Emma Jones

Starting up on the high street

Our high streets are in trouble.

According to The Local Data Company, the last six weeks have been the worst on record for shop closures and announcements of retail chains going into administration.

Meanwhile at PopUp Britain, the retail arm of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain, we are busy growing the number of pop-up shops we open. That’s because start-ups and small businesses are telling us they want low-cost, short-term access to the high street.

Entrepreneurs spot opportunities.  And the growing number of empty shops represents just such an opportunity.

When PopUp Britain took over an empty estate agent in Richmond, Surrey, in five months more than 60 businesses had taken up a two –week window in our shop.

Since we opened our showcase shop in the Department for Communities and Local Government just before Christmas, we have seen 23 small businesses co-fund and co-working in the space. By June there will have been over 70 in there.  Our latest shop in Moreton-in-Marsh, called PopUp Moreton, will help 12 local businesses get onto the high street in eight weeks.

We have plans to open more shops – with the next openings planned in Fulham, Nottingham and Wolverhampton.

Many of the 82,000 start-ups and small businesses that have registered with StartUp Britain, are online businesses, often with just one person doing everything. They are home-based, using technology to get their products to market. But ironically, the one thing they are missing is that real contact you can only get from meeting customers face-to-face.

Taking on a lease would be unaffordable.  Filling a shop single-handedly would be impossible.  Spending every day in a shop or employing an assistant would be totally unrealistic for most of them.

Our model gives six start-ups at a time a two-week stint in a shop, for £150. That way they crowd-fund the rent and rates, the businesses can manage to cover their stint themselves while continuing to work online, and they benefit from working closely with their fellow entrepreneurs.

One day perhaps, these businesses can check in for two weeks at different shops around the country.  It is certainly a realistic option.

Pop-up shops have had a bad name in the past.  They have been associated with the stereotypical white spray-paint, bargain-bucket shops that come and go.

We want PopUp Britain shops to become synonymous with consumers for supporting British and local enterprise.

As I move on to represent start-ups and small businesses on the Government’s Future High Street Forum, we hope more and more opportunities will arrive on our high streets for entrepreneurs.

And we want to see more small businesses getting involved with our shops, using it as not just a sales tool, but also marketing content, market research, experimenting with products and price as well as social media.

As a not-for-profit campaign, we have to find our funding for this from big businesses.  We’ve been delighted to have the backing of forward-thinking businesses like accountancy software firm Intuit, BT Business, Dell, Intel, Paypal and Viking.  The handheld payment system we use in our shops has been donated free by Intuit. The design of our PopUp Britain brand has been created by design agency iris.  It’s a wonderful example of big helping small.

Empty shops offer entrepreneurs a brilliant opportunity to do something different.

To register for a space in PopUp Britain go to www.popupbritain.com

Writteb by Emma Jones, co-founder of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain and PopUp Britain, and founder of online small business network Enterprise Nation.

Emma has written a number of best-selling books including:

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