The high street is dead, brands like Topman and Topshop have suffered immense losses and closures - which has led to the inevitable acquisition by UK’s leading online fashion marketplace, ASOS.com – if even big brands suffer such fate, what is the outlook for small businesses, which are now being branded as being ‘independent’, a marketing term akin to ‘sustainable’.
There should be no ‘independent’ – a term usually used by big conglomerates and Silicon Valley unicorns like Wish.com, to use in their marketing and branding slogans, stating their partnerships with ‘independent’ businesses, which are more often businesses spun-up by corporations themselves, trickled down the pipeline to appear as 'independent'.
The whole term puts businesses, usually run by families, or singular entrepreneurs, into unfair rabbit holes. A business is a business, and whilst this term is a double-edged sword for people to make the comment of ‘a business is there to make a profit, to make money. Amazon is doing exactly that, just like what a local shop would want to do’ – it’s not local, in the traditional sense. Whilst assortment centers and warehouses can be considered ‘local’, it lacks the beauty of walking into a truly local shop, and leaving it with a good memory of the scent, the feeling of wonder, the feeling of exploration. Whilst not all shops share the same atmosphere, I always feel disappointed whenever I travel, whether it be Los Angeles, Toronto or Zurich.
Another Zara… another H&M… the only specialty and locality that remains is tourist shops and restaurants, with novelties made in China and usually subsidized by numerous bigger organizations, and food sourced from over-fished oceans, not very independent or sustainable now is it?
One thing I learned whilst travelling and living in Japan is that local, means local. While I have many qualms with the lifestyle and choices of the Japanese, especially in the realm of human rights violations, antiquated practices, and widespread corruption, several positive things stood out to me.
When I visited towns and cities like Toyota, Kyoto, Toyokawa and others, I saw numerous shops that adhere to the local customs and tradition of produce and manufacturing, whether it be food or goods. If you want the best baked goods and confectionary, Kyoto is your place. If you want the best car parts to modify or 'supe-up' your ride, then Toyota or Nagoya is the place to be at.
Each trip stood out, because each trip was a memory – every temple, every place and every shop I visited was different. And whilst you had the big chains such as Zara and H&M in every major city, ‘local’ was always the preferred option; fun fact, Kyoto has no Subway (the fast food franchise) over fears it would spread too wide and negatively effect local restaurants.
I had tried to replicate this ‘locality’ feeling with one of my first brick and mortar businesses, Panboo, offering artisan bubble tea and bubble waffles, ice cream rolls and other desserts which originally stemmed from mainland China. Location was excellent, being positioned in a beautiful market town of Otley, with it being one of Yorkshire’s premier tourist destinations, the local population preferred the franchises of Costa and others over our local, artisan shop. Rest to say, it unfortunately failed as I had exceeded over £270,000 in capital within the first 7-months and could no longer compete with the big chains. Rest assured I was left with a lot of deadstock I could not shift.
This failure, so early in my career thought me one valuable lesson, digital is everything, there is barely any overhead and if your products don’t sell, at least you don’t have an expensive lease or equipment to pay for. This is where the first ideas of ‘Online Shop’ started brewing.
Coupling with recent events of COVID-19, massive job losses and businesses shutting down – Online Shop provides a way to easily setup a business, to try out an idea, a ‘entry point’ without the pressures of opening a brick and mortar business.
I’d like to think that the service, the product and the company we are building is centered around the same families, and singular entrepreneurs I first mentioned at the start of this article; where you don’t need to sell on Amazon, eBay or become just a supplier for likes of AO.com to make a living. Instead, creating your own brand, your own destiny – your own successes and failures, without the massive cost associated with it all.