Forced to retire in 2016, former Worcester, Harlequins and England U20s wing Sam Smith set his sights on a new and exciting project. Sam gathered the support of his teammates and the rugby community to launch his own specialty coffee shop in the heart of Worcester called Wayland’s Yard. Two years later and Sam has expanded into Birmingham with a second shop now open and performing well. The 28-year-old sits down with the RPA to explain his story.
Smell The Coffee
I have always had a love for good food and coffee, on a slightly obsessive scale. While I was playing for Harlequins I really enjoyed all the cafes, brunch options and specialty coffee shops in London, and found them to be the perfect outlet to relax and refresh after a long day of training. Moving to Worcester I soon came to realise how much I missed the London lifestyle and the vast array of coffee and food options available. From there I saw an opportunity to open a shop of my own within the Worcester town centre. At the time I was struggling with a long-term injury and saw it as the perfect opportunity to channel all the frustration and energy built up through my rehab and re-focus on something new.
Shop Number One
Our flagship shop opened in Worcester in 2016. I started preparing for the business while in the middle of rehab. Being injured was tough but my desire to launch the business was something that drove me forward. As it turned out my career came to an end in August 2016 when I had to make the difficult decision to retire from professional rugby on medical advice. It was a shattering end, but it gave me the opportunity to focus on the business. Over the next few weeks I worked exceptionally hard, putting all my time into the shop, and trying to save as much money as possible. I spent my days, working day and night, bringing the building back from a state of disrepair, pulling down old wallpaper and re-painting. It was hard, but I learnt a huge amount from the experience. The mental strain was big, I was overwhelmed and tired, but the moment we opened the doors to the public, was simply incredible.
Shop Number Two and Three
We launched our second shop in Birmingham earlier this year. It was always the plan to expand the shop into other areas, and so far, the response has been outstanding. Our third shop opened in June and is a collaboration business with our fantastic suppliers, Method Coffee Roasters. The shop is placed in a unique and chilled setting at Arch 51 in Worcester.
The Perfect Blend
We are not your normal high street coffee shop. Our shops are built on a huge amount of passion for good food and coffee. Every single person who works here has an enormous amount of pride for the business. We make sure we employ people who buy into what we do and where we want to go. It’s surreal, looking back at where the shop started and where we are now. We now have more than 35 staff members employed across our business. Our aim is, and always will be, to provide a space for the whole community to enjoy food and coffee in a comfortable and exciting environment. We never want to compromise on our brand or quality of product.
Love My Job
I love everything about my role in the business. I love having access to awesome food and coffee every single day and seeing the impact our business has on our customers. My role has changed significantly since we launched, and I am really enjoying what I am doing now. I am the guy who refines and improves the way we do things, supporting our staff, so they can up-skill and learn new things.
While I was in the process of creating the business, I set up a crowd funding page to try and raise funds for the shop. I was completely blown away by the huge amount raised by my former teammates and the rugby community. It meant the absolute world to me and made a huge difference to the business and is something I will never forget.
Throughout my career I always made sure I worked with the RPA to implement a personal development plan and complete a degree. I also undertook a range of different work experience opportunities while I was playing in London. Ultimately, my move to Worcester and my struggles with injury, led to me forming the idea of opening a coffee shop. Having a new focus and interest away from my injury was enormous for me and gave me a new goal.
My number one piece of advice to other players looking to open a business would be to make sure you are extremely passionate about the idea and believe it will work. Opening my shop has been the hardest thing I have ever been through. However, if I hadn’t been so passionate about the idea, I don’t think I would have carried on and put myself through so much to make it work.