Boutique and beautiful, indie stores are green buds that show our town centres could soon bloom again. As I travel the UK (and I’ve visited thirty towns and cities in the last three years, looking at empty shops) it’s obvious that there’s a revolution happening, and a resurgence in people opening indie stores.
Multiple retailers moving out mean great opportunities for Independents…
If you’re a pessimistic sort, you might look at the hollowed-out town centres and boarded-up parades around the UK and think it’s all over. In some ways you’re right; the model of multiples making every high street look the same is certainly coming to an end. Clone town Britain is on life support.
But that’s a great opportunity for new independents to open, offering something different, making places distinct and creating diverse town centres.
However optimistic you are, opening a new store is risky. You don’t have a loyal customer base; you don’t have supply chains in place; you don’t have the capacity for extensive research to test the local market. So how can you lessen the risk, and make sure you’re not opening a shop that’s bound to fail?
“I bought a record store by mistake”!
A few years ago, I bought a record store by mistake. The previous owner was selling in a hurry, and there was six months to run on the lease. The cost for stock, fixtures and fittings was remarkably low, the rent reasonable, and business rates affordable. So rather than buy a couple of CDs, I bought the shop, pretty much on the spot and without stopping to think.
Knowing I had a limited time before the lease ran out, I could afford to take the risk and see what happened. I could build on the store’s existing customers, and look at whether the market could be expanded. I could explore new stockists, and see what worked with local shoppers. In short, I could see whether there was a working business, or not, at a fairly low risk. It turns out that there wasn’t, but I didn’t lose much to find that out. Revolutionary Music opened for six months, was a risk worth taking, and was great fun, too.
Why pop up shops offer a great opportunity for retail entrepreneurs to try things out
Pop up shops offer an opportunity to anyone who wants to do the same. Across the country we’ve seen big brands open pop up shops as part of multi-layered marketing campaigns.
But pop ups are far more useful for people who want to prototype and test, and for small traders who want to expand a business. A pop up is open for a specific period, often just days or weeks, so rent and rates are low. The risk is limited, and you can see the end if it’s not working out. You can open one anywhere you want to try an idea out, from shopping centres to sidestreets, and see whether there are enough customers locally. And you can do just about anything in them, too.
Pop up shops may be the secret to breathing new life into our town centres, seeding new growth once more.
The town centres I’ve visited need new life, and I see shops opening in every place I visit. But they’re often not there when I go back. Watching independent shops open, struggle and collapse in a few short months is painful.
If you want to open an independent store, you should. It can make you a reasonable income, give something back to your local community and employ people too. It’s incredibly rewarding, and will bring you pleasure in a hundred unexpected ways. But if you want to succeed, any entrepreneur will tell you that you have to try, test and fail sometimes, too.
And the best way you can do that, is with a pop up. Plant the seed , and make our town centres grow again.
Author: Dan Thompson, Founder of The Empty Shops Network
This blog was written by Dan Thompson who is founder of the Empty Shops Network, Dan has worked across the UK on projects recycling empty shops. He is the author of the “Pop Up People” report (which is at popupreport.co.uk) and “Pop Up Shops For Dummies”, due to be published in October 2012.
Dan also started #riotcleanup, which aimed to help independent traders recover from riots across England. That project saw him praised in the prime Minister’s keynote conference speech as an example of British leadership. You can find Dan on Twitter @artistsmakers.