The Challenges Faced By Independent Businesses

Everybody wants to rule the world: Brighton’s independent business owners overcome the challenges of going in alone

This summer, we had the opportunity to meet with a gang of entrepreneurs and SME owners based in Brighton and Hove, as we kicked off the launch in the UK of our new Clover station. We brought together members of the North Laine Traders’ Association, a determined group of small business owners who have created a lively and unique retail community in their city, reflecting its independent and alternative spirit. Running a range of shops, cafes, restaurants and other retail spaces, they joined us for a chat, some coffee and cake, and to get a hands-on experience with the Clover Station. At the same time, we quizzed them to find out more about the issues they face in their day to day business lives, and we feel the results make for interesting reading.

The first, and most positive finding was that 66% percent of those we surveyed felt that small independent retailers in Brighton are thriving, a success they ascribed in the main part to increasing numbers of tourists visiting the city. Other factors that were highlighted as contributing to the positive business environment for the retailers was an increase in consumer spending, support from retail associations, and the ability of independent retailers to provide a better experience than shopping online or in chain stores.

When asked about why they had set up their own business, the majority of those we spoke with (66%) said they had set out on their own to be in control, with quite a few trying to find something more exciting than the day-to-day monotony of a 9-to-5 role (50%). This need to be the boss, and invest time in a fun and exciting enterprise, proved far more important than other potential drivers such as having more flexible hours, or earning more money, which were barely mentioned.

While many of those we spoke to may be enjoying being their own boss, they were quick to point out that running a small business is no easy ride. 75% of the retailers felt that running a small business is a constant challenge (with only 2 people describing it as fun!) and more than 90% of the respondents said that they had underestimated the effort involved in running their own business, with it proving much more challenging than they had initially anticipated. The main culprit in making their lives difficult on a day-to-day basis was managing and keeping track of staff, while accounting and tracking finances, and finding time for marketing were also raised as concerns.

Overall, the message we took away from the members of the North Laine Traders’ Association is that while they love what they are doing, many came into the business ill-prepared for the demands of being the owner of a small business. The fact that they feel that they are thriving now is testament to the hard work they have put into making a success of their shops and retail spaces, running their businesses while overseeing tricky tasks such as staff management and accounting. Hopefully, as new retail technologies such as Clover break through, these tasks will become much less onerous, and will allow these entrepreneurs to further savour their position as the “boss”.