30 November 2017 Issue 20 Dec/Jan

Papersmiths: pitching for commercial units

New companies face an uphill task landing a plum shop site. Stationery retailer Papersmiths found price was just part of the picture.

There are over 100 shops around Carnaby Street in London’s West End – its most populous shopping district. Each year, 44 million people wander through the area. Papersmiths has pinpointed it as a top location for its third site.

Units here are coveted by startups and some of the world’s biggest brands alike; which is reflected in the rents. Average annual rents have shot up by 54% from 2012 to today.

Landing Bristol

Opening on a prestigious London shopping street would mark a big leap for Papersmiths. It currently sells stylish pens, notepads and books from sites in Bristol and east London’s Boxpark.

Pitching to landlords has been a learning curve for Sidonie Warren, Papersmiths’ founder. She secured the Bristol shop in 2014 after an agent said the landlord was looking for a bookshop. To convince the owner to let her sell stationery, Warren tweaked her proposal to include a range of coffee table books as well. It swung the deal.

Testing London

Papersmiths next signed a lease in Shoreditch’s Boxpark, which offers retailers short-term leases. The business was able to join the revolving door of retailers in May of 2017 when many of the leases came to an end.

‘We already had an established brand so they could [find us] online, and they knew what our interior was like in Bristol,’ Warren explains. ‘It was more about the numbers.’

Price comparison

The Shoreditch unit has provided a stepping stone to prove there’s a market for Papersmiths in the capital, although it’s not come cheap.

Warren says the rent is roughly the same as the business pays in Bristol, except in the West Country it occupies a four storey building, rather than a shipping container.

‘In Bristol we’re able to use space for other things,’ she says (Warren also runs design agency Studio B with Papersmiths co-founder Kyle Clarke). ‘In Shoreditch our retail space is half of what we have in Bristol, but we take the same revenue. So it works well.’

Bigger things

Warren is now approaching big property operators for a new site – something that brings a new set of challenges.

‘It’s a little more confusing,’ she admits. ‘My first meeting with them was in a boardroom and there were three people I was pitching to. It was a lot more corporate and serious.’

At the time of writing Warren was still searching and negotiating, optimistic a deal for her third and most high profile shop was around the corner.

Expert advice: pitching to landlords

What motivates them?

Many are simply looking for the most favourable rents, says Paul Nicholson, associate retail director at Savills. ‘They just want security.’ The likes of Shaftesbury, however, will be more open to fresh concepts.

How much leverage do you have?

Do your homework,’ Nicholson says. ‘If [a unit’s] been sat empty for 12 months, you could use that to your advantage,’ he adds.

What will get the landlord excited?

Arriving with images, projections and product samples can get certain landlords to think beyond rent. However, peripheral detail can be detrimental. ‘Sometimes retailers [discuss] where they source products,’ Nicholson says. ‘It’s [not] relevant to landlords.’’

Are you prepared to run a shop?

Promotions, social media events and more are all essential to making a shop pay for itself. Good products are merely the basics. ‘A lot of brands expect because they’re on Carnaby Street it’s going to be successful,’ Samantha Bain Mollison, head of retail at Shaftesbury, says. ‘Unless they make the consumer aware, they won’t get people through the door.’

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