Angela Vithoulkas and her brother, Con, decided to start VIVO café after they wandered into what was then a different coffee shop and waited 45 minutes to be served.
“I’ve joked in the past about spending more time deciding on a handbag then I did with that business decision,” says Angela, the co-founder and chief executive of VIVO café group.
They knew they could do a better job, and found out that the existing shop wasn’t doing well financially. It was an easy decision.
Vithoulkas says she was always going to be in hospitality, even though her parents were against her following in their footsteps.
“I was literally born in a shop,” she says. “At the time my parents owned a milk bar and mum went into labour serving customers at lunchtime.”
Despite how quickly she and her brother decided to start VIVO, Vithoulkas says small business owners shouldn’t rush decisions they aren’t sure about. “No one gets it right all the time, regardless of how successful they are.”
Staying upbeat when facing challenges is hard for small business owners because there’s no support structures the way there are in other businesses, she says. It’s usually just you against the world.
“Your self-confidence can take a beating when you face financial challenges and when the buck stops with you on everything it can feel overwhelming,” she says. “My personal challenge is not being so hard on myself when I’m not perfect, and forgiving myself when I go down the wrong road.”
Having a network of other businesses that you can buy from and recommend is what small business owners do best.
It’s important both to fight hard for the things you know need to happen, and to stick to what you believe in, she says. “I’m a high achiever and often aim higher than most think I should.” She says not paying attention to those people has helped her achieve her goals (this drive has helped garner VIVO many awards, as well as helped her become a city councilor).
Being a café and relying on foot traffic, VIVO is naturally invested in helping the local area. Right now, implementation of the light rail is causing a lot of upheaval in the area, so VIVO is doing what it can to keep customers coming. Recently they’ve refurbished the outdoor area, which has proved to be good for business.
Vithoulkas says the café makes a point of buying locally and supporting local suppliers through mutually tough times.
“Having a network of other businesses that you can buy from and recommend is what small business owners do best, and that’s vital to local growth. I rely on foot traffic and word of mouth in my business, so what the local businesses say about us and to whom they say it can make or break us.”
And her plans for the future extend beyond even that. Vithoulkas wants VIVO to eventually become involved in social issues.
“There are some great examples out there of businesses using the power of profit to support programmes and initiatives that help those less fortunate than others,” she says. “That is my goal for VIVO.”
Jan is a Sydney-based writer and editor whose work has been published in a stable of titles including the National Post, The Daily Planet and Edmonton Examiner. He is currently Editor at ShortPress.