Bristol based entrepreneurs Anne-Louse Perez and Imogen McIntosh are the co-founders of YourStreet Gift Card, a gift card solution that both rewards and promotes independent retailers.
The card aims to bring shoppers back into their towns by offering spends in the often-overlooked areas of retail and an alternative to big name brands. The duo entered into our recent Digital Accelerator to help develop their idea into a more sustainable business and benefit from the mentoring on offer.
We caught up with Imogen (below left) and Anne-Louise (below right) post-programme to discuss developing a product for retail, rejuvenating high street shopping tendancies and what 2015 holds for their company...
How did you find yourselves developing a gift card solution for independent shops and services?
Anne-Louise: Imogen is from a nursing background and I’m from a teaching background. We came up with the idea for the gift card whilst looking for a present for our friend's 40th. She likes shopping in independent shops but we couldn’t find a gift card that existed for them. Imogen and I were both looking for ideas for our own business and this one seemed to fit the bill and was also a gap in the market. We spent about a year developing the card, managed to bring it to market and we've been trading since September 2013.
How difficult was it transitioning from your previous careers into this new venture full time?
Anne-Louise: I think we were both quite fortunate that a lot of the skills we had from our previous roles were very transferable to business. Obviously there were a lot of things that we learnt along the way, ‘Starter for 10’ and other recent courses that we did were all really helpful on the business side of things but actually getting a product off the floor and onto the market, that involved a lot of meeting people and I think coming from nursing and teaching backgrounds helped,
Imogen: It was a bit of a 'jump into the business ocean' though but at the same time when you raise a family you get very good at multi-tasking, reasoning with people and negotiating,
How would you describe the service offered by YourStreet Gift Card?
Imogen: It's a gift card solely for independent shops and services. We basically wanted to bring people back into the hearts of their towns; recognise and promote the small, quirky interesting shops and give people an alternative to big retail giants. It's the first one of its type that can only be spent in small independent shops and it also provides a mechanism for large corporate businesses to support their local community. Five billion pounds a year is spent on gift cards, and a lot of this is spent by corporate businesses that buy Amazon or Love To Shop gift cards for their staff as rewards and incentives but with ours the money goes through their staff and back into the local community so everybody is a winner.
Anne-Louise: Shopping locally is such a hot topic at the moment and this gift card has provided new choice and new options. So instead of only being faced with the choices of shopping mall gift cards, now there's a gift card that enables you to shop locally.
How have retailers reacted to this idea?
Anne-Louise: Really positively. At first it was challenge as with anything new but they all had one thing in common: they all really liked it because it would increase foot fall and bring them new customers. They were basically being cut out of this five billion pound industry because they didn’t have a gift card, so our gift card allows them to have a slice of that five billion. Now we have some of those shops selling the gift cards as well, which is another root market for us.
Imogen: The other thing we do for independent shops and services that they haven’t had before is give them an online platform. 70% of independent business don’t have a website but our online directory gives them an online presence which allows people nationwide to see the independent shops in each town.
So it's a promotional tool too?
Imogen: I always think of us firstly as a gift card business but a marketing platform for small businesses is a close second. We provide them with that extra boost, support and promotion,
What should SME's be aware of when developing a product for the retail market?
Imogen: I think you have to work really hard to win trust, particularly in the independent retail sector because people are very wary of all the stuff on offer,
Anne-Louise: They are very protective of their business and their shops.
Imogen: It’s such an emotional thing for them, it’s personal. They get asked to pay a lot and they’ve got huge business rates and I think they feel people are out to squeeze every penny from them. And obviously, for us, that was the main challenge at the beginning: trying to convince them that what we were doing was going to cost them some money but actually it was going to benefit them hugely. Within the independent retail sector, that was a real challenge.
Anne-Louise: And with that came building personal relationships with those traders that was really important to use here in Bristol.
How did you find working on our Digital Accelerator?
Imogen: We met some wonderful people in similar situations, which is just always great because you re-learn and look at other people and the way they’re dealing with situations teaches you an awful lot about the way you’re running your own business. What it did for us, which was really what we needed at the time although we hadn’t realised it, was take us right back to the fundamentals of why we did this. Obviously you become so insular within your business so it brought us back to the beginning and opened our eyes again. It meant that we changed quite a few things, we adapted some things, it was really good...
What's next for YourStreet Gift Cards?
Anne-Louise: Bristol was our research and development and it’s all going well now so our next thing is to scale it up and to get our gift card out there nationally to other towns and through Creative England this is what we have been working on. We have developed a town package which will allow towns to join the scheme but also enable us to run it from Bristol. We've got about six or seven town interested for 2015 which is looking very promising.
Find out more about YourStreet Gift Cards by visiting their website.
To find out more about our Dorset Accelerator graduates and their products, head here.
- Business Development
- Access to Finance
- Business Support