Beyond the balance sheet

3 Ways you can build a brick and mortar start-up to survive ecommerce

Ercan Demiralay 19/3/2019 5 minute read

Ercan Demiralay FCCA on why setting up on the high street might still be viable and the advantages small and medium-sized enterprises have over online retailers.

With an increasing amount of entrepreneurs choosing online resources like Etsy & Amazon to dip their toe in the entrepreneurial pool, and the recent disruption of the high street; it’s no surprise that people across the UK are pondering the death of the traditional brick and mortar retail store.

It’s true that online sales are growing fast and furious, but ONS highlights in their August 2018 report that nearly 82% of sales are still attributed to physical retail locations. This leaves us questioning, is it still a good idea to open a physical retail location?

ONS online vs. brick and mortar sales

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Online shopping didn’t just happen over night; it’s a retail method that is constantly evolving as the retail sector grows during a digital age. Why has it been so popular? It’s quite simple, it’s quick and easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.

Sure shopping online has become a trendy movement over the last decade but that doesn’t mean it’s replaced all of the benefits that come with high street shopping.

It’s important to consider the elements involved in running a successful retail location. When implemented properly and with a clear business plan, these three things can serve as advantages for those with retail stores over their online competitors:

1. Adapting to market needs

The ability to change with the times seems to be a characteristic that large legacy businesses are struggling to come to terms with. Many are still adjusting to the internet while voice search, 3d printing, artificial intellignece and the blockchain are all in full development. 

Hence the high street horror stories surrounding the likes of Debenhams, House of Fraser, Blockbuster, HMV and many others. For small businesses, adaptability and a willingness to try something new are not only inherent to their survival, it can also be a big advantage.

As an SME your store can have its finger on the pulse of what’s happening both locally and with current trends. Being a small business means that you can implement quick and clever strategies to stand out in the market, allowing you to delight your existing clientele while attracting potential new ones.

Exploring collaborative approaches could also prove to be beneficial for your business. In todays world a common goal is to ‘crush the competition’; however, it’s not uncommon for smaller businesses to work together and cross promote. You’ll often see this method used by independent, creative shops.


Ask yourself:

  • What are the businesses around me doing and is it working for them?
  • Are there opportunities to cross promote with other local businesses or organisations?
  • Can we come together as a community and boost activity in our shopping scene?

2. Personalisation and personable employees

One of the most important advantages physical retail locations have is human to human customer service. Ordering from the comfort of your own home is convenient, but you’re missing out on the real-time experience of genuine conversations, connections and hands on assistance.

The key to providing personalised and personable customer service is hiring the right people. Look for individuals who:

  • Are engaged. This is an important part of developing the best experience for your customers, and this is what will keep them coming back to you.
  • Embody your work culture.
  • Believe in your business values, or better yet live those values. This will reflect in their work and interactions with your customers.
  • Have a positive attitude.
  • Are outgoing and have the confidence to approach people.
  • Can "read people" and anticipate what their needs might be. Pairing this attribute with proper training means your employees can offer appropriate solutions to your customer's problem, which means you'll likely be selling things!

More recently we’ve witnessed big name businesses implement customer service training programs to “teach” staff how to be customer-centric.

As a SME business owner you may have been (or still be) at the forefront of the business by not only being innovative but also selling an experience.

This is a big advantage because you know what your customers need and you’ll dealt with them first hand. If you can find customer focussed employees to represent your values then everything else is trainable.


“Hire Character. Train Skill.”

3. The waiting game

One of the most obvious and simple benefits of shopping in person is the absence of delivery times. The world today runs on instant satisfaction, the quicker we can get something the better, and what’s more instant than brick and mortar purchases.

There’s also a comfort in knowing the you’re taking the products home with you once you’ve paid, this removes the worry of fulfilment or delivery issues.

Of course your store may not be able to carry every product option available. That’s why including an ‘order in store’ option and/or maintaining an online presence can be very beneficial as another income stream.

Case Study: Bishy Road

From struggling town centre to thriving, vibrant neighbourhood full of independent shops and cafes. Find out how Bishy Road put their high street back on the map.

Bishy Road High Street Revival - Wellersimage source:

It's important to remember that if you're thinking of opening a retail location this is not a decision to be made hastily, particularly with the obvious changes happening in this sector. Do your research and establish a thorough business plan that addresses elements such as funding requirements, sales strategy, market analysis, and contingencies (among other things).

Speaking to a professional business advisor can provide you with the best insight into the pros and cons of opening a bricks and mortar store while helping you develop a clear plan of action.

Find out if your business idea will work - Wellers

The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 13/03/2019.

Please be aware that information provided by this blog is subject to regular legal and regulatory change. We recommend that you do not take any information held within our website or guides (eBooks) as a definitive guide to the law on the relevant matter being discussed. We suggest your course of action should be to seek legal or professional advice where necessary rather than relying on the content supplied by the author(s) of this blog.


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