A Healthy Bet
This little shop was one of around 30% that were laying empty in our main town centre at the time when we started this business angel endeavour back in 1997. Our core subscribers still struggle to walk past an empty shop now, without wondering what the closed down property would look like with a lick of paint + refurbishment and new tenant. Plus the thought process of figuring out what style of business would survive and thrive if the sad moribund building is bought – and brought back to meaningful life. In this instance we were slightly bewildered at the sight of a borassic and broke bookmakers. When the gaming industry starts shutting up shop, you know the local High Street is in trouble!
Kirk Street, Campbeltown, Kintyre, Argyll.
Old Closed Betting Shop. Photograph (c) 2005 Argyll Group plc Collection
Couldn’t resist it. After a brief negotiation with the owner, we bought this building. A reasonable tidying up – repaint the outside/renovation of the interior – and the shop was ready to reopen. We then looked for someone who would otherwise have been obliged to leave the local community to find work in the big city up the road. This exodus from rural towns of young folk is serious drain on the resources of many a small community.
We looked, and looked. Then ramped up our search for a tenant via newspaper advertising from local to regional. The Oban Times came to our aid. Fortunately, someone from within the county of Argyll replied. A stack-it-high-sell-it-cheap retailer. They opened their business in our building. He got very busy and after several months decided to start selling newspapers to turbo-charge his turnover.
This caused a problem we hadn’t encountered before. Somewhat loudly the local Justice of The Peace who owned the main newsagent in town shouted across the street to one of our lot… “you’re putting me out of business”. Not the most elegant ways of making a point. Crossing the road, the writer of this page engaged in a diplomatic chat. Explaining to the upset gent., the intent was not to open a shop which would cause another to close down, but to regenerate and revitalise many empty buildings. There wasn’t much we could do about a second newsagent competing with him.
A frustrating element to this was the JP/newsagent owner who yelped was also a local authority councillor and knew we were trying to regenerate closed buildings. Fortunately, the town councillor eventually saw our aim was not to close him down. Though we learnt something important that day…
LESSON: When re-opening a closed business, make best efforts to have a tenant that doesn’t start a business that causes another to be compromised/fail, or close down. This is delicate as you don’t want to stop fair competition. But in fragile communities, sometimes there is insufficient custom to keep three flower shops, or four hairdressers, or two shoe shops in business etc.
A good hint is to literally open a copy of the Yellow Pages and look at all the thousands of different types of shops that can be opened. There are lots of different styles and genres of business to choose from. This is an excellent source of inspiration if you get writer’s block (or more accurately shop reopener’s block).
Also, if prospective tenants don’t have their own business idea, it often works out well to start a business as landlord and employ a couple of staff. Eventually, with the right folk, a staff member will look at buying the business, This is an excellent way of getting empty property back into meaningful use.
For the old bookmaker shop – our stack-it-high-sell-it-cheap retailer business quickly outgrew the building, and he asked to be released from the lease.
A next tenant for the refurbished bookmaker shop soon arrived at our main office on the pier. She was one of our all time favourites. We had concerns her business might not do. It was an aromatherapy and holistic health therapy shop. In fact it did do, and with some style. With the internet becoming a game-changer and causing several major high street retailers to go out of business, the challenge was, and is on to find a way for small shops to survive. Indeed, to thrive by analysing and creating shop based businesses that do well in spite of, or preferably in complement to the internet type of sales business.
The Old Bookmaker Shop Revitalised
New Business For Disabled/Agonised Backs (c) 2004 Argyll Group plc Collection
The new tenant in our old bookmaker’s shop didn’t pay rent for two years. She tried to, goodness knows, every week, on the due date the rent was there. It just wasn’t accepted! By this time family and friends were each buying up empty shops such was the success and enjoyment in this empty property reopening initiative. The family member owning this shop, also worked for the local Harbour Authority as one of the Harbour Masters. He suffered from a bad back following spinal surgery. This agony was made worse pulling ship ropes down at the main pier. The general wear and tear that comes with several hundred tons of metal floating about the sea was taking a severe toll on health. So a weekly deep tissue massage was provided by the shop tenant in lieu of rent. The best rent that was never paid! The business from these premises thrived. Many people have bad backs, and the owner of the business, a diminutive lady, had the most fearsome elbows which she jammed into the seized up gluteus maximus in the most pain inspiring way. The brilliant thing was you could hobble in to this building, often on crutches, have the deep tissue massage, and by the next day it was as if a miracle cure had happened. Non invasive pain relief of the most fabulous kind.
Time has moved on, and the lady exercised her option to buy the shop. To this day she is missed as the main subscribers moved back to the island of Arran and it was not quite as easy just to pop in when there is a hundred mile round trip plus two ferry journeys involved in the process.
The writer of this page would emphasise, one of the wonderful things about reopening closed buildings – fate, good fortune, or whatever you want to call it – often arrives and brings a cure to many ills. This was one such example…
A brilliant tenant helped to repair a run down landlord, when the initial objective was for a landlord to help renovate a run down shop!
There is more to this business angel and Real Dragons’ Den enterprise than just bricks and mortar.