I wish someone had told me that… Sachie Nomura, Sachie’s Kitchen

How to transform a small business into an empire | Prospa NZ

Culinary entrepreneur Sachie Nomura knows the importance of setting goals. After 10 years in business, her company Sachie’s Kitchen has risen to enormous heights thanks to a clear plan and simple, consistent messaging.

This is the first installment of Prospa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that…’ series, where we speak with seasoned Kiwi business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way.

It all started when…

I had a lightbulb moment. Almost 11 years ago, I was working in a five-star hotel in Auckland when I was approached by two colleagues who each had a friend who had suddenly died.

It made me think: what if I died tomorrow? What do I really want to achieve in my life?

That evening I went home and drew up a mind map. I thought about what I can offer New Zealand and what my purpose in life is.

I knew it had to be something to do with food, which was a big part of my life growing up. I thought about teaching people how to cook, starting with Japanese food because that’s my heritage.

I told my husband about my plan for Sachie’s Kitchen [a culinary school] and that I’d need to quit my job to see it through. He agreed that we’d give it a year, and the next day I turned in my resignation.

Image: Sachie Nomura by Anna Kidman

I grew my business through…

Good contacts and a strong launch. To get started, I created a website that just had an “about me” and a contact page, so potential customers could track me down. I then set about calling everyone I knew to tell them about my new venture and ask if they were interested in the team-building activities we had on offer. Every single one of them said yes, sign me up.

From the get-go, I was completely booked out. I started running learn-to-cook events in various cafes after hours, which went really well, so it occurred to me that I should open a cooking school, even though we were in the middle of a recession at the time.

I knew that in order to be a success, we had to be known. Back then the best way to get exposure was to go through traditional media platforms.

I planned a launch party and invited PR people and journalists from many different publications, including the New Zealand Herald, and pitched my business as New Zealand’s first Asian cooking school.

For the next two years, Sachie’s Kitchen was constantly in the media, whether on the radio, in magazines or on breakfast television.

That exposure led to an invitation to host a cooking show, broadcasted in 52 countries, that I now co-produce.

“Just like a house, if your brand doesn’t have a good foundation, it won’t stand.” – Sachie Nomura, owner of Sachie’s Kitchen

I’ve since released a cookbook and become the executive chef of Cloudy Bay Wine’s two restaurants. I’m an ambassador for different brands such as Lexus, I’ve run the kitchen on P&O cruise ships and launched Sachie’s Kitchen-branded products in Japan and the US, the latest being avocadomilk, which was honoured at the 2020 World Food Innovation and INNOBEV Awards.

A good business plan requires…

A goal-setting technique that works for you. When I was younger a friend turned me on to the power of writing and convinced me to visualise how I pictured my life in a year’s time.

He told me to write that dream down in my diary every day for 100 days, adjusting it as I felt necessary. When I came across the book years later, I realised that everything I put down had come to fruition – getting married, having a three-bedroom apartment across from the ocean, running my own business.

Image: Sachie’s Kitchen TV

Ever since, I’ve always written down everything that I want to achieve. When I started my business, I created a 10-year plan that broke down my goals on a year-by-year basis.

I was also able to keep any fear I had at bay by running a worst-case scenario through that business plan. I figured out what my costs would be if I had no customers and how long I could continue to pay my landlord if that was to occur. This helped me to determine the length of my lease [when I was first starting out].

Having that plan in place freed me up to take action on my goals unencumbered.

I wish someone had told me that…

You don’t need to do it all by yourself. I didn’t trust people at the very beginning, so I did everything alone – liaising with customers, sending quotes and booking confirmations, buying ingredients, setting up and running events, cleaning up afterwards, sending invoices and updating my website – the works.

Then one day in my first year of running Sachie’s Kitchen, I collapsed on the bathroom floor at a client event. From that point on I knew I had to learn to rely on others and create a strong team built on trust.

My husband advised me to delegate 80% of my workload to my team, leaving 20% for myself, but that wasn’t easy for me to do. These days when I get the urge to do something by myself, I keep it in check and train my staff. Training people takes so long and it’s hard, but if you want to go further, you can’t do it alone.

How to transform a small business into an empire | Prospa NZ

Image: Sachie’s Kitchen TV

The key to my success is…

Having an original idea. I deferred to the ‘blue ocean’ strategy of finding a niche offering within a niche market. You don’t want to be in a ‘red ocean’, where a lot of businesses are fighting for space and your competitors will devour you.

Finding that sweet spot entailed researching all the different businesses that were running cooking schools or classes in New Zealand. We even flew to Sydney to check out what was on offer there to find out how other cooking schools were set up, marketed and what their pricing strategy was. That helped me identify what people want, who my competitors were and shape a unique product.

I built my personal brand through…

Consistency. I spent a good five years building the foundation of my brand. Just like a house, if your brand doesn’t have a good foundation, it won’t stand.

I created brand guidelines for Sachie’s Kitchen, which are consistent across all platforms – whether on TV, in print, on our website or social media – and that our sponsorships and partnerships must align with.

Our brand mission is to teach people about Asian cooking and culture through fun and food.

So many opportunities have come our way over the years, but if they don’t fit within that framework, I have to say ‘no’.

If you have a simple message and stick with it, those who resonate with it will follow you.

Main image by Anna Kidman.

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