Repurposing vacant shops to help small businesses thrive - My Growth Pod

Workspaces are facing rising rent from landlords, high business rates and the increasing loss of office space to residential use, with limited affordable co-working space. With the impact of COVID-19 on all businesses, the creation of a co-working space was vital to help plug that gap and respond to the demand for people working more locally in affordable “home from home” flexible spaces. By providing a cost-effective workspace, businesses can pay lower commercial rents and reduce the risks of starting or expanding a business, as well as receiving the additional benefits of working alongside and collaborating with peers.

  • 9 out of 10 people in the UK say they want to work remotely.
  • 25% of those that work from home are lonely, have more distractions and feel they arent as productive. They miss the social element of work. 
  • Cafes are not designed for working. No privacy for conversations, no meeting rooms, no office address. Although social, they are also noisy and disruptive and there is the expectation of near-continuous purchases from the cafe.
  • Co-working spaces are often in urban centres and are expensive. 
  • On average a London desk costs = £613 p/m and are really designed for people with 3 plus people in their company.

After lobbying the Council leader to do more for start-ups and small businesses, Helen Roberts of CPG Executive Consulting Ltd suggested a co-working space and a pop up shop as an innovative way to help entrepreneurs in the borough. In collaboration with Hounslow Council, Helen researched the opportunity and created a plan and model for growth for a co-working space in the centre of Brentford.

Helen chose the name “Digital Dock” to entice the digital and creative industries, as in the business plan research this industry was and is still out-performing all other industries in the UK and creating 50% more jobs. The Hounslow borough itself also has a rich heritage of film, TV and production companies and this is the main reason a digital studio was created on the upper level of the building, to allow people to create content and also develop important digital skills.

The council were delighted to open the doors of the workspace in the summer of 2021 supporting up to 30 small businesses (12 during the peak of the pandemic), freelancers and homeworkers looking to free themselves from the kitchen table. Not only does the space provide a physical premises but an opportunity to build a community and develop their business and digital skills.  

The chosen space – a converted two storey vacant shop on Brentford High Street can easily be replicated in any town. The space delivers a stylish, flexible and inclusive co-working space and collaborative hub whilst also bringing more life to the high street.

Digital Dock is a modern, stylish and affordable workspace in the heart of Brentford for local entrepreneurs and small businesses. The refurbished former shop in Brentford High Street is a co-working space, with desks available on an ad-hoc and fixed-term rental basis, micro-offices, meeting rooms and a break-out area for networking and collaboration, thus providing everything a small business needs to grow and establish. 

Helens comments, “In the initial stages we researched other co-working initiatives in the West and South West London region, best practices, a deep view competitor analysis, identifying a micro-niche and engaging with a sample target group to establish a proof of concept. We then moved on to clearly outlining all the services and creating a sustainable financial plan and business model for growth. We developed a commercial strategy and action plan seeking out strategic partners and the best routes to market with a sales and marketing strategy, looking at what resources were needed, revenue models and so much more…And that’s just phase one!”

Helen adds, “It was also important to look at practical aspects such as how many desks we could fit into a 2000sq metre space, and the cost per desk. Then working out other revenue streams such as sponsorships and additional services to ensure the space could be sustainable and pay for itself.”

The ever growing technology and digital media needs of a business are catered for at the co-working space with super-fast fibre connectivity and a digital studio available to hire for professional content creation (including photography, video and streaming).

Helen comments, Small businesses have an important role to play in the country’s economic growth, this kind of space provides a launch pad so they can thrive and grow quicker than they would alone. This type of space has been invaluable as a community to support tiny businesses to grow, expand and develop their offering. At CPG we are delighted the Council ran with this idea to not only help small businesses and entrepreneurs recover from the effects of the pandemic but to facilitate their grow by providing a fit for purpose space to do so. Not many Councils would do that!”

Helen adds, It was a pleasure to consult on such an important project, and its been such a huge success already. Alongside all the other support the Council have, and continue to provide to small businesses through our programmes, the future is looking very bright for Hounslow.”