Based in the heart of Castletown, the ancient capital of the Isle of Man, an artisan deli named Italian Kitchen, is open throughout the year with over 200 products including fresh pastries and real Italian gelato from Venice.
The Enterprise Support team caught up with the business to hear about how the shop was doing after receiving support from the Micro Business Grant Scheme to start up.
"We've been told our shop is a treasure trove of Italian delights, and we're proud to have built a wide collection of cooking ingredients for all levels of culinary skill and ability."
Here's what owner, Laura King, had to say:
WHAT MAKES YOUR BUSINESS UNIQUE?
We have our own brand of coffee, which can be bought as beans, ground espresso or even a decaffeinated version, and this is special because it is a 50% Arabica blend. This means that it is smooth for black coffee drinkers but robust enough to cut through milk too; so it is ideal for families at home.
One of our unique selling points is our gifting service. We have a range of boxes and bags for customers to create their own gift hamper, which we hand wrap and include a wax-sealed gift card that has been handwritten with a personal message too. We have ribbons and themed boxes during the festive season, and we are proud that all of our packaging, cutlery, containers and bags are 100% sustainable and eco-friendly.
Combined with our friendly and knowledgeable team, our aim is to provide a highly personalised and attentive service in beautiful surroundings, with products that have been sourced from artisan producers for their quality and heritage that cannot be found in local supermarkets.
HOW DID THE MICRO BUSINESS GRANT SCHEME IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS?
The Micro Business Course and Government Support has been incredibly valuable to me and to my business. The course itself helped me to focus on my business goals and fine tune my knowledge on how to run a business, how to manage staff and how to manage my own books – which has ultimately saved me a lot of money and time. The course also gave me networking access to other small business owners, a group of which I now meet regularly to share support and ideas, which has also been so valuable for my business well-being.
I heard about the course at Islexpo 2018. At that time, my business was in research stages and I had just agreed to let the shop on Arbory Street in Castletown. I was in a rather terrifying place and the course was exactly what I needed to steer me towards my goals.
HOW DID YOU FIND THE TRAINING AND MENTORING?
I met with a DfE advisor, who was extremely knowledgeable and answered all of my questions clearly, and then went on the three-day course delivered by Ian Moncrief-Scott of Information Management Solutions Limited. This was one of the best courses I have ever attended. There was a very good balance of interaction and information, with practical and visual aids. The speakers I met were inspiring; they enabled me to take up a marketing course which helped me develop confident connections with Manx Industrial Relations Service (MIRS) to help me with my staffing queries.
Meeting my mentor, Helen Cowley, was also wonderful. Helen is absolutely in tune with my business and understands my goals. She has given me great confidence in moments of doubt and clarity when I couldn’t focus on the next steps. Her support has been invaluable, and I am sure will continue to be.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE STARTING YOUR BUSINESS IN THE ISLE OF MAN?
It was my customer base that gave me the confidence to start my business in the Isle of Man. My background is in Yorkshire and I have worked in Journalism, Sales and Education, primarily in the corporate sector. After travelling in Italy years ago, it was my dream to have a shop and I wasn’t entirely sure it would work. However, my time on the market stall showed me how much demand there was and how many people wanted more of what I was doing – especially the pastries, which at the time were not to be found anywhere else in the Island. The sense of community in the Island and the push to support local businesses is what made me decide to take the plunge.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
I love my job. I absolutely adore sourcing new products and seeing the delight on our customer’s faces when we find something they are looking for, when they come through the door thinking they are asking for an obscure type of pasta – and you can tell on their face that they don’t expect you to have it – and we have it there for them to buy! It fills me with joy to be able to select and hand wrap a gift box for someone for a special occasion and then see their surprise when I show them the final result - those moments are the moments that drive me forward because I feel like I have made a small difference to someone. I also love my team. I enjoy being a leader, training staff, teaching them about our products, and giving them the confidence to shine in their role.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE STARTING YOUR BUSINESS IN THE ISLE OF MAN?
I feel privileged to be able to live and work in the Isle of Man. Moving here to marry my husband in 2015 is the best decision I have ever made and bringing up my son here is simply wonderful. The people of the Island and the community spirit of Castletown has made such a difference to my business because people know you and speak to you, and you are part of daily life that feels inclusive. I have worked in larger cities in my life that are overwhelming without that community feel, and I never want to return to that. Being self-employed, however frightening, is also very empowering and has given me freedom and a feeling of self-worth that I didn’t expect.
I think we could have done it without funding, because we were lucky enough to have savings that we invested, but the funding enabled us to develop the business at a much faster rate than we would have without it. What has been invaluable is the support of a business mentor and the friends I have made through the training element. Without them, I couldn’t have done it. They were my strength when I had wobbly legs on a few occasions!
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Staffing has been my biggest challenge. Finding good, reliable staff that work well together is incredibly difficult and I really underestimated that in the beginning. My team right now, although small, is amazing and I try very hard to reward them, train them, acknowledge them and care for them because I want them to stay. I have learned a great deal about people during the last year, both staff and customers, and the biggest lesson I have learned is the importance of listening.
Even if I can’t solve a problem – be it for a staff member or a product for a customer – if a person feels like you have listened to them and at least tried to help them, that’s what encourages their loyalty and I think that is why people do love Italian Kitchen; because we do listen and we really do care, and we want people to enjoy their experience with us. I feel that if my team are happy and supported, then the shop will feel that way when a customer walks in too, and that is the most important part of all.