The Daily TelegraphJuly 2014
The Daily Telegraph
'Good karma for high street chameleons'
To survive on the modern high street, businesses are increasingly becoming chameleons, changing their business models to adapt to the changing needs of the customer. Following rent and rate rises, this new breed of entrepreneur has learned to squeeze every last ounce of productivity from their bricks-and-mortar shops.
Bars that serve coffee during the daytime are nothing new, but one restaurant and watering hole has gone to unusual lengths to draw in daytime footfall. The Jones Family Project, based over two floors in Shoreditch, east London, is more theatre than traditional retail, featuring movable sets and smart lighting concepts to lure in passing trade.
“During the day, this area is buzzing with workers and one-man businesses. I knew that if I could create a better work environment than Starbucks, they would come in here,” says co-founder Duncan Watts. To create a cool working space during the day, JFP’s back bar pivots to hide the sparkling glasses and bottles of alcohol, shifting to become a coffee bar.
“If you see a load of booze on the wall at 9am and you want to work, you think you’re in the wrong place,” says Watts.
To cement its daytime image as a work space, the venue built a one-man office in the front window, complete with wireless printer and “a proper upholstered leather chair”, says Watts. The spot has become a draw for entrepreneurs and executives, who will use the space all day, doubling up as a living advertisement for the shop.
Watts has also introduced working hubs built around artificial trees. “Then in the evening, we deck the fake trees with twinkly lights and it’s a lovely place to have a cocktail,” he says.
JFP, which is forecasting a turnover approaching £2m this year, has increased daytime revenues by 25pc using these smart tweaks.
However, alcohol sales still represent the lion’s share of revenue. Each day at around 5pm, the punters are gently told to stop working for the day, and the café is transformed into a bar. “Music is extremely important for this,” reveals Watts. “We start by playing more upbeat tracks and then increase the beats per minute into the evening.”
The restaurant downstairs is also a movable feast. The area features a “stage” with an unusual theme that changes every few weeks. In the past six months, the restaurant has been a hunting lodge, an “eccentric grandmother’s dining room”, and now, a retro Seventies lounge, complete with Formica cocktail bar and raffia-clad Chianti bottles.
The menu evolves with the décor, and now features new takes on Seventies’ favourites like prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau.
“People never know what’s going to happen in the space and it keeps them coming back for more,” explains Watts. “We’ve created a pop-up inside a restaurant. The younger generation demand different things from going out these days. They want to be entertained.”
Michael Murphy, founder of hairdressing salon Flaxon Ptootch in Kentish Town, north London, has been a high street chameleon for more than 20 years. His salon doubles as an art gallery, event space, and – occasionally – a pop-up restaurant.
The whole space has been engineered to be as flexible as possible. “The electricity comes down from the ceiling so we’re not limited to using plug sockets in the walls,” says Murphy. The hairdressing stations also pack away completely, and the shop is fitted with theatre quality lighting and a sound system, which allows bands to play.
Murphy balances his more profitable extra-curricular activities, such as hiring out the space as a private venue, with his “follies” as he terms them, which create value in the community. “We had Prof David Nutt [former drugs adviser to Tony Blair’s government] in here, and 100 people came to listen to him talk. It made me no money, but it helps build a memorable brand.”
Flaxon Ptootch’s in-house gallery exhibits works from local artists, featuring two each month. Building a multifaceted business not only draws in new custom, it can also discourage the wrong crowd, explains Murphy. “Art is an idiot filter,” he explains. “And it attracts a more cultured audience into the shop. I talk about politics when I’m cutting hair, not holidays.”
Murphy has experimented with a number of projects to utilise the shop space out of hours. A pop-up tailor took residence on Sunday for a few weeks, and a joint venture with renowned chef Oliver Rowe saw Flaxon Ptootch transformed into a restaurant.
Partnerships with complementary businesses are an effective way of bringing in extra footfall, so high-end fashion brand Wolf & Badