Business ideas for 2013: Independent shops on the High Street

The drive for local identity and a surplus of vacant premises will see Britain’s shopping thoroughfares open for small businesses

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The quick-fire loss of Blockbuster, Jessops and Comet – as well as HMV, potentially – has left a few more hundred holes where there used to be shops on Britain’s high streets. Add these holes to the existing holes and you start to wonder if soon there will be anything left to put a hole in.

But the high street is changing, not dying, and the government’s attention has been drawn to the plight of bricks and mortar shops like never before. There is a real appetite to stem the growth of ‘clone towns’ and build character back in.

This drive is personified by Mary Portas who has been entrusted with £1.2m of public money to energise 12 towns with new markets, dolled-up shop faces and advertising for shopping thoroughfares. It’s not much, but it’s part of a package and a sign of things to come.

Expect to see more pop-up shops and with the release of mobile payment devices such as iZettle and SumUp, the ability for anyone with a smartphone to take payment has got easier. Enterprise campaign StartUp Britain, which has opened pop-up outlets in Richmond and Gloucester, formed the PopUp Forum in a bid to fill unused shop space.

Elsewhere, the London Assembly’s Open for Business report has suggested vacant premises should be made available to those looking for short-term or temporary rental agreements in order to fill more than 3,400 empty shops.

Camden Town Unlimited is one example of a local pop-up programme and has taken on leases for six vacant outlets to let to commercial tenants. And in Bristol, the city launched its very own currency – the Bristol Pound – last year and now has £B140,000 in circulation with more than 500 traders signed-up.

Independent shops and businesses have benefited from a concerted local effort to promote diversity and those embracing the scheme, with individual account holders informed about what’s on offer in the region and national news publications picking up the story.

Meanwhile, in Hackney a £100m fashion hub spearheaded by architect David Adjaye’s firm is set to launch in 2016. It will feature up-and-coming local designers alongside established brands with the aim of competing with Portobello and Borough markets.

“Examples like Blockbuster and Comet reflect the inability of some brands to move quickly, innovate and respond to the changing way people buy things,” says Nick Giles, co-founder of campaigning PR outfit Seven Hills. “But it’s not the same for all businesses and with some help, success stories will spring up in their place.”

Published Mar 2013

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