Ipswich Test Trading
Ipswich Town Centre
If you have been into the town centre or read the news you will know our retail heart is suffering. Ipswich isn't alone, this is a countrywide issue due to falling consumer confidence trends and overall poor customer experience.
The idea (briefly)
Instead of waiting for a random big brand to introduce itself to Ipswich, why not use one of the vacant shop units for a test trading shop? Our high street and the waterfront has numerous vacant units which do not look like they will be finding a tenant any time soon.
Independent traders – whether market stalls or small shops – add a great deal of vibrancy to town centres. Test trading can be used by general retailers or people selling their own creations.
Our aim is to make Ipswich less clone town and encourage people to come into town just to check out new tenants to our shop – boosting footfall and potentially turnover for the rest of the town also.
1. The test trading shop will use one unit so already reducing the To Let boards across town
2. Unlike most shops that only have a few window displays a year, every test trading tenant will have a fresh and inviting window display, and will offer a different range of products from the previous tenant. So for example, a clothing shop could become a crafts shop, which could then become a book shop, before an electronic shop. This will create regular footfall in the town - helped that it isn't hidden away in a shopping centre - as it won't be the same products with different price tags and product rotation.
3. Tenants in our shop will be serious about running a business and should their test trading period be successful this could result in another vacant unit becoming occupied, and staff being employed. Less vacant units, more jobs: good for the local economy.
4. We will keep our tenant's customers updated about their trading journeys. If they open a shop, we will help them promote it to their existing customer base.
Good idea, has it been tried before?
The concept of Test Trading retail units has been successfully trailed before in Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre (now Sailmakers) and Buttermarket Shopping Centre – but withdrawn due to central grant funding drying up.
The council simply hasn't allocated a budget to continue to provide this.
What is the plan?
We want to establish one (or more) shop in the town fitted out to a good standard – either with one tenant or multiple for larger stores. The shop will be on the high street - not hidden away out of view.
As the name suggests, it is intended for an independent to get experience of operating a shop on the view they will take over an empty retail unit in the town and potentially start employing people.
Pop-up shops from existing independent retailers will be considered where the shop would otherwise be vacant.
The test trading shop will be operated by a newly formed non-profit organisation (possibly a Community Interest Company).
How will it work?
To give a general idea of how it would work:-
A Funding Sought. Initially through this crowdfunding page but further iterations of this cycle could be monies from other sources. Depending on the amount of money raised denotes the location and size of shop.
B Premises Sought. We will identify vacant units around the town centre (main streets only), The Saints and Ipswich Waterfront area, view and come to a decision of preference. We will then make an offer and negotiate with the landlord of the first preference unit and go down the list until a suitable negotiation has been reached.
C Brand We will choose (or review) a brand for the test trading unit(s). It will be the responsibility for the tenant to promote their shop through the shop window and presentation of goods in their shop and via other methods. However, we will have our own social media presence, a website, an app and market the concept of test trading (not the tenant themselves).
D Tenant Loop This will continue as long as there is a waiting list of people wanting to trade from the shop(s) and that the lease hasn’t come to an end on the shop(s).
1 Individual Applies The first step for would-be tenants is to apply. They will need to detail what their business is, what they will sell, why they want to use test trading, preferred duration (1-4 weeks) and what experience they have. A waiting list will be compiled of applicants weighted on various factor such as location (Ipswich > Suffolk > Region), previous experience, creativity (distinctive: we don’t want the same old just a different face and name), variety (general, crafts, music, electrical, clothing etc) and how viable we deem their business might be. This will be through an online form.
2 Shortlist A selection of applicants are chosen for interview – either a presentation or informal chat (the applicant can choose which they prefer) – to determine upcoming tenants with a reserve list just in case.
3 Tenant pays Rent Tenants will be required to pay rent upfront – by doing so will ensure the actual trader turns up. If payment isn’t made a reserve is then offered the place. The upcoming tenant will then be announced in the few days before going into the test trading shop.
4 Trading During Sunday afternoon and evening the independent trader will have time to prepare the shop for Monday trading. This includes moving in stock and doing the window display. We will be on site to support them. A Trading Week is Monday to Saturday – traders can opt up to 4 weeks with a minimum period of 1 week. The maximum duration per tenant is 4 weeks in 3 years - traders opting for shorter trading periods may return until they have used up 4 weeks. Traders are obligated to open between 9am and 5pm everyday in the Trading Week including Saturdays but can adjust hours to as early as 8am and as late as 6pm as they wish.
5 Packing up At the end of the test trading period, they will have the Sunday morning to pack up and vacate the test trading shop. Can be slightly flexible by prior arrangement. We will then evaluate progress with the trader – and offer enterprise support through partner firms if required. If a trader successfully opens up their own shop (or pop-up shop) within a year of their test trading period, we will promote their new location through our website and social media.
E Fold We may have an agreement with the landlord for a temporary rolling lease where we can utilise the shop until a permanent tenant is found. In this case on being given notice to vacate (allowing the current test trading period to expire) we will shut shop. Alternatively, if we run out of money or interest from independent would-be traders we may also close the shop.
If there is still a need for test trading, we may relaunch by finding a new location (the cycle continues).
Can I apply to be a tenant in the test trading shop?
Applications aren't open at this stage, however, feel free to express your interest and we will keep you updated with progress.
How can I get involved?
WeLoveIpswich develops community project ideas from local press and social media into projects the community can help bring to fruition through crowdfunding.
We are seeking funding to get this project off the ground. The organisation should become self-sustainable through income from tenants.
The initial idea has been worked on for the last couple of weeks. Ipswich Borough Council has since/just announced a £25,000 scheme to help independent traders with improving their stores and to encourage vacant stores to be acquired and fitted out. This is much needed investment in the town centre. Unfortunately this project wasn't live before they drawn up the specifics of that scheme. We can only assume that there might not be grants available now to help realise the Ipswich Test Trading shop but we hope to be able to deliver by coincidence the same amount through crowdfunding donations.
We are also seeking community involvement. This is from running the organisation, to decorating and fitting the shop out and all things in between. This is all voluntary. There is no salary, wage, expenses, fees or remuneration for becoming involved.
In particular, we are looking for experienced traders (independent and chains) to sit on the CIC board and judge applicants to be selected for the test trading shop.
(Please Note: The former Grimwades/Pret unit as pictured is for illustrative purposes only - it is a large retail unit in the heart of the town centre - but vacant! We have no intention in selecting this unit but highlighting high footfall locations are struggling for tenants too. )