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Opening a cafe and building a brand

'If we’d stuck with our original business plan, I don’t think we’d be in business today.'
Shareena Boyd, The Rusty Windmill

Top tips

  • Move with what customers want and move from your original business plan
  • Understood the value of the local trade if operating in a regional environment
  • It's important to empower your team and be able to delegate for work life balance


The journey begins

When Shareena Boyd opened the doors of her Leongatha café, The Rusty Windmill, she had no idea what was about to befall her.

'We started off with an idea and within a few weeks we realised it was going in a completely different direction!'

Initially planning a small café “with a bit of coffee and cake” at the back of her renovated cottage, the former Interior Designer thought the bulk of her business would emanate from sales of her eclectic mix of rustic furniture and homewares.

'But we didn’t even get the furniture displays up – the café just went nuts!'

Adapting quickly, Shareena and her small team extended the café and shifted their focus to cater for the local appetite for fresh, healthy food prepared with local ingredients.

The Rusty Windmill will soon offer a dinner service a few nights a week, also in response to local demand.

'We knew we had to move with what the customers wanted. If we’d stuck with our original business plan, I don’t think we’d be in business today.'

Integrating with the regional community

Operating in a regional environment, Shareena instinctively understood the value of the local trade. Although tourists populate many of the café’s tables at weekends, it’s locals who generate the weekday trade.

Shareena set about creating a community gathering place for locals to enjoy. 'I think we’re seeing a real cultural shift in hospitality. Pubs used to be the place where we met up and came together. Now everyone goes to the local café.'

Shareena has carefully cultivated this sense of community by providing an ambient, friendly atmosphere with the sort of food locals ask for. The Rusty Windmill is also the local distribution point for a neighbouring organic vegetable supplier and locals can even buy tickets for local arts council events there.

'There’s not really anything in it for us to do these things, but it does help to make us a genuine part of our community.'

Delegation for work/life balance

One of the biggest lessons Shareena has learned in her year of business is the importance of empowering her team. Aside from cultivating a culture of creativity and endeavour, this focus has also led to genuine work/life balance for Shareena.

'We started out thinking we’d maybe open five days a week with four staff,' she says.

'But we’re open seven days a week, serving more than 50 lunches a day, and there are 12 of us! In the first six months, I worked seven days a week – I was there all the time. That’s when I learned the big lesson about just letting go and trusting the team.'

Today, Shareena works four days at café and one day at home, setting aside valuable time for her husband and young daughter and her “other passion” for renovating old homes.

Delegation, she says, has been key. 'As an example, I say to my Head Chef that I want to see rustic, wholesome food, but I’m not going to tell you what to make. So I provide the brief and it’s over to the team to come up with a response to that brief.'

Shareena has also used written policies and procedures to help gel her team and set out what is expected on a daily basis. 'It’s so important to be very clear on what you’re looking for from your team and how they fit in to the business. No one should be left guessing.'

Getting the brand right from the start

As a former Interior Designer, Shareena understood the power of a well designed brand. “If there’s one thing I’d say to new business owners it’s invest in getting the name right and the brand right,” she says.

'Make it something you love and something you own. And then apply it consistently.' The Rusty Windmill brand is applied to everything from the business vehicle through to the home-made preserves on sale in the café. 'We’ve made a conscious effort to project our personality through everything we do,' Shareena said.

Social media has been a useful tool in this branding exercise. Used almost exclusively to connect with the regional community, the Rusty Windmill Facebook page provides updates rather than sales. 'In a regional area, everyone wants to know what’s going on – they don’t want to be sold to!'

Stepping the business up

Just a year on, the Rusty Windmill has evolved into something far bigger than Shareena had prepared herself for. With plans to extend the business even further, the Boyds are now preparing to take the business to a new level.

The result

The Boyds now understand things don’t always go according to plan. 'We had a business plan, a mentor and we did all the right things,' she says. 'It’s just that we could never have predicted the direction we’d end up heading in today. In a small community, if you become rigid in your ideas, you’re going to sink pretty quickly.