How your start-up can stand out in the crowd

Genevieve Keay runs the Cafe au Cinema in Southsea Picture Ian Hargreaves (170220-1)
Genevieve Keay runs the Cafe au Cinema in Southsea Picture Ian Hargreaves (170220-1)
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So, you want to set up a start-up and think about launching your own cafe or shop.

You think to yourself, how will it be different, what will make it stand out from the crowd?

Shane Smith from The South Coast Emporium 

Picture: Malcolm Wells (170206-6661)

Shane Smith from The South Coast Emporium Picture: Malcolm Wells (170206-6661)

It’s a tough question.

The mechanics with which our high streets and shopping centres remain busy and bustling have arguably changed.

Shoppers nowadays can rely on internet shopping, where they argue that they can get everything they possibly want, seeking the comfort of shopping via a touch-screen in this day and age.

So, how does a shop appeal to those? How do you draw that customer in again and again?

Rob Litchfield, left, with Steve Courtnell Picture: Malcolm Wells (141166-9437)

Rob Litchfield, left, with Steve Courtnell Picture: Malcolm Wells (141166-9437)

The key, according to Pie & Vinyl founder Steve Courtnell is ‘the experience’.

Courtnell, who co-runs the celebrated pie and record store in Southsea’s Castle Road said that in the digital age, the aim for a unit should be to provide a service that the internet cannot match.

He said: ‘In our heads, we know that the business will always be popular as long as we can provide something that you can’t buy online.

‘People can buy records and they can buy pies online but could they come and enjoy a pie here in the same place where they can browse for a new favourite record?

‘The key in this day and age is to truly think outside the box and it’s all about how you build your relationship with your customers that leads to success.

‘It sounds simple to say think differently but it may just be as simple as that.

‘There will always be grocery shops, and there will always be places like Greggs, so you have to find ways to compete in that market. Find that niche platform and then go for it.’

The store has become a fixture on Castle Street over the past few years, dragging in hipsters and pie enthusiasts from across the country to its intimate little slice of nostalgia.

It has spawned relationships with other music companies leading to in-store band signings and performances across the year and big crowds on the annual Record Store Day every spring. While shooting up the roster of must-see places in Portsmouth to visit according to travel guru TripAdvisor, it has also become a crowd favourite amongst the Southsea diners.

Pie & Vinyl’s unique style of mixing different shop facets with one another has now become a trendsetter in the city which is also exemplified at the South Coast Emporium in Elm Grove and the independent shop Cafe au Cinema in Osborne Road.

The emporium is an eccentric furniture shop on the corner of Elm Grove and Victoria Road South.

It was initially set up as specifically a furniture outlet in 2012, but in 2015, owner Shane Smith decided to mix things up and allocated space for other businesses to sell their wares.

The name changed from Southsea Furniture to ‘South Coast Emporium.’

This has led to 80 different businesses taking up residence in the store, each selling a wide variety of clothes, ornaments.

To mix things up further, Shane has obtained further licences so now the store can sell coffee and tea during the day, and doubles as a bar in the evening.

He told The News: ‘I always wanted to open up an emporium. I think that they are so unique in that they are full of different items that people can kind of almost get lost in them.

‘Each business has a different feel and by the end of last year, the whole shop was filled up.

Shane says he was inspired by the feel of 90s-era Brighton when deciding to bring in the option of alcohol and other refreshments at the emporium.

He said: ‘We would have customers come from all over and they would say “Ah, I wish I could get a coffee here” so we decided to meet that demand and put the procedure in place to make it happen.’

The emporium turns into a bustling place full of music and character during the weekend, with live music performances and other events organised by different groups and societies.

Shane added: ‘I think we’ve managed to create a really nice vibe here for our customers. Southsea is becoming a quirkier place and I think we’ve really managed to capture the spirit of that in here.’

He added that to find success as a shop on the high street, people must be ‘prepared to really think on their feet’.

‘You’ve got to really think of your clientele and look at what you can offer them. If it’s something fresh then go for it.’

This notion of tackling the online obsession is something which Genevieve Keay, owner of new independent cinema-cum-coffee shop Cafe au Cinema in Osborne Road agrees with.

The 30-year-old from Southsea opened her new venture last August during the weekend of Victorious Festival.

The key feature of the shop is to attract film lovers in with the chance to pull a beanbag and watch classics with friends while sipping on Genevieve’s signature unicorn latte.

She said: ‘I would describe Cafe au Cinema as an intimate movie experience.

‘A mix of coffee shops with home made cake and movies on our big screen. I wanted to be as far away as possible from large chain theatres.

‘Southsea has become a lot more quirky and different, bringing a vibe of Brighton and Shoreditch. This is all down to entrepreneurs springing up with music events, new restaurants, markets etc. The face of Southsea has changed and the time is right to take the leap of faith.’

She adds that there is now an element of adventure for those looking for places to shop and visit in the new digital age.

‘You really have to give them something that they can’t get online. To get engagement from customers you have to make it easy, as affordable as possible and something different. People want more and have become more adventurous, you just have to try and lure them away from the laptop.’

The cafe shows films on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday nights with also three showings taking place on both Saturdays and Sundays.

They range from classic anime, 90s classics to chic-flick favourites.

The ever-changing dynamics of how shops continue to appeal to customers is rooted in the rise of Marks & Spencer according to Professor Alan Hallsworth, a visiting researcher at the University of Portsmouth Business School.

He explained: ‘There are several possible explanations for the multifunction shop.

‘The simplest was pioneered by Marks & Spencer when they opened stores in Canada in the 1970s when they only sold clothing.

‘Absolutely nobody came in. So they added food – for which people shop more regularly. More people came in and now food is arguably more successful for them worldwide than is non-food. So, add food & drink and you may attract regular passing custom – because there is always someone out there who is hungry or thirsty. Everyone does it these days.’

Prof Hallsworth added: ‘The internet is a real pressure and bookstores such as Waterstones added food and drink to create atmosphere, slow people down and attract browsers.’

The professor said the success of places such as the emporium could be down to synergy and sharing the costs of trading between businesses by all using one unit.

He said: ‘If you have a nice product, but for which there is a limited local demand, maybe you can share space with other niche producers? By sharing the space – just like budding manufacturers who share factory space, you again share the costs of trading. This time from an interesting location that people are interested to visit but that you could probably never afford by yourself.’

The style of shops remains a revolving door with trends coming back and forth over the years but for the moment, there appears to be an unquenchable thirst to innovate and excite customers with any new business popping up on our streets.

The digital age has made it hard to prosper but Portsmouth residents will always welcome anything new and who knows what new businesses lie around the corner.