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How Bizaar!


This is the name of a new initiative introduced by the Sharing the Success team as part of the Leeds LEGI endeavours to produce a more enterprising culture.  Notwithstanding the awful pun it may prove to be an interesting and potentially useful scheme.  ‘Bazaar’ is a Persian word meaning a ‘permanent market area’.  It will be interesting to see just how permanent this stall is.

‘How Bizaar’ invites people to test trade their products or services on a market stall in the very wonderful Leeds Kirkgate Market, rent free for 12 weeks.  They get additional business support and the usual bells and whistles you would expect from publicly funded business support programmes.  According to publicity the stall is open to anyone (surely there should be some geographical criteria related to super output areas), and existing market traders are free to use it to test out opportunities to diversify.

Presumably if the test trade period goes well entrepreneurs will be helped to establish their business on a more permanent footing, either in the market or elsewhere.

Leeds market is a hot bed of enterprise.  Mostly very well managed stalls shifting serious units.  They have to be, as the footfall is enormous and stalls are not cheap.  Some have been run by family’s for decades.  It is a very competitive environment in which to trade.  If you have the right products at the right price you can do well.  Leeds market is primarily a food market with some electrical and houseware stalls.  Customers of the market are usually looking to make pragmatic purchases at low cost.

So imagine you run one of these stalls in the market working hard to make a living.  And imagine that ‘the council’ takes over a stall nearby and makes it available to people to sell their products, alongside yours, without paying any rent.  The council also pays the salary of full time workers to staff the stand.

The optimist in me would say great!  More traders and more publicity means more footfall which means more business for all.  The financial manager in me would be screaming ‘Just what I need – competition that is being subsidised by the organisation that collects my rent’.

But let’s stand back a bit and ask ourselves about the kind of entrepreneur who will benefit from this service.  Clearly they must already have a product or service that they are ready to merchandise.  ie they are quite a long way down the enterprise journey.  It might give a leg up to those who are already enterprising.

The footfall at the market must represent the right demographic for the products and services that you are test trading.  Putting the right product in the wrong marketplace because of the ‘allure of free’ could be disastrous.

They must be able to effectively compete – within three months – in one of the most competitive markets in the country.  Many of the market stands have evolved a product range and merchandising layouts over years to optimise sales.  Will a kind of ‘jamboree bag’ stall with high turnover of goods and services be able to compete?  Most of the people that I know who use the market go to buy specific things from specific stalls.  It is not a destination for window shoppers or impulse buyers.

You must be able to handle some quite sophisticated calculations to get any useful data from your test trading period.  Is business building or not?  Is my reputation spreading?  What costs are currently being externalised – rent, power, wages, marketing?  To what extent is success or failure down to this location?  To publicity generated by LEGI? If I move premises will the customer base I have found at the market come with me?  In short what will my test trading experience really tell me about the viability of my business idea.

My biggest concern though is that it will provide yet more assistance to those who are already enterprising.  And in the long run making it easy for people to start a business does them few favours.

It will be interesting to see how the project unfolds and I wish it well.

KioskKiosk is a similar market stall concept being tested in London.  The kiosk and concept was developed by Wayne Hemingway and looks visually strong.  Let’s hope that the design ethic at How Bizaar manages to compete.

New Sugar is another really interesting web based response to the challenge of giving newbie entrepreneurs (in this case designers) a platform to showcase their talent.

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  1. June 25, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Mike
    Thanks for the plug! Shame it takes 6 paragraphs before the optimist in you comes to the surface, and I do wish you would listen to that happy voice in your head a bit more often!

    I’m not sure why you think making it easier for people to start a business is a big concern – do you not understand what the LEGI programme is about? The whole point of test trading is to get people to take the quantum leap from dreaming to action and to see if their belief in their own product is shared by the rest of the world.

    I know you think we should be promoting enterprise in an “anyone doing anything” sort of way, but that, to me, is a cop out. It is trickle-down regeneration translated to the personal agenda, and if we have learnt anything from 25 years of publicly-funded regeneration, it is that trickle-down is a myth that allows the rich to benefit most from initiatives which purport to help the poor.

    So, thanks for your words of support. Thanks also for your words of caution, worry, and criticism – get them all used up on me and maybe you will have a bit of positivity to spare for those who need it!
    Cheers
    Simon

    • June 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment Simon. I am really grateful that you have found the time and courage to comment and join the public debate.

      I thought I got some hopeful stuff in a little earlier than the sixth paragraph!

      Let me explain why I don’t think making it easy for people to start a business is a good idea. Because when businesses fail they often leave a trail of destruction – unless of course you are already wealthy.

