Mobile food entrepreneur discusses SME theft heartbreak » SMEInsider

Mobile food entrepreneur discusses SME theft heartbreak

Tabitha Johnston, a former city analyst turned SME owner, was left devastated after having her £15,000 health food stall stolen in the middle of the night. We spoke to Johnston about her distressing experience, and discussed how crime is affecting millions of small business owners nationwide.


Successful SME owner

Johnston started her professional career as a city-analyst, working in the Square Mile for risk management groups Aon UK and Schroders after gaining a first-class degree in Maths from Bristol University, but Johnston decided to give up the corporate lifestyle to become a small business owner.

Inspired by her chef mum as a child, Johnston was determined to muscle her way in to the food industry and with the help of her Dad, transformed a disused horsebox into her very own street food stall.

Now the proud owner of The Neigh Horsebox, Johnston has built up a reputation selling organic juices and raw-bars to health-conscious customers and frequently tours the UK festival circuit to serve hungry music lovers.

‘‘The business got off to a really great start and after the festival season ended we secured a regular market slot at Broadgate Circus,’’ explained Johnston, speaking exclusively to SME Insider.

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Disaster strikes

However the 26 year-old was shocked to find that on the evening of 15th October, thieves had broken into her storage unit in Barnes Common, South-West London, and had stolen her sole source of income.

‘‘Somebody had just taken it. It was as locked up as it could be. It had Yale locks all over it and it had a wheel clamp, so I assume that criminals had been targeting it for a while.’’

After a police investigation, Metropolitan Police Officer Mohammed Syed later wrote to Johnston informing her that the case was closed just a week after it had been opened, despite failing to obtain further information from the owner that could have helped solved the case. According to the London Evening Standard, the case was closed due to a ‘‘lack of evidential leads i.e. CCTV, forensic opportunities or witnesses.’’

Johnston was upset that the police took such a short time to investigate the theft, but understands that they are constantly overworked investigating multiple crimes every single day.

‘‘I think the police are brilliant, but it was frustrating to be on the end of a system that was just too busy to carry out the investigation.’’

‘‘It’s clear that they are overworked and I realise they have a huge amount of work on their hands, but when you see something so close to you ripped away,  it’s difficult to accept that they can’t dedicate more resources to it.’’

However, it turned out that the police made an error with Johnston’s investigation, and subsequently reopened the case, but failed to gain any further leads.

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Over half of the SME community have been affected by crime

Crime is a huge problem for small business, with a report from victim support and security firm ADT finding that over 50 per cent of UK SMEs have been affected by crime in one way or another, costing business owners £25m a year – or £2,625 for every incident.

SMEs based in rural areas are the most affected by crime, with a recent survey from the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) finding that rural crime is costing taxpayers an estimated £800m a year.

Having insurance is one way to help cover the losses of SME theft, but Johnston was unfortunately uninsured.

‘‘One of the questions that I get asked a lot about the theft is ‘did I have insurance’, and I didn’t. People then look at you as if to say ‘you’re really silly, why didn’t you?’ But the reality is that my business just couldn’t afford insurance at the time as it’s thousands of pounds a year.’’


Using Kickstarter to help restore her business

Despite having no insurance, Johnston is confident that she’ll be able to afford a new stall. With the help of anonymous donors who’ve heard about her ordeal, Johnston is using a Kickstarter fund to try and raise £7,000 towards the cost of a new stall and equipment.

Thousands of SMEs owners have become disillusioned with big banks and government funding and like Johnston, have turned their attention to the generosity of the public.

‘‘I guess in a way, Crowdfunding is capitalism in its purest form,’’ said the former city analyst. For a very small business, crowdfunding is a great resource.

‘‘I’ve received a huge amount of support from social media and crowdfunding. It’s come from fellow street food owners, which is brilliant. For a very small business, crowdfunding is a great resource.’’

Once the £7,000 is raised, Johnston aims to build another stall with her Dad, with the former city worker loving the freedom that comes with being an SME owner.

‘‘I absolutely loved analysing companies for a living, but my job involved me looking at things like Chinese infrastructure and German taxes, so I felt a little removed from the world.’’

‘‘I’ve always had a desire to get a bit closer to the real world, and I knew that running my own business would allow me to do that.’’