How dreams can become reality

17th February 2023 | Rob Barnes

Rob Barnes of Bruce Gillingham Pollard looks at how to assess approaches from people who want to turn a new retailing or hospitality concept into a physical trading space.

Immediately after every summer or Christmas holiday period agents get a steady flow of calls from people who, whilst away from work, have had ideas about a new retail or hospitality concept, whose success could liberate them from their day job.

It can be easy to be cynical, but there can be some great ideas which will eventually translate into a successful independent business.

To sift the fanciful from the thought-out, we first look for a well-considered business plan. No matter how original an idea is, it must be backed up by financial projections and an achievable timeline. Most landlords are keen to nurture new independent occupiers if they can demonstrate that they have thought through their idea and even market-tested it. If a landlord is going to provide a rent-free period, they want to see that the business is going to be able to pay the rent when the time comes. This needs to be covered in a business plan, detailing the businesses revenue forecasts throughout the lease term, its profile of costs and provision for marketing.

We look for people who have more than an idea and have already done some work to prepare the ground for their concept. This can entail testing the concept with a pop-up store and engaging cultivating a following on social media.

A good example is Project D which was founded in 2018 by three friends who shared a passion for food and began to search the world for ‘the perfect doughnut’. Today, their products are stocked at a network of cafes and shops, and they are creating pop-ups at mass events like festivals and sports fixtures. In the process, they have amassed more than 140,000 followers on Instagram and have developed a business which has both an in-demand product and a strong, engaged following. Not surprisingly, the business is now looking to open its first outlet.

The online world is clearly an essential platform for any product or concept that’s trying to raise awareness. Some fledgling brands are choosing to bypass the website stage and instead dedicate that resource to social media marketing. However, it’s good to bear in mind that landlords will be reassured by a clear, well-designed website that expresses your brand. A good website indicates a serious, high-quality operator that has already invested in turning their idea into reality.

If you want to translate your brand into a physical space, then you need to have a vision of what that will entail and if it will grab attention. Loaf, the coffee and cake store in Manchester, certainly ticks the latter box with a profoundly pink interior which is irresistibly ‘instagrammable’. Whatever your preferred look, independents will benefit from getting ideas from a designer and researching fit-out costs before engaging with a landlord. 

And finally, look for brands where the founders demonstrate passion, persistence, and patience. Few businesses are an overnight success. Pizza Pilgrims started life in a Piaggio van in 2012, and now has 20 sites open across London, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge. Kricket, the popular Indian restaurant set up in a Pop Brixton shipping container in 2015 before moving to a permanent site in London’s Soho the following year. 

Passion and persistence go a long way in business. They’re contagious and foster a productive and proactive collaborative environment. One of my colleagues cites the story of a would-be restaurateur who, in a bid to impress the landlord they were targeting, invited them to their flat and cooked a variety of dishes for them. Not long after, the restaurant opened in London and went on to have outlets nationwide.

So, when our phones start ringing after the Christmas or summer holidays, we know it can be worthwhile to look out for those key signs which indicate that someone with a fresh idea may be a real prospect rather than a just a pipe-dreamer.


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