Kerb Crawling..The New Business Opportunity!?

Courtesy ‘mac’ Daily Mail

It is one of the world’s oldest professions. It can be highly profitable . It is a very quick and easy way to start a business, if you are prepared to be out there in all weathers.

Selling stuff on the street is common place throughout the world. Whether it is street food in South East Asia through to Street grafters flogging Bargains to unsuspecting consumers throughout towns in the UK , there would be few anywhere in the world who would not have bought something from a street vendor at some time or other. So nothing new there then.

Well there is sort of .. rather sort of new . I first experienced something which I thought at the time was very innovative. During lockdown when restaurants could offer takeaways , a local restaurant offered a Kerb Side service. You ordered and paid via your phone and when you arrived you stayed in your vehicle , sent a text you had arrived and they would come out and put the collection in your boot.

In the US this has gone a stage further. A number of retailers concerned about Covid did not want shoppers back in their shops. Yet they still wanted to trade. Their solution is to make their shop window their Shop Window. so to speak. The principle is the consumer pulls up in front, or is walking on the pavement, and the retail offer is shown clearly in the shop window. The buyer then phones through to the store say what they want, pays for it and hey presto it appears at the front door or is delivered to your boot (Trunk as the Americans would say).

Whilst click and collect at the curb side is not in itself revolutionary , it is when there is a store that informs you and you use the shop window to make your purchase. It favours the smaller stores and those with limited store offering . It also favours small stores that have small stores or rather very shallow but with a long frontage.

Party Store In USA. Courtesy BBC

It helps if you are not on a Red Route (London) or Double yellow lines, that aside if you are actually on pavement there is potential there for many retailers. By restricting your selling space to a window is very restrictive, but the alternative is that less customers or even nobody comes into the store . This is not instead of a website it is another tool. Potentially it would attract the passer-by, especially if they are going somewhere else and think ‘I can order this now and do what I was out to do and collect it on my way back.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -Stay Forever Store ‘Walk up & Browse’

I have heard from a number of customers that during lockdown they executed a similar plan. They did not make specific use of their windows but they offered a drive by service via social media and in conjunction with their web sites. This is by no means a Retail Panacea but it is another weapon in the armoury (….or ‘tool in the box’ depending upon your mind set).

Whilst having developed during the Pandemic, it is not uncommon for retail innovation to jump to the front of the queue during any crisis, it could be a very useful tool during ‘normality’. It can be thought of metaphorically reaching out to the consumer and looking at ways that make it easier for them to buy from you. Instead of you having to drag them in from the street you are meeting them half way in the Street.

“This is the new abnormal and the consumer wants a different experience,” said Mr. Fawkes of PSFK, the research firm. “If the legacy retailers won’t provide it, new entrants will.”

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Why don’t we ‘Party in Chains‘ like the rest of the World?

Yes, another unashamed bit of Product Placement

Perhaps the Brits are prudish, a bit reserved , not sure what is involved, think its a bit continental, and we get drunk too quickly.

Now I know the odd non U.K. citizen who may read this, says I know you brits like having a good time and dressing up in chains but that is not the point . Is it more to do with High Street rents, cost of operation, and too much online competition ? Quite simply a Chain of Party Shops does not exist in the UK and it has puzzled me for some time.

Oddly, Covid has helped with my enlightenment. For many years, the U.K. has been considered one the major markets for party products outside North America. Of course part of Northern Europe has ‘Carnival’, Many Spanish speaking nations have some form of Fiesta, Italy has Carnivals and Fiestas , the Brits have long been a nation using any good excuse for a Party.

That all said, the biggest Chain, in the U.K., was never bigger than 5 stores. Several years ago the American franchise chain Partyland established 12 branches, there are now 0. the remains of Partyland became Pure Party which was subsidiary of the Card shop chain Birthdays. I think at it is peak the Pure Party chain was over 40 stores. Unfortunately they were run like card shops. Both have long gone.

In France there are various chains with 20+, in Spain Party Fiesta has 130 (not all in Spain), and Germany with the likes of Karnevalswierts with 10 (1 in Holland) and Dieters with over 30. Needless to say the largest is in North America, Party City with the best part of 1000 stores. In the UK there have attempts by large multiples to try add on ‘party sections’ but all have failed through lack of sales per square foot. I have to add a small footnote here, there is one such operation in the U.K which is within a supermarket chain but from all accounts it is under constant review.

Enlightenment came via Covid lock-down. There are of course major structural issues ,which as already stated, focus heavily on operational costs being especially high in the UK for a retailer of any type, in addition to the effectiveness and impact of UK online operators. What I saw during lock-down and the eventual opening of retail early July was the split between those that had an alternative during lock-down and those that did not. Moreover, the successful operators, generally had a good relationship with their local community and were active on social media.

The common factors did not stop there. On the whole the successful retailers were family owned and run, and were single unit stores. The final piece of the puzzle was that they had a strong Balloon Business.

On the surface there is nothing there, which could not be replicated in multiple locations. Except the ownership, Family owned or single owner operated. It is very evident there is a strong connection between those single owner or family owner operated stores as against multiple stores. If this connection with the community is maintained and nurtured it becomes an integral part of the business. This is really difficult to do within a chain.

So why did lock down become a source of enlightenment ? From hearing some many stories from retailers about how they were pestered (not in a nasty way) by local customers as to when are you opening up…or can we get x,y & z from you somehow. None of this relationship came about because of lock down but highlighted what was already there . The local independent Party Retailer, is a bit like your favourite local Italian restaurant. When the owner goes home to Italy in the summer , the restaurant is never quite the same, until their return. Depending upon the location, the independent party retailers I know ,generally only go away when their locals go away.

For those of you not involved in the Party retailing, and are wondering about this mystique . Thinking Look I run a chain of card/grocery/shoe shops, it is all about good customer service, good management, good staff training… Stop there. Your staff don’t have to get up at 4 0’Clock on a Sunday morning to prepare for someone’s special event that very day . Get it all sorted then drive to wherever it is, lay it all out before the rest of the world has had breakfast. Then, perhaps later that day you might have to go back to collect some of the kit involved . The retort could be our family runs a very successful chain… Yes but your family(or single owner) is not in every store and this is the big difference with the successful Party Store. They have to be .

Yes, you can train teams to do that . But here’s the rub you could not afford to pay them or at least you could not afford to pay them at a rate that would make it the project profitable. The magic word being profitable. It is only profitable if it is you doing it. And yes, you are correct , it is not costed correctly. But that’s where the single ‘independent/ family owner’ comes into play. They need to make a living but profit is not the sole motivation, or even the main driving force.

That, in my opinion, is why there are no real chains and there are not likely to be in the near future unless the structure of the market changes dramatically. I, just, don’t see it happening anytime soon.