For Refinery founder Hayley Swindell-Wakefield, the closing of her female-only coworking space and social club at Brazos and Seventh streets is a bittersweet end to one incredible year. With rents skyrocketing all around Austin, and the cost of operating a sustainable business growing increasingly difficult, Swindell-Wakefield and her business partner made the tough decision to end The Refinery era.
“We were not bringing in enough revenue to cover expenses,” Swindell-Wakefield says. “Our model just was not sustainable. Running a hospitality company is not cheap, and I have learned more about finance than I ever could have imagined though this process."
The Refinery closed March 31 but will remain open for the rest of April to fulfill any previously scheduled events.
Since opening in January 2018, Swindell-Wakefield and her team have carved out a space in Austin's female-centric creative community. From partnering with local, women-led companies Infinite Monkey Theorem, Outdoor Voices, and Bumble for a silent disco to the recent Girls Just Want to Have Funds panel put on by Austin Woman and the Governor’s Commission for Women, The Refinery acted as not only a coworking space but a place for women to come together, learn, and build meaningful relationships.
“When you walked into The Refinery, you just felt alive and welcome,” Swindell-Wakefield says. It’s that spirit that drew its members to the bright, airy space at 612 Brazos St. And for Swindell-Wakefield, the entire venture was a special time, filled with both growth opportunities and memories she’ll cherish forever.
“Owning and operating The Refinery has taught me more than I can ever imagine,” she recalls. “It taught me that I am not Superwoman and I cannot do it all alone, and that's okay. It also brought out my strengths and weaknesses every day. I have learned that I love hospitality and creating exceptional experiences for people, putting on events and the feeling of a close-knit community.”
In addition to digging in to what she truly loves, she also caught herself dealing with the pressure to be perfect, something many business owners face.
“I’m bad at saying no and sticking up for myself,” she says. “One of the themes of this experience is 'I'm sorry.' I can't tell you how many times I said that over the course of this journey. Sometimes it was because it really was my fault, and I messed up, and other times it was just my responsibility to take blame as the face of the business even if it was something totally out of my control."
While short-lived, Swindell-Wakefield isn’t at all discouraged as she feels “it’s not the end, [but the] continuing [of fostering] real connections and mak[ing] women feel welcome and empowered wherever they go.”
"While I'm devastated to have had to close, the knowledge I have gained is more than I could have ever imagined," she says. "Will I do things a little different next time? Sure, but I'm beyond grateful for the learning experience.”
After packing up The Refinery, Swindell-Wakefield is planning to launch her own podcast and is ready to start thinking about motherhood. For the podcast, which she says will drop soon, Swindell-Wakefield plans to “chat with other business owners [on their successes and failures] to hopefully learn and laugh together.”