Creating TreeBark, a space that supports small businesses in the town of Moycullen in Galway allowed Jeff Warde and his wife Yvonne to spend more time with family while creating a family-like environment for those working alone in the area.

Why did you set up TreeBark Store? 

Yvonne and I had run our own restaurant for nearly nine years. It was working well but we wanted a lifestyle change. We have two small kids and the hours weren’t worth it. We finished up the restaurant. I was still running a second business – wedding photography and commercial videography.

“I was really interested in having a space that could support small Irish businesses”

While I tipped away at that, we decided on our new venture. I was really interested in having a space that could support small Irish businesses. TreeBark Store is a specialty coffee bar; we sell Irish crafts and artwork, have a photographic studio and run events. 

“Our regular visitors were living in the same village for a long time but didn’t know one another. They have started working together on projects”

What makes TreeBark Store different?

We think of it as more of a space than a cafe. We have a coffee bar. We don’t do food but we have pop-up events. Local artists do studio takeovers, we have a group that meets up once a month, called Stitch and Bitch, where people learn to crochet and yarn together, we run coffee courses and regular talks on topics like healthy eating.

Man serving coffee in a coffee shop.

It’s a community hub. Our regular visitors were living in the same village for a long time but didn’t know one another.  They have started working together on projects. We get a lot of remote workers who didn’t have an option before. They would have to work from home or drive to Galway City to a co-work space, which didn’t make sense.

“The hospitality industry is getting incredibly difficult to work in, it’s saturated. The cost of everything keeps going up. We were working very hard for not much in return”

Tell us a bit about your background

I did a commerce degree and then worked in construction for a few years, doing logistics and office management. My wife’s family has been in the restaurant business since the 1980s. When my father-in-law was approached to take on a restaurant in Salt Hill, he asked us if we were interested. At the age of 25, we ended up running a 90-seater restaurant.

The hospitality industry is getting incredibly difficult to work in, it’s saturated. The cost of everything keeps going up. We were working very hard for not much in return. It wasn’t the lifestyle we wanted anymore. We figured we had two options; scale up the photography business or try something new. 

Is there anything you would do differently?

No, I’m really happy with the space. Between the restaurant and the photography business, we had practical business experience. Over the years, I’ve kitted out six or seven restaurants. I was able to look at the space and estimate how much it would cost to renovate it.

Inside of a shop.

For those without this experience, it’s easy to make mistakes on how much it costs to open premises. There are decent supports in place from a financial point of view but actual practical advice is missing. There can be a lot of hidden costs involved.

“There are decent supports in place from a financial point of view but actual practical advice is missing. There can be a lot of hidden costs involved in opening a place”

What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

We didn’t have enough experience in the hospitality industry when we first opened the restaurant. We had far too many staff. Within our first year, we halved them, once we got a system in place.

I’m a massive advocate of operating systems. If you don’t have a solid plan about what role everyone plays and what they can do individually, it won’t work. TreeBark Store is pretty much a one-person outfit, two if it’s really busy because we have systems and a workflow in place.

No one tells you everything you’re supposed to know to start a business. I can’t tell you how many times in the first year I got a call from my accountant asking about something I had no idea about. 

No one actually tells you where to find the knowledge you’re supposed to have to form a business. Even from a revenue point of view, getting your head around monthly payments or figuring out what you’re liable for and where you can be smart about saving money.

“I’m a massive advocate of operating systems. If you don’t have a solid plan about what role everyone plays and what they can do individually, it won’t work”

What advice would you give someone starting a hospitality business?

Find someone you trust, who has experience in the sector and show them your business plan. I was very fortunate to have Yvonne’s dad, who’d been in the business for a long time. We had another friend in business in Galway who advised on how to engage in business and who to engage with. It was invaluable. I always try to pay it forward any time I can. Don’t be afraid to ask for favours or family support because everyone loves seeing someone do something for themselves. You have to be willing to swallow your pride. 

“People are so worried about building a brand or becoming distinct from one another, they sometimes forget about a potential customer base on their doorstep”

What are you most proud of?

We really love TreeBark. It feels like it’s true to who we are and what we want to do. We get to support a lot of small businesses with some really positive outcomes. I started a personal project recently where I record a podcast with creatives. It’s funny how often they say they feel like they’re in it alone but through coming to the space, they realise it’s a common struggle, just a different job. 

Man sitting in shop window.

People are so worried about building a brand or becoming distinct from one another, they sometimes forget about a potential customer base on their doorstep. Going forward we want to build a stronger community group both with our customers and other businesses locally. We really feel we can build a strong hub.

Interview by Olivia McGill

Published: 24 April, 2020

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