Issue 28 / London
For inspiration to start your own business, just take a walk in your local shopping district. That run-down pub or dreary café could be begging to be transformed into your own venture and could spawn a thousand dreams and ideas, writes Tyler Brûlé.
Now that you’ve digested both our main issue and the accompanying small business guide, what should you do? If you’re already a small-business owner, have you been inspired to expand, acquire a competitor or invest in more space? Or perhaps sell your operation and start something new? If you’re still shackled to a too comfortable chair in a less than dynamic multinational, what’s it going to take to set yourself free and get excited about starting each new day? What’s going to shift you from rolling to bouncing out of bed and restore that spring in your step?
Aside from lingering on the pages in this issue and dreaming about the little company you’d like to launch (if I wasn’t engaged in this current gig of owning both a magazine and a branding agency I’d definitely be following Mr Motoya’s lead on page 15 of the supplement and running a fleet of mini-coffee vans in a sunny European capital – Madrid perhaps?) the best way to get your entrepreneurial senses tingling is to take a little real estate tour of your preferred location with an informed and visionary property agent.
A year ago we weren’t really thinking about expanding our business much beyond the core print and online editorial and web shop but it was the sight of a sad looking, abandoned flower shop in our neighbourhood that inspired us to move into good old bricks and mortar retail. As we went through the process of securing the property we made friends with the gentlemen who run the rather switched-on retail real-estate firm TwentyRetail and since then have enjoyed regular intelligence briefings on the state of London’s shop scene.
Even more rewarding have been our occasional walks around the neighbourhood to see what businesses are closing, who’s opening and what’s under development. I find these little urban safaris not only informative but also oddly therapeutic, as they allow you to assume the role of start-up businessman on the hunt for a new place to set up shop. On a rather grey day during the middle of the production week for this issue I went on a little walk around Marylebone with the lovely Theo from TwentyRetail, my colleague Jennifer and our client Todd from BlackBerry. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, other than a sense on how the market’s been performing, but before we’d covered half a block I had already come up with a whole series of extensions to our business.
As Theo explained that one shop could be expanded by knocking through the next store and that another shop had a river running through the basement and yet another was about to go bust, my attention turned to a small building that had space for a café at street level (what better place for Monocle readers to meet rather than on some social networking site?) and a series of small apartments above (what better place for our clients and readers to stay when they come to town?). A little further along the street there was a wonderful double-fronted shop that I reckoned would be perfect for an audio studio for recording our ever expanding line-up of programmes on monocle.com and hosting small impromptu acoustic sessions on Sunday afternoons – think a cosy, well-lit space, a jazz act from Kyoto, good food on the menu and a tight, tasty wine list.
At the far end of the same street Theo mentioned that the tired-looking restaurant was struggling to fill tables and I suggested that it would make a perfect gallery to sell the photographic prints frequently requested by our readers. Monocle aside, I spotted opportunities for a new newsstand to sell a more international selection of magazines, a dinky space that would be ideal for a music shop staffed by passionate, super sharp DJs, an old school barber shop that shouldn’t be touched and a dreadful pub that could be transformed into the much-needed London branch of Bills from Sydney.
By the time I got back to the office I’d already figured out the menu for the café, mentally decorated the guest apartments and lined up the first season of guests for our new Sunday jazz show. While all or none of these ideas might come off, half the fun of these tours is that they force you into a fantasy-land that allows you a little time off to dream about what you want to do next and where.
If you’ve got the will to venture out and do something new but are stumped by the logistics then you need to find a local version of Theo and have him take you around a few streets that look like they have potential. Butcher? Baker? Candlestick maker? There’s no shortage of markets ready for clever ideas and on-point execution. If you still need new business counselling after all of this then drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.