Dreams of owning a sweet shop often start in childhood – but few people turn these in to reality. Michelle and Mark Rasdall have though, with the help of a business start-up grant from Worcester City Council.
Now the couple have celebrated the first year anniversary of Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe's opening on Worcester's High Street.
Michelle and Mark, who have been together for 32 years, decided to take early retirement and pursue a new joint venture together. Michelle had previously run a full time ballet school in Cambridge and Mark was a writer and historian.
They had sold confectionary for a number of years as a part time summer venture, taking their mobile stand to concerts and National Trust properties.
Mark and Michelle researched a number of potential locations in the Cotswolds as a base for their new business, but fell in love with Worcester after stopping off for a spur-of-the-moment meal there.
"Worcester just had this feeling that it was on the up," says Michelle. "We were immediately struck by how friendly the people were. It just had a really nice feel to the place."
"The city was also affordable – we were able to get a prime High Street location for the shop," adds Mark. "The city is also a welcoming place for independents."
A mammoth task
Mark and Michelle found the ideal location for their business - on the High Street between the Guildhall and Cathedral Square.
The couple applied to Worcester City Council for a £1,000 business start-up grant, which was match-funded from their own reserves. The grant helped to cover plumbing and refurbishment costs at the Grade II listed shop location, which had no running water or toilet facilities when they took it over.
They also revamped the 1970s shop front, creating a more sympathetic Victorian frontage.
"Our business start-up grants are there to help people just like Michelle and Mark, who have a clear business proposition and the drive to make it a reality," says Councillor Adrian Gregson, Vice Chair of the City Council's Economic and Place Sub Committee.
"They are there to help take some financial pressure off the owners during the intensive start-up phase. I'm delighted that Michelle and Mark decided Worcester was the ideal location for their new business – I'm sure their business will go from strength to strength in the future."
Sweet taste of success
Today, Mr. Simms is a Victorian-style sweet shop which sells a huge array of traditional and contemporary sweets and chocolates – all of which are made in the UK. You can pick and mix your own selection – and there's a huge range of vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free products too.
The shop also creates custom-made sweet selections for weddings and business meetings – and offers the ultimate party experience: hour-long sweet shop 'lock-in' sessions!
The couple are keen to contribute to the local community and have already offered work experience placements and tasting sessions for blind and partially-sighted students at New College Worcester.
They also receive regular visits from people living with dementia – because sweets associated with childhood can really help with memory recall.
"Our first year of trading has been a lot of fun, but really hard work," says Michelle.
"The shop is open seven days a week so we were initially working 70-hour weeks each. We now have five part-time staff, and are looking forward to offering work experience to a wider range of people in the future.
"We are loving running the business and our new life in Worcester. If you haven't visited us yet, come on down and give your taste buds a treat they'll never forget!"
Are you looking to expand your horizons? Worcester City Council offers start-up grants of up to £1,000 and growth grants of up to £3,000 for local businesses.