‘I had to learn almost everything about business’

Part of our athlete transition / life after sport series: Sam Maunder plays scrum-half for Exeter Chiefs, and became a co-owner of Exeter coffee shop, The Common Beaver. The café can be found on Instagram and Facebook. Visit our new careers in hospitality page here [LAPS log-in required].

I had previously spent a lot of time in the Common Beaver studying my degree at the University of Exeter, so when I was approached by the owner, Charlie, to become his business partner, I didn’t need much persuading. And that was late 2020 so it’s been a learning curve ever since – and definitely a lesson in life!

My top tips in this industry are: get some good people working with you, and make sure your core product is as good as it possibly can be.

You see a lot of places that will try and do too much too quickly and not focus in on their fundamental thing. For us, it’s making sure that our coffee is the best coffee that we can serve. The next is that we’re providing the best service in Exeter, and after that, it’s making sure the environment is positive. Those are the three things that we focus on as a company and we make sure that we don’t drift too far away from those primary goals. We currently stock Fire and Flow coffee, from the Cotswolds.

Starting at the bottom

For a long time, I was an understudy to Charlie. I had to understand what a coffee shop is, how it runs day-to-day: the payroll, profit and loss (P&L), costing ingredients, and so on. After a bit of time, I’m starting to add my own ideas. We’re trying to make our own bagels and put that on the menu, which was good fun.

I’d always planned to have other interests alongside rugby. Before I got the opportunity from Charlie, me  and my dad were talking about potentially doing something like a coffee shop just because of how passionate I was about coffee. I just love the taste of it and love spending time in cafes. And I’m pretty glad that we didn’t end up doing it by ourselves because it would have been absolute carnage!

Working with Charlie has been a decent lesson to how the industry actually works rather than just coming in blind.

In sport, there are no shortcuts. If you want to be an unbelievable player, you have to put in the monotonous, tedious work. However, I think if you cut corners in business, potentially there’s even bigger consequences than on the rugby field. You are liable to get slapped with government regulations.

In sport, around training sessions there’s a lot of recovery time when you’re chatting with your teammates. In the hospitality industry, equally I love the sense of community.

I spend quite a lot of time in the Common Beaver. I’ve become quite good mates with the locals in the area because of it. I get to know different people from different walks of life as well, which is really nice.

I’ve had to learn pretty much everything on the business side! When I first came in, the first thing I learnt was about costings and how you make sure that you’re pricing things appropriately. You’re not overcharging so people don’t come through the door. You can’t undercharge so your business runs out of cash.

Running a business helps my rugby

I’m currently rehabbing an injury. Running the Common Beaver has helped me individually because I’m a bit of an overthinker. If I just played rugby, it’d be on my mind 24/7. And I don’t think that’s the best for anybody. This has been a great outlet because I am staying engaged mentally, but also switching off from the pressure of professional sport.

I’m hoping to grow to a point where this can be my full-time job. This is something I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I absolutely love it.

The plan is to open more cafes and eventually start roasting my own coffee as well.