‘I always try to lead and work from my heart’ says Cassie Lucas, the founder of Firecracker Event – one of the most successful (and Instagrammed!) food, styling and service businesses in Melbourne. While Cassie started the business six-and-a-half years ago, it took another 18 months of juggling it alongside other work until she decided to commit to it full-time.
Within two years, Cassie was opening the doors to her first premises – HQ1 – in Thornbury. ‘I could see that renting other kitchens and running around town packing and unpacking all the time would be comparable in cost to actually having our own space’ says Cassie. ‘At that stage, Firecracker was just me, so of course I was extremely anxious and nervous about taking the leap. I also knew that if I wanted this business to work I would have to feel the fear and do it anyway. The tricky part at that stage was I wasn’t really valuing the business correctly, and not charging correctly meant it took me longer to be able to afford the help I needed and start building our team.’ In hindsight, Cassie admits she would do things differently — ‘but that’s really a huge conversation about feeling worthy and valuable and there’s not enough room in this interview for all that!’
After seeing the potential of a 1950s butcher shop in Thornbury, Cassie enlisted the help of her good friend Caitlin Perry, founder of Setsquare Studio, to design the fit-out and then, ‘called on all the tradies I knew’ stressing that her brother-in-law and his mates were ‘godsends’. ‘Ultimately we were able to do it because I could see the potential of the space, how amazing it would be for the business and was able to ask my community for help.’
As the business grew, the need for a new location was evident. Northcote’s HQ2 has ‘ample room for storage and better systems for event logistics, a huge kitchen and a dedicated office area. The best part, says Cassie, ‘is that we now have room to host. My vision for the space is to host creative workshops, photoshoots, events, build things for larger projects and of course still have our pop-ups every now and then!’
Scaling any business is hard, but perhaps particularly so in an industry known for last-minute changes and 24/7 service. Ask anyone who has ever planned an event and stress can steer the journey. How does Cassie deal with it? ‘It can certainly be stressful, mostly because we care so much! Managing that has taken some practice and is a continual work-in-progress. I try to allocate small moments that are just mine throughout the week—a pedicure on Sunday, phone-free time and regular visits to my kinesiologist! We’re also at a stage in the business where we have a team and that’s been the best because it means when one of us is losing it, chances are someone else will have it covered.’
In addition to these small moments, Cassie operates with the philosophy made famous by Danny Meyer of ‘Enlightened Hospitality’ — which means that ‘every person you engage feels safe, welcome and at home with you. It’s about going the extra mile and prioritising relationships over transactions’. It’s this way of working that’s helped Firecracker remain a successful operator despite a slew of competitors rising up. ‘I constantly feel surprised that we survive and thrive in such a competitive industry. I do believe that we have been successful because we have grown slow and steady and because we’ve always done what we do with heart… We take on projects that make our hearts sing and when we’re doing that, enlightened hospitality happens naturally… People can feel the love and they come back for that.‘
With her past experience as a solo operator, what advice would she gift to someone looking to scale their business? ‘Go for it. And pace yourself. You don’t have to do it all yesterday. It helps me when I break it down. Put it into a 12 month plan, then break that down into 3 months and then monthly. This makes all the things you’d like to do feel very achievable and less overwhelming. I rejig my plan all the time as things change.’ In addition to planning, Cassie also credits having a wealth of support around her. ‘…The other invaluable tool for me has been having other friends and creatives in small business to talk to—like therapy for small business owners! Lastly, my sister works for Small Giants and recently completed her MBA, and cares deeply about Firecracker and sustainable business. She’s really been the one to give me the language around what I want this business to be. I feel like she should be on the payroll the amount of advice, conversations, hours and PR she dedicates to FC.’
For now, Cassie is basking in a newly opened HQ2. ‘What’s next? A big deep breath! For the next little bit we’ll be concentrating on finding our feet in our new neighbourhood (Hi Northcote!) and getting HQ2 and our team to a really good place. I’d like to build things, collaborate with people and get back to my roots of landscape architecture and designing spaces. Oh, I almost forgot, it’s the start of wedding season too! Eeeeek!’