      Debt, broken relationships, damaged mental health and on occasion suicide can and do follow in the wake of some small business failures. I have recently worked with three people each of whom is now in a very difficult situation at least in part as a result of engaging with ‘business support’ and starting small businesses because it was ‘made easy’. Because they were ‘encouraged’. All three are now in debt and in extremely difficult personal circumstances facing bailiffs, fighting to hold onto houses, questioning their own abilities and so on. This is part of the reality that has to be addressed.

      I think we need to be extremely responsible and cautious in the way we promote enterprise. It is a double edged sword with potentially massive consequences for wellbeing – both positive and negative. Don’t get me wrong I think it a wonderfully powerful tool for economic and social regeneration (I have spent 20 years of my life on it so I had better believe!). But like any powerful tool it has to be used with care.

      I think you misrepresent and misunderstand me if you believe that my attitude to enterprise is ‘anyone doing anything’. It is more like ‘anyone doing only those things that they love and are prepared to suffer and risk a lot for’. It is about passion, endeavour, learning, risk, hard work and courage. These things are not tested when it is made easy. And starting a busniess is easy. It is keeping it going – especially when times are hard – that is the difficult bit.

      Success in small business is not about the logic of the business plan but the passion, character and indefatigability of the entrepreneur. Although just about anyone can do it – they need to absolutely go in with their eyes wide open to what the journey might, and probably will, hold. Someone making an informed decision not to start a business should be celebrated with as much vigour as a new start up.

      We should perhaps teach coaches to persuade clients not to get into small business because it is so tough. ‘If there is another way that you can be true to yourself and pursue your dreams please take it. If the only option left to you is to start a small business then so be it. We will help.’ This kind of approach, when well implemented, results in survival rates after three years in the 90%s. The high survival rates soon teach others that it can be done – with passion, commitment, skill and hard work. And on the occasion that it goes wrong no-one will blame you for ‘encouraging’ them. They will recognise that this is down to them pursuing their dream. Not down to ‘us’ using sticks and carrots in pursuit of a funder’s policy goals.

      I, like you, have no belief in trickle down – which is why I have been preaching for years that we need to start where people are at, and not where we would like them to be for the sake of our policy goals and funding targets. Which is why I have been a proponent of building an enterprising culture by building enterprising communities. Communities who understand what enterprise is, and know how to provide support, both technical and psychological, to community members who try to make progress. It also means that when people do succeed because of the love and support of their community they are far more likely to stay in it rather than up sticks and head for the leafy suburbs as soon as they are able. I have written before about the phenomena of enterprise skimming (helping the most able and most ambitious to succeed and leave the community as soon as they are able) and here. If we promote this sort of ‘picking winners’ enterprise then I agree with you that it is trickle down applied at the personal level. This is not what I advocate. But it is what many of the programmes aimed at finding entrepreneurs achieve.

      Your advice about positivity is welcome. I would like to hope that I have offered positive advice and support to many of the LEGI service providers in the region. I know that I have managed to inspire, encourage and develop many, some of them due to your investment in my time.

      Mike Chitty

  2. philkirby
    June 26, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Mike,
    I’m not sure if I was reading the same post as Simon. It seemed to me that your first six paragraphs were not only positive but gave a pretty clear analysis of the business environment of Leeds Market. Anybody thinking of setting up stall there would do well to take notice of what you say. Surely any LEGI funded business adviser would be similarly clued up and have done as much groundwork as you? They couldn’t just take a “set up shop and see what happens” approach; that would be asking for trouble. That’s not how “real” businesses work. A real business would analyse footfall and demographic and product fit and competition and general trading environment and wouldn’t risk entering the market if it didn’t think there was a chance of making it. I’m all for experiment and giving people a chance, but I’m not sure what lesson will be learned from encouraging “any new business” to recklessly have a go at cracking the Leeds Market. As for Simon thanking you for taking your “caution, worry,and criticism” out on him, well, that’s all very nice. I’m sure he’ll cope. I’m rather more concerned about those new businesses facing the “caution, worry, and criticism” that genuine market forces will expose them to. I wonder if they’ll be so cushioned as Simon is. Positivity is all very well, and everyone loves some encouragement, but nice words and good intentions only go so far. We don’t hear much about what happens when things don’t go so swimmingly. We do read those self-conglatulatory, just so stories that pass as “case studies” on LEGI websites, but like you Mike, I know plenty of people who have been fairly well screwed by their enterprise experience. Might be nice to hear their side of the story for a change.

  3. June 26, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    It is a real problem. Everyone is happy to talk about the successes – but it is very difficult to be open and honest about losses, debts, damaged relationships and so on. Just too painful and too personal.

    Building a relationship where an entrepreneur can really confide with their adviser, can speak honestly and openly about the emotional and psycholgocal pressure of enteprise as well as the logic of the business plan is a critical skill that needs to be built into the helping process. Often it is not.

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