After coming across a horsebox coffee bar at an event and liking the ‘quirkiness’ of it, they purchased their very own vintage 1960’s horsebox, complete with flat tyres and moss! A complete refurb later and the pair officially started trading in 2018 at weddings, private parties and community events in Maidenhead and beyond – most recently serving Cinderella and the cast of the Grantham pantomime at the Christmas light switch on.
Julie recently took the time out of her busy schedule to catch up on how Chin Chin’s first few months in business has been.
Hi Julie, thanks very much for chatting to us today! Chin Chin Horsebox Bar offers a terrific drink offering that appeals to all. Can you tell us more about how you select the products behind the bar?
There’s a lot of online research involved and looking at what’s new on the market. We travel around a lot and so we’re always looking for unique gins that we haven’t seen before and the great thing is, we have over 100 gins now so that’s a real USP for us as a business.
Recently, I ended up buying five gins from a tiny café in the Highlands I stopped off at during a charity cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and we also go along to food festivals to source new products. We have to stock the usual favourites such as Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, but we also have a nice line up of cocktails, prosecco, brandy, mocktails and winter warmers like mulled cider. We’re constantly tweaking the menu and I think that’s why we retain customers – we’ve got such a varied stock that people don’t need to go walking around looking for other bars to drink at.
It’s all very much about the aesthetics as well. We did a vintage event and I went all out decorating the horse box and it’s putting in that extra effort that people really appreciate. Our core customers like gin and so when we have salted toffee and unicorn gin in stock, they really love trying them out.
Unicorn gin sounds incredible! How do you get a lot of your customers?
A lot of them come through social media – we’re very active on all the channels, especially Instagram. We have a designated wedding page on the website and I also look through the Showman’s Directory and have applied for jobs through NCASS.
You’ve got to be very active in searching for things that are relevant. Luckily, we don’t mind travelling around the country for events.
What’s your favourite thing about the job?
I love the variety that it brings and also the fact that we can travel the country and pitch up at places I’ve never been before. I also really like doing private parties as people are generally jolly and having a good time and dancing, it can be really entertaining. Weddings are also great because everyone’s so nice and it gives us a chance to dress up and we enjoy a Christmas market as there’s a really nice community feel about them.
What are the biggest difficulties you’ve faced?
Getting into events has been very challenging so we’ve really had to keep plugging away at that. I very much adhere to a Japanese business philosophy which says that you should “make continuous small improvements instead of making huge changes,” and so we’re really driving the business forward but in a smaller, more regular way.
I’m always online looking for new drinks trends and going through Pinterest to get ideas on how to decorate the horsebox differently. The great thing is, we’re getting noticed and are getting a lot more enquiries now – we’re nearly booked up for August 2020 already and so we’re ahead of our three year plan.
We’ve also stayed away from the big festivals as they’re so expensive to enter during the first year of trading and if the weather’s bad, we can’t afford to lose thousands of pounds.
Sounds like you’ve made all the right decisions! So, what are your plans for the business moving forward?
I’d like us to be booked up for a whole season from Easter time through to September with a few events such as Bonfire Night and Christmas in the diary. On the whole though, we just want the business to be the best it can be and deliver the best service possible. Many people want to go that step further and set up a string of bars, but we’re happy with what we’ve got.
It’s not easy at all and certainly the bar and coffee market does seem quite saturated. If you’re thinking of getting involved in the industry, especially on the food side, then I’d go to a big city like London, go to the food festivals and try to establish what the next big thing is and get in there first with it. If you can make a product big in a place like London then if you come back to the Midlands or Northern towns and cities, you’ll have a good year before other people start to catch on to your idea. It’s important to remember that you’re not going to be a millionaire doing this job.