South East Business catches up with Katy Lassen, owner of Harbour & Tide, Margate’s trendy new beach essentials store
Katy, tell us about Harbour & Tide and your vision.
“Harbour & Tide is a beach lifestyle store with a focus on joyful, functional and sustainable products. My vision was to create a store that encourages people to make the most of their time by the sea, whether living locally or visiting. My curation centres on offering quality products that bring joy when you use them with as little impact on the planet as possible.
“I took out a Start Up Loan via Virgin StartUp back in April 2022 to launch Harbour & Tide as a pop-up store in Broadstairs. Due to its success, I took out a second loan via the programme in February this year to scale up the business and open my first permanent store in Margate.”
What is your background and what inspired you to launch the business?
“I spent 17 years as a fashion stylist, art director and founder of Also Journal, an online publication for women. My interest in styling was starting to wane and when the pandemic hit, I spent a lot of 2020 on the beach and in the sea. I noticed that there was nowhere local to buy nice things for the beach and that people were ordering cheap mass-produced products online or buying straight-to-landfill beach toys that were poor quality.
“Thanet has three popular coastal towns which are thriving tourist destinations. The pandemic saw the resurgence of staycations and an influx of creatives moving from London and working remotely. I saw an opportunity to tap into the dual markets of locals who want to shop small and visitors making the most of their holidays.
“I had been looking for a new creative direction in my career and having a shop had always been a dream of mine. I realised that with my experience of styling, art direction and marketing, and with the ability to take out a loan through the Start Up Loans programme, I was in a good place to make this dream a reality.”
What has your journey as a startup been like?
“It has been a full-on 18 months since I started gearing up for the launch. I had a premises lined up in Ramsgate and the plan was to open in the spring of 2022 as part of a new coastal destination with a bakery, bar and cafe. I had bought a lot of summer stock and started creating hype on social media when the council pulled their support for the new destination and I was left without a shop. I had to quickly find somewhere to sell the products and launch the business as soon as possible.
“I found a co-work space in Broadstairs that had a neutral and modern interior that was unused on weekends. I made a deal with the owners to take over the space from mid-June to the end of July (with the view to finding something else in August). Due to it being a co-working space, I had to get everything out on Saturday mornings and put it all away again on Sunday evenings. I stored things in the unit’s basement, which was only accessed through a trap door, and took the rest home. It was a physical and emotional slog but the response to the shop was really positive and sales were good.
“In August, I moved to another pop-up shop in Ramsgate where I could be open Thursday-Sunday, which worked well but footfall was low. It was becoming apparent that doing pop-ups was a really valuable experience to see where the best place for a store would be, what was working and what was not.
“I took a break in September and October but kept looking for a permanent premises in Ramsgate with no success. I saw that my local yoga space and cafe had a lot of big shelves and was struggling to open regularly due to higher running costs and thought that there could be an opportunity that would help us both. I opened my last pop-up there for November and December and tested out my winter offering in a more central location with a guaranteed audience. It worked really well, and I finished my first year of trading in profit – a massive achievement for a startup!
“At the beginning of 2023, someone told me that a shop was becoming available in Margate, overlooking the Turner and I jumped at it. The shop was perfect, with friendly landlords and a great position in town. I took the keys in February and opened the shop at the beginning of March. In a way, it feels like this was the real beginning of Harbour & Tide, but I learned so much from the pop-ups that I am grateful that the original premises fell through.”
How have the loans from Start Up Loans helped you grow Harbour & Tide?
“Without Start Up loans, there would be no Harbour & Tide. I accessed the loan through Virgin and had a great advisor who helped me finalise my business plan and get a grip on my cash flow projections. I applied for £11,500 to start with and received it in April 2022. I was able to buy stock, pay a graphic designer to create the branding, buy fixtures and fittings, and promote the launch.
“When I had secured the shop in Margate, I applied for the second part of the loan as I needed to spend some money doing up the shop and increase my stock levels. I also needed to hire weekend staff. I received £14,000 in February 2023, in time to get the shop ready to open in March.
“A lot of the brands we stock in the shop are from women-led independent businesses working with recycled materials and sustainable practices, as I have a real commitment to the environment, but also to supporting the success of female-led businesses and brands. The Start Up Loans programme was a great fit for me as they’re also really committed to female-owned businesses. Just recently, they announced that they’d issued £1 billion worth of loans to UK businesses, with 40% of these going to female business owners and they’re working towards achieving a goal of 50% split for female recipients.
“I also really appreciated the insights of both advisors that I dealt with through Virgin and the fact that I could access the loan in two parts worked well, considering the delay I had in finding a permanent location.”
Do you have any advice for fellow startup business owners and entrepreneurs?
“Go with your gut and give it your all. Do your market research and make sure there is demand for what you want to offer and consider starting with a pop-up or starting small to test the market. Find other business leaders who share your values and support each other. Having someone to talk to who gets it is invaluable.”
Looking to the future, what can we expect from Harbour & Tide? Do you have plans to expand further?
“I would love to open a second (and third) store in another coastal town – maybe Broadstairs or Folkestone. I plan to improve my online sales in the run-up to Christmas to capture more of the UK-wide market so am taking some time this Autumn to work on the digital side of things. The response in Margate has been so positive from both locals and visitors, and I’m excited for what the future holds for Harbour & Tide!”