Farewell Sam......Hello Future?
Around this time 5 years ago, I met someone who would change my life forever. Her name was Sam Havis and she bought her first loaf of Wildcraft bread. Two months later, she asked me if I wanted a business partner and the rest was history.
When Sam found me, I was based in a little unit on an industrial estate in between both of our homes. I baked beautiful buckwheat bread, our famous whoopie pies and was still refining my skills as a gluten free baker. My (now 7 and a half year old) daughter came to work with me every day and the "office" was her play room, complete with ball pool and princess castle.
Over the last 5 years, we have worked harder than either of us had ever worked before to build Wildcraft bakery into what it is today.
With her support and encouragement, I developed the white bread flour blend that went on to become everything from cinnamon buns and doughnuts to cheesey rolls and breakfast pastries. We pushed each other to grow our product range, we entered (and won!) awards, were featured on telly, launched a successful crowdfunding campaign then (during the pandemic!), moved into a bigger production unit 3 times the size of our original one, opened a cafe and launched a national mail order service.
By most metrics, we were kicking ass and taking names. But the relentless pace and pressure has taken a massive toll on both of us. Wildcraft became the thing that swallowed up every available minute of our lives. We missed significant milestones in our children's lives, spent less and less time with our husbands and had virtually no time off.
On the 1st of December, I received an email from Sam notifying me of her intention to leave the business and asking me not to try and convince her to stay. She had thought things through and come to the decision that this was what was best for her and her family. I knew she had been struggling more and more over the past 18 months and have been increasingly worried about her over the last few months. So rather than do the thing I wanted to do more than anything else (fight and beg and cajole her into staying) I decided that I should respect her decision. Regardless of anything else, the most important thing is that Sam needs to be OK and have the time and space to rest, recover and spend more time with her family. Over the last 5 years she hasn't just been my business partner, she's been like a sister to me. She supported me through my twin pregnancy, through my depression, my ADHD journey and diagnosis, and been my sounding board for pretty much every major decision I needed to make in between. She's the one I went to when I was happy or sad or upset or just needed to vent. So how could I say no to her now?
Over the last 3 weeks while navigating the busiest Christmas we've ever had at Wildcraft and running a farmer's market, I've been racing to get to grips with the cafe side of the business. Since it started, the cafe has been 100% Sam's baby while I've focused on growing mail order and running the bakehouse. Beyond the baked goods that are sold, I can claim no credit for that incredible place. She's developed all that scrumptious food on the menu, created an amazing team of people who work there and built it into what it is now. I had my first 2 shifts in the kitchen over the last couple of days and while I loved every minute of it, I realised how much I still have to learn!
I won't lie to you and say that I'm not terrified about what is going to happen to Wildcraft over the next 12 months. There are some massive challenges heading our way next year starting with Covid and the (almost certain) restrictions that we will have to face in January, the fact that our (already expensive) ingredients are going up by between 11% and 48% on the 1st of January (thank you Brexit!) and if we survive all of that, VAT will be going back up to 20% in April at the same time as a (much needed) hike to wages.
I've basically spent the last 3 weeks barely sleeping and creating business model after business model to find the perfect formula that will allow me to be able to run the entirety of Wildcraft without it breaking me, while preserving the magic that we've created together. And I've realised that I actually can't. Not on my own anyway. But the thing is...I'm not alone. Every single person who works at Wildcraft cares deeply about the business and keeping it (and me) alive. And every single one of those people, whether they are a baker or a chef or just serve coffees on a Saturday have amazing minds and ideas. They and my family are where I will be drawing my strength and support from as we move forward.
There will of course be changes to the way that we do things and as we share those changes with you, we'll also share the reasons why we're making them. Because in the same way that all of my amazing team members have my back, I know that our customers will too. You are the reason why Wildcraft is still here 9 years after my first farmer's market stall and 5 years after I moved the bakery out of my dining room and into Unit 13. I hope that you will continue to support me as I enter the fight of my life. I think the mantra for 2022 is going to be "Step By Step".