The Indie Series – Sophie Wardrop, owner of HomeBird Bakery

Sophie Wardrop, owner of the independent HomeBird Bakery, started her business from her home kitchen, before moving to Hoults Yard in late 2019. She discusses some of the rewards and challenges of running an independent business in the North East

Tell us about HomeBird Bakery

The bakery opens each Friday and Saturday for freshly-baked takeaway sweet treats such as cupcakes, cookies, brownies and other baked goods.

Alongside selling direct to customers, I offer made-to-order custom cakes for special occasions like birthdays, weddings and christenings.

HomeBird Bakery originally started from my home kitchen and then a year later (December 2019), I decided my home was too small to grow the business as I hoped and so began a search for a commercial property. I was drawn to Hoults Yard as I love the Ouseburn and Quayside area and was a huge fan of doughnut makers Proven Goods who are based at Hoults Yard.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

The most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region is experiencing just how supportive the locals are.

There is a great resurgence happening in which small, independent businesses are challenging the well-known chain businesses that dominate high streets and shopping centres.

Their success is largely due to the locals who are incredibly loyal and excellent at spreading the word.

Word of mouth and recommendations have played such an important role in the growth of my business – I am very grateful for the support I have received so far.

And the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect for me, is the effort and work that goes into the business behind the scenes.

The parts that no one sees, for example, when I’m not baking or selling, I’m working on my marketing, advertising, managing social media, admin and liaising with clients.

It all takes up such a vast amount of time and there is so much to learn and do to try and progress and build my business.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

My short-term plan is to keep gradually building the business and creating a brand that is recognisable.

I’ve not been trading long so I only really just started to find my footing before the pandemic started.

My long-term plan is to turn the bakery into a café and find a larger location.

My goal for as long as I can remember was to own a café and so I set up HomeBird Bakery as a first small step towards achieving that.

My vision for a café would serve coffee and brunch with a focus on using other local small independent businesses to supply coffee, produce etc.

I’d continue to have my sweet counter selling freshly baked goods and also accept made-to-order custom cakes too.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

Go for it!

If it is truly your passion and you’re stuck doing something you don’t enjoy, that feeling will never go away.

It won’t be easy and there will be a lot of challenges along the way, but life really is too short to spend your days unhappy and always wondering what if.

Be prepared for long hours and hard work.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

On the weekend leading up to the Government’s announcement on March 23, I made a decision to stop the public visiting the bakery, in an attempt to stop the risk of contamination for all parties involved.

The building my bakery is situated in is shared by other businesses, so I also had to think of their safety too.

I decided to quickly set up an online store and sell the products I usually sell on the counter, but offering contact-free delivery instead.

The store was a great success!

On March 23, I announced my closure and all custom orders were postponed or cancelled.

A lot of my customers had ordered celebration, wedding, christening cakes etc so with the restrictions, they could no longer go ahead as planned.

I was unable to source my usual ingredients too, supermarkets and online retailers were sold out or also closed due to Coronavirus.

Have you adapted your service in light of these challenges?

When the Government relaxed the restrictions in May and allowed those who couldn’t work from home to return to work, I quickly put things into place to try and trade again.

I managed to slowly build up my ingredients over the weeks and knew I had enough to bake a small collection.

I resumed my online store and offered contact-free delivery across the Newcastle and Gateshead area.

The reaction completely took me by surprise and within an hour of opening my site, my products were sold out!

The following week, I doubled my stock and sold out within the first hour again.

I am still not accepting custom orders as supplies are still proving a challenge, so for now, I am only offering an online store and delivery.

The reception has been truly incredible and I have had so many wonderful people support my business!

HomeBird Bakery