, baking was more than just a pastime; it was a lifelong passion. The lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to embrace this passion and turn it into something bigger.
One of the most unique things about Sugar Shack is that because of the lockdown it started as an online business, operating from Elluisa’s home. This posed its unique set of hurdles. Initially, the team started selling their products through platforms like Just Eat and Deliveroo. When the world began reopening post-lockdown, a significant challenge arose – the absence of a physical shop.
Elluisa shared: “We were faced with having to adapt and reconstruct our entire business plan, thankfully other businesses were going through the same thing and this is where we started investing in our presence at local markets and fairs. This was such a turning point for us as it really solidified that because we were doing so well at them – there was certainly a gap in the market for us to be able to launch our brick-and-mortar shop.”
The journey was tedious but rewarding, made better by a dedicated team, including Elluisa’s husband, who helped build the shop. Key steps included headhunting a skilled chef, developing a core food menu, and hiring additional staff for barista and kitchen roles. Elluisa shared that the opening month was nothing short of momentous, with success evident from the outset. Now, Sugar Shack has a thriving store at the Orbital Shopping Park in Swindon and is looking to grow even further.
The bakery also hosts exciting events, occasionally utilising its space for community events and small business workshops. One example of such an event is Pony Club, where small business Dinky Ponies brought in two of their Shetland Ponies to come and visit the children after they decorated their pony biscuits. Additionally, Sugar Shack thrives online, offering exclusive limited edition bakes on its website for occasions like Halloween and Christmas. The online shop features a variety of treats, perfect for gifting, with the added convenience of gift cards. Soon, Sugar Shack will introduce branded products, extending the joy of their offerings to their community nationwide.
Community over competition – nurturing local connections
In the dynamic landscape of small businesses, collaboration and community are the cornerstones of success. That’s why Sugar Shack Bakery has woven a tapestry of collaboration with numerous small businesses, encompassing various aspects of its operations. From sourcing neon lights from Neon 87 to menus, banners, and signs crafted by Orchard Press Printing and Signed by Chloe, and engaging in collaboration boxes and offers with other bakers in the South West, the bakery prioritises local partnerships whenever possible.
Participating regularly in markets and events alongside fellow vendors has allowed Sugar Shack Bakery to forge valuable connections. This network of small businesses becomes a lifeline in times of need.
“Small business is essential to each local community because as people we have a natural desire to connect and find little safe spaces in our area. Our cafe especially has developed and nurtured a group of customers who have found a little pocket of peace here, this allows for people to meet new people, have conversation or to meet up with friends, family or colleagues in a relaxed environment and make some memories.”
Fostering growth through social media
In the dynamic landscape of contemporary business, effective digital marketing strategies are crucial. During the business’ initial phase as a home bakery, Elluisa Vitale recognized the potency of social media as a game-changing marketing tool and started leveraging platforms like Instagram to showcase her products to a wide audience. The visually appealing presentation of the treats, combined with engaging content, attracted not only loyal customers but also the attention of influential social media figures.
“We live in a time where social media is such a powerful tool and can really offer the marketing and exposure that you need overnight in some cases. This is something that has worked really well for us, being able to launch our postal bakery and get the word around about us through social media has been great – we have even had some pretty successful influencers purchase our boxes,” Elluisa explained.
The journey didn’t stop there. With the opening of their café at Orbital Shopping Park, Sugar Shack ventured into uncharted territory as Swindon’s first Instagram cafe. The café’s ambiance was meticulously crafted to be an Instagram haven, complete with selfie walls and aesthetically pleasing décor. This intentional design encouraged customers to share their experiences on social media, transforming them into brand ambassadors.
As the business continued to flourish, Sugar Shack Bakery made strategic hires, bringing in an in-house marketing and communications manager. This dedicated professional played a pivotal role in ensuring the brand’s continued growth. Embracing the ever-evolving landscape of social media, the bakery ventured into TikTok, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses and quirky moments from the bakery. This not only showcased the human side of the business but also appealed to a broader audience, resulting in significant growth opportunities.
Sugar Shack Bakery’s journey is a testament to the ingenuity and adaptability required in the modern business landscape. Their modern and forward-thinking approach also extends to their choice of a digital payment solution.
Digital payments make events a breeze
The owners of Sugar Shack recognises the important role efficient payment processing plays for a good customer experience. That’s why they chose myPOS as their trusted payments partner. The bakery’s team particularly appreciates the user-friendly interface and multifunctionality of their myPOS terminal. This allows them to focus on other critical aspects, ultimately delivering an exceptional service and experience to their customers.
As the team attends many events and festivals, they opted for the portable myPOS Go 2.
The device’s free mobile connectivity, acceptance of all payment methods, and the convenience of not needing a separate phone connection provide a reliable solution for all situations.
“Handling my own business is challenging because, as we are growing with the business and the technological climate that we are in, relying on technology across the country is something that can often be difficult to control; yet myPOS helps me with an all-in-one platform to help us sell with ease, especially when we are at markets and events. We wouldn’t do an event without it now!”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Reflecting on the journey from a lockdown hobby to a successful business, Sugar Shack Bakery’s owner, Elluisa Vitale, emphasises the importance of perseverance and risk-taking. In the unpredictable realm of business, facing fears and forging ahead despite uncertainties is key.
“Naturally, the business world is scary but we have to just put ourselves out there and not worry about what will happen as everything turns out right in the end. Ultimately, we adapt and adjust as we go – there is no such thing as a bad decision and it’s important to remember that you have to be in the game to play it!”
Navigating the challenges of business ownership in a competitive landscape dominated by big corporations, Elluisa recognizes the powerful allure of familiar chains. Despite this, she encourages consumers to take a chance on local establishments, promising an experience beyond expectations. Despite the challenges, she shares that the joys of being a business owner, especially positive customer feedback and fostering a loyal community, are worth it.
From its inception as a home bakery amidst the lockdown to its transformation in Swindon’s first Instagram-famous café, the story of Sugar Shack is one of resilience and passion. It showcases the importance of community, supporting local businesses and using digital marketing and payment tools to foster growth.