Inside Track: Vanessa Greenwood, founder of Cooks Academy
What distinguishes your business from competitors?
We could teach people very fancy dishes and recipes that look really impressive, but instead we do recipes that people will actually cook themselves at home.
We try to put people at ease at all times and not over-complicate anything. We also keep on top of all the latest food trends, in case anyone wants to learn about them. Our courses range in length from three hours to three months, so we cater for everyone, whether you want to do a wine course, a sushi workshop, a knife skills course or a cupcake class.
What's been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Cookery education is a very expensive business. The costs add up quickly between paying for ingredients, teachers, utensils, electricity and the cost of premises.
At the same time you can't charge a fortune for the courses. It's difficult trying to grow your business and at the same time reduce your cost base. We're trying to promote the courses and at the same time we have very little to spend on marketing.
And your major success to date?
We've just launched a 12-week certificate course in professional cookery. From day one, we have always wanted to do a professional cookery course but we didn't have the space. We moved premises from Dún Laoghaire to Dublin city centre two years ago, converting a loft-style fashion warehouse into a cookery school, so we finally had the space to do the course now.
What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
Reacting to all the opportunities that came our way. We didn't focus on our finances and our core business. We were always willing to try new things and get involved in new trends when we should have been making decisions based on our finances and financial objectives. We didn't focus on financial planning which is important in a recession.
What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Focus on training people no matter how busy you are. Train people to do even the smallest tasks and go back and check they were done properly. Supervision is as important as training. You might have to show someone two or three times until they've mastered it.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
I admire Richard Branson as he is really good at delegating different divisions of his business to keep people. He created such a strong brand and was able to launch many different products on the back of it. We took from this and spent ¤1,000 designing a logo for Cooks Academy when we first launched. It was a fortune at the time but we still have the same logo and it's a good one.
I also admire people such as bus drivers and shop keepers who greet you with a smile every day. They deal with hundreds of people on a daily basis, and if they are still smiling at every customer, that's impressive.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
I feel the Government have given us very good support through various initiatives and they should continue to do that. The Dublin City Business Improvement District (BID) scheme is an excellent initiative and very valuable to business owners. They need to continue the funding for that as it provides great day-to-day support with issues such as the removal of chewing gum or waste.
Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment?
I'm not a big fan of the banks. In 2005, when I was starting the business, I was turned down by two banks before finally getting a loan. If you are willing to go by their terms, they are open for business. You have to be willing to fill in copious amounts of forms.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We would like to build on the success of the 12-week certificate course and continue to get exposure of our facilities. We have several different business divisions which we'd like to grow. As well as the cookery classes and lessons, we do corporate team building events. Our premises are also used for online demos for supermarket chains.
How much is your business worth and would you sell it?
I'm not sure how much it is worth but we would definitely sell it. Everything is for sale at the right price.