Small business start-ups flock to the suburbs

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Photograph by Chesney Bradshaw

When I was 16 years old I would buy music records at a shop in Cavendish Square, Claremont, Cape Town. I would purchase one or two record and pay for them with money I earned from fishing.

I can still remember the shop where I would go through the latest bands, carefully flipping the record covers to discover what was new. At that time I was interested in bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Focus and Yes. I’d take the records home and listen to them on my father’s Yamaha record player.

Today none of those small music outlets are left in shopping centres. The rent is too high and technology has changed so much that even the Musica outlets, catering for wider tastes with CDs, will soon disappear.

Vinyl records, new and second hand, are still available but are only now found in tiny shops in small residential shopping centres or in old shops on the periphery of city centres. Shops located below residential flats have become sought after as specialist retailers flee major shopping centres because of the astronomically high rents and hard-to-get-out-of leases. Even a long-standing art and craft shop recently moved from a major centre after more than three decades there to a local suburb.

With the dramatic fall in the country’s prosperity business conditions are so bad that small business owners have had to think smarter to survive. Employees who have lost their jobs have been forced to start entrepreneurial ventures (like an entrepreneur I recently met who was a retail designer and is now selling coffee from a Tuk-Tuk).

Despite what the entrepreneurial experts say, small business start-ups are shying away from shopping centres and industrial parks. Many businesses are springing up in backyards and even front-of-the-house driveways (such as a brick builder I saw over the weekend). A hairdresser who worked for a salon in a shopping centre got the chop in December and is refurbishing and repurposing his garage into his own salon.

A new attitude or mindset is evident among start-up owners. They’d rather find the most cost-effective way to establish premises for their businesses than become lease prisoners in shopping centres. Gone are the days where shopping centres were key to business visibility. Today social media and the internet can inform customers about their location (including Google Guides).

A rich variety of retail shopping experiences now await customers who are themselves tired of travelling to shopping centres for the same old staid line-up of chain stores. Small business start-ups are bringing their individuality, values and merchandise closer to where you live.

Chesney Bradshaw has worked with entrepreneurs and has had the privilege of advising and mentoring start-ups. He has been delighted to witness start-ups grow from backyards, garages and street selling into going concerns. He remains open and humble towards business venture formation in a dynamic and ever-changing business environment.

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