Self-taught entrepreneur Paul Venn spent his early years selling sweets and ice lollies to neighbours, harbouring a strong desire to make his own money and be self-sufficient.
His dreams of owning his own business were fulfilled back in 2012, when Paul launched his food & beverage venture, Chilly White. After nearly 10 years in business and one pandemic later, Paul catches up with us to talk about the highs and lows of running Chilly White.
“Seeing happy, smiley faces is the best thing”
So Paul, how did Chilly White come about?
I set up the business in 2012 after years of dreaming about starting my own business. My grandad worked for Lyons Maid ice cream and used to take me to the factory to show me around; I’d bring back lolly moulds and make lollies, which I’d then sell to neighbours. I guess you could say I had an entrepreneurial mindset from a young age.
My dad ran a couple of franchise petrol stations and once I did my GCSE’s he basically said that if I didn’t get a job within two weeks then I’d have to work for him. I’d been used to serving customers since the age of 14/15 and I really enjoyed meeting new people and making my own money.
Sounds like you were a bit like Charlie visiting the Chocolate Factory as a child! What was the mission in the beginning?
I wanted to start out with an ice cream van, but I couldn’t afford it at the time, so instead I purchased a second-hand ice cream tricycle and started from scratch. It was very much a case at the time of sourcing local events to attend in order to get my name out there and getting experience under my belt, so I didn’t make much money in the beginning.
The focus at the start on summer weddings – obviously everyone is in a good mood at weddings and loves nothing more than tucking into an ice cream on a warm day – so that side of the business was a big hit. In 2016 however, I was doing around eight weddings in a weekend and 150 over a six-month period, which was extremely tiring. Eventually, I made the decision to move more into corporate events where essentially, I could earn more money without stretching my resources too far.
I changed the structure of the business, added more value to my offering – such as providing personalised branding to businesses at events – and this enabled me to put my prices up to really reflect my USPs.
“Moving to Hereford last year made me realise just how differently local councils operate and I literally had to start from scratch when it came to registering to trade; being a member of NCASS made this a whole lot easier.”
How did you take the business through Covid?
Initially we were out doing events at the beginning of March and it was shaping up to be a good year. We had a few events booked in whereby we asked if there was any possibility of invoices being paid in order to hold an event. We also made the move from the New Forest to Hereford in February 2020 and as a result, sold a lot of older equipment which helped a lot. We were very lucky in that Hereford council provided a lot of support, we took out a big loan from the bank and we managed to open back up for business in July.
We’re by no means out of the woods and we’re not doing anything like the same number of events we were doing pre-Covid, but I’m hoping that business will pick up again over the next few months with the likes of Halloween, Christmas markets and corporate shows. My focus at the moment is on marketing the business, connecting with corporations on LinkedIn and building a strong social media presence.
What’s been the main challenges of running your own business?
Getting some good work and getting out there. I went into the business not knowing much at all, except that I’d have to have everything above board such as food hygiene and so it really was a learning curve. I didn’t start with much money in the bank and so I struggled to get the funding together to buy equipment. The logistics as well were difficult in the beginning, trying to transport tricycles full to the brim with ice cream that could quickly melt on a hot day was a challenge.
Sounds like you had to get logistics down to a tee to save the ice cream. Why did you become an NCASS member?
I was recommended NCASS by a fellow caterer down in the New Forest and I’ve found it really good having everything I need listed down in the Due Diligence System, as well as all the resources online regarding health & safety and training.
Moving to Hereford last year made me realise just how differently local councils operate and I literally had to start from scratch when it came to registering to trade; being a member of NCASS made this a whole lot easier.
“I served Joan Collins ice cream in the film The Time of their Lives, I featured in a TV show hosted by Ashley Banjo called Flirty Dancing and my ice cream tricycle also featured in season 3 of Sex Education. “
What’s in line for the rest of 2021?
Combatting the Christmas market and getting a number of good events lined up is my main priority at the moment. We really had to put the business on hold during all the lockdowns and so my main aim is very much to get the Chilly White name back out there to deliver an exceptional service.
Me and my partner, Catherine also set up a little side hustle called Buds Vegan Kitchen during lockdown, providing vegan breakfast and brunch. We happened to cut down on our meat intake a lot during the lockdowns and the idea really transpired after experimenting with flavours in the kitchen because we had more time on our hands. Obviously, the demand for vegan food has risen substantially in the last few years and I love being able to offer something completely different to Chilly White’s offering. We’ll be looking to do some pop-ups and see where we can go with it during 2022.
What’s the best events you’ve traded at?
I really enjoyed working on the sets of TV and film and I’ve been a prop in some. I served Joan Collins ice cream in the film The Time of their Lives, I featured in a TV show hosted by Ashley Banjo called Flirty Dancing and my ice cream tricycle also featured in season 3 of Sex Education. It’s always fun.
What’s your go-to comfort food?
Definitely has to be Caribbean Jerk chicken, rice and peas.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the catering industry?
The people. Seeing happy smiley faces is the best thing. Humans need to interact and its people that give me energy.
What would your advice to new businesses be?
Research. Research. Research.