How to take your home business to the high street (and why you should)

Looking for the next step forward for your home-based business? Find out why you should consider establishing yourself on the high street – and how to do it. 

It’s easy to assume – especially in the current retail climate – that it’s wise to avoid setting up shop on the high street. After all, if big, established retailers are struggling, what chance does a small, independent retailer have?

However, the picture isn’t quite as grim as you may think, especially if you’re a smaller brand; a recent report found that 42% of consumers now prefer to use independent retailers over big-name brands, as they feel smaller shops treat them as individuals rather than just a number on a balance sheet.

So if you’re ready to take your business up a level, it’s worth considering opening a brick-and-mortar shop (temporary or permanent) and becoming an independent retailer.

Why should you take your home business to the high street?

Setting up a brick-and-mortar business on the high street is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many small businesses.

The UK’s high streets are suffering, leaving plenty of affordable shop space to rent. And many cities and shopping centres are becoming more flexible, offering temporary pop-up space for businesses – enabling you to have a physical and visible presence in your local community, without committing to a long, expensive lease.

Independent stores also ensure a good variety of products and services remain on the high street, which stops cities from being dominated by the same national and international brands.

The ability to interact face-to-face with customers and potential clients is invaluable too. It means you can establish your brand and get your products in front of an audience who can touch, try and even sample what you offer. Plus you get the chance to build face-to-face relationships with your customers, and get immediate feedback on what they do and don’t like.

Three tips to help you become a successful independent retailer

If you decide to take the next step by trialling a pop-up shop or renting floor space, then these three things will go a long way to ensuring your brick-and-mortar business goes from strength to strength.

1) Invest in technology to increase productivity and sales

There was a time when having the budget to invest in technology gave big high street chains a competitive advantage over independent retailers. And while they may still have more money to spend today, smaller businesses also have access to software and tools that improve productivity and sales. Most of them are free, or offer relatively cheap packages suitable for start-ups and SMEs.

For instance, Wave Accounting is a free financial management software that helps you invoice customers, record payments and upload receipts. Google Apps is a fantastic tool to boost your productivity, giving you Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google slides for no cost.

And Asana is a great project management app that allows you to collaborate easily with colleagues, while also being entirely free for teams of up to 15 people.

2) Put time in your calendar to attend different types of events

People love to shop local as it makes them feel like they’re ‘doing their bit’ for their local community. In fact, research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business, 63% is re-spent in the local area – compared to 40p in every £1 spent with a chain or larger business.

In return, you might want to get involved in your local area too, and establish your business as a loyal, integral part of your customers’ community. This can mean anything from sponsoring a local sports team, to attending street fairs, networking events and trade shows.

These events are crucial to any small business’ marketing efforts as they allow you to meet potential clients, catch up with current ones, meet your competitors and build a network of contacts that could prove useful in the future.

Always use these opportunities to get open and honest feedback from consumers. By being in touch with what they want and ensuring you offer the right items at the right price, you can increase your share of the market.

Attending events can be daunting for entrepreneurs used to working at home, but there are so many benefits. Indeed, many female entrepreneurs have already taken the plunge into event networking and achieved outstanding success.

3) Engage with your customers and leverage user-generated content

Social media is a great way to engage with your customers. Encourage them to get involved with your brand by liking, commenting on and sharing your posts and try to be as responsive as possible when someone contacts you on Facebook Chat or through a direct message on Twitter.

Customers today want immediate answers, and a quick response will go a long way to giving someone a good impression of your company. You can also use social media to promote discounts and competitions, while user-generated content (such as customer reviews and testimonials) can be incorporated into your site or marketing material.

You can even create a dedicated hashtag for your business or marketing campaign, and encourage people to share images and tweets after buying your products. Or you can send free samples to loyal customers and ask them to produce a YouTube video reviewing them.

Craig Pannozzo is the general manager of Gazeboshop, a supplier of gazebos and marquees. Since its beginnings in 2005 the company has helped hundreds of businesses prepare their stands for indoor and outdoor events.

Photo by Tomas Anton Escobar