Running SocialLife | The Lessons and the Wins
I was very fortunate to be the first vendor to own and operate SocialLife. With a passion for local produce and small business, I wanted to create a one stop shop for the incredible food and beverage scene we have here on the South Coast. The community we were able to create and foster was incredible. Although being the first operator of SocialLife was a fantastic experience, there were some incredibly challenging times and lessons learned.
Winter was a hard pill to swallow, and the drive to bring a funky new venue to a town like Berry was a hard recipe to perfect. However these, as previously mentioned, were all lessons learnt! We found our strengths through discovering the weaknesses. We tapped into a community through our link to WorkLife, and the events and collaborations dreamed up by Kate allowed for a different path of marketing and engagement for the venue. Although we loved our experience running SocialLife, both Zac and I have finished our university studies, are diving headfirst into our careers, and are set to get married at the end of this year. So before I go, I would love to share with you the lessons and the wins as I reflect on my time at SocialLife.
It was October 30th 2021 when we swung open the doors to our newest venture. The longest and harshest lockdown we had faced in NSW had come to an end and the idea of sitting and having a cocktail in an establishment was a welcomed memory. We had spent months perfecting our favourite cocktails and curating a menu that resembled the local farmers market. With WorkLife taking on the risk of venue licensing, insurance, waste disposal, and alcohol supply this venture from the start was one of low risk. Zac and I were so eager to show Berry what we had to offer as hospo operators, as well as showcasing the relationships we had fostered with local suppliers in our “downtime” during Covid. We were proud stockists of businesses such as Haven Island Oysters (I learnt to shuck them fresh!), The Pines, Buena Vista Farm, Pecora Dairy, Artisan Delish Salami, Kangaroo Valley Olives, Martin Ridge Farm, Two Figs Winery, Jervis Bay Brewery, Cupitts Winery, South Coast Distillery and many more! We kept our food selection minimal to keep our lives simple, based our cocktail list on interesting and unique Australian spirits, and used local musicians to bring the space to life.
For us, SocialLife in no way gave us any losses, it only came with lessons and more often wins. The format of our agreement gave us the flexibility to adjust our approach when needed, have our own social lives, and collaborate with WorkLife in order to boost sales and spread awareness. One of the biggest lessons was seasonal operation. We so badly wanted to switch from summery hub of music and sun over to a dim lit winter space for red wine and board games, but even at the low cost of running SocialLife, the customer demand just doesn’t exist during Winter nights in Berry to justify operational costs. So this year, after a fabulous Spring, Summer, and Autumn we made the decision to close the doors over the colder months with the intention of reopening in Summer with some brand new vendors with even bigger visions and dreams!
Staffing was another interesting lesson. Some weekends we struggled to find tasks for Zac and I alone. Working with the two of us was an easy rhythm. I worked out of the kitchen, preparing platters clearing tables while Zac took orders and shook up a storm at the bar. It was the two hour rush, or the crazy hens weekends where the staff requirement jumped from two to four. Finding casual, reliable, and available staff over the past few years has been a journey. And finding that sweet spot is something we rarely got right. We offered positions of flexibility. We offered shifts a month in advance and subbed out one of us for a staff member and stayed on call if things took a turn for the crazy!
For a town like Berry, operating hours is something we played around with. Although we were licensed until 10pm, we usually stuck to an 8pm close. Anything after this was usually overflow from the pub (a bit messy), or a random after dinner night cap. For us the balance of being home by 8:30pm and feeling like we could still be social outweighed the extra $40 made in the two hours following close and the money on staff. We also had hope that our neighbours appreciated an earlier conclusion of music and intoxicated yelling.
This brings me to my final lesson – location, location, location! Although we’re hidden in the quiet backstreets, away from the craziness of the main drag, getting the foot traffic is a difficult task but not impossible. We often used signs in the streets, bins, stickers, and arrows. We made sure to sit people outside in plain sight when we could, and put reward cards in local businesses to help spread the word of mouth. We didn’t get the benefit of easy access, but the customers we did get were people who appreciated the detour and were truly interested in what we did and what we had to offer. It wasn’t too long until we were gaining word of mouth customers from tourists who simply wanted to slow down, escape, and have a chat with some locals while enjoying the north facing sun.
In the end, the experience, business, and life skills learnt are invaluable. The community involvement, connection, and opportunity that has blossomed from running SocialLife I will take forward into everything I do. My love for food and wine continues to grow. My passion for sharing these things with my peers and visitors to our town remains strong, and my vision for a hub that brings culture, art, food and community to the one spot is ready to be excited and impressed by the next vendors to take on this space.
We cannot wait to see what is in store for our sunny little space and you can be sure you’ll see our faces regularly lapping up that afternoon sun!