A couple of big stories this week from the co-working beast, WeWork.
It is set to add pop-up retail to its buildings, and has spent £150m to acquisition Meetup, a social network to organise meetings and get-togethers. This Wired article is the best we’ve come across on the rationale behind the latter.
The reported move into retail has had far less coverage but is just as fascinating. The company hasn’t stopped signing leases on large bits of property across major cities globally. In London alone, it has 29 sites. An unconfirmed rumour it was even sizing up the Guardian’s offices in King’s Cross, if the paper moves to Manchester. (WeWork denied this.)
By turning the ground floor spaces of its buildings into pop-up retail units, it would pit itself squarely against the likes of London startup Appear Here.
Appear Here’s founder Ross Bailey has said WeWork’s retail play could be a worry for landlords as the co-working giant increases its market power in dense urban areas. Bailey told Courier: ‘Many landlords already have WeWork as their biggest office tenants so I believe bringing them on as a retail tenant presents a risk.’
He continued: ‘WeWork has a captive audience and now needs to figure out how to make people continue to enjoy and be entertained when they’re in a WeWork space. This is the same challenge many landlords are facing.’
Building a nationwide chain selling £15-£20-a-head meals in relaxed but stylish restaurants has become a winning format in recent years. However, one of the most high profile and lauded in the segment, Byron burger, has taken a serious hammering. It is now valued at just £25m, despite being acquired by investment firm Hutton Collins for £100m in 2013 when it had 34 sites. (It now has 74.)
In September, Fulham Shore, owner of The Real Greek and Franco Manca, saw almost a quarter of its share price wiped off when it announced that fewer people were eating at its restaurants, especially in London suburbs like Wimbledon and Hampstead.
Elsewhere, Comptoir Libanais also issued a profit warning in September after an ‘unexpected decline’.
Separately, last week, the healthy food startup Bel-Air closed down.
This downturn has its roots in a few places.
Firstly, higher staff costs. We’ve previously reported on how restaurants are already experiencing a downturn in the availability of European workers who represent a big chunk of kitchen and front-of-house teams.
Secondly, there appears to be a material impact on restaurants from food delivery firms like Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Deliveroo is now making further inroads by launching £6 ‘lunchboxes’ which it will produce in its own ‘Editions’ shipping containers.
Small craft breweries are experimenting with selling straight to consumers, cutting out intermediaries.
As well as increasing profit margins, it provides a greater degree of quality control. Breweries can ensure beers are stocked at the right temperatures and served correctly. Some are also offering cans and bottles for take-home sales.
It’s estimated there now more than 1,700 breweries in the UK. An increasing number are opening their facilities up to the public and serving beers in ‘taprooms’. In London, Hackney Wick and the Bermondsey ‘Beer Mile’ have become popular for punters to go from brewery to brewery, sampling beers.
In May 2017, Cloudwater, a Manchester-based brewery which has been named fifth best in the world, opened its own online shop and no longer sells its beer through the popular small brewery distributor Eebria.
Meanwhile, Deya Brewing in Cheltenham has said it’s working towards just selling its beer on-site.
Syndicates of angels are forming to offer startups an alternative to larger funds. Angel investors see an opportunity to plug a gap in the investment scene: companies looking to raise between £250,000 and £1m are currently finding it hardest to get funding.
The comments came at the UK Business Angels Association conference this week.
Investors at the event also rued the amount of ‘dumb money’ being offered to startups which lacked expertise and experience to founders.
Some other interesting stats:
The spectacles retailer has introduced a new facial-mapping feature for users of the iPhone X. After taking a data-heavy snapshot of a potential customer’s face, the app recommends suitable frames.
Other companies are likely to also deploy features built on new smartphones’ facial recognition function on new smartphones.
Meanwhile, two Google researchers have developed software that alerts a phone user when a curious bystander gazes at their screen.
The tool detects a face that’s not the owners’ within milliseconds. In a video demonstration, the phone responded by flipping on its camera mode and adding ‘rainbow vomit’ to the stranger’s face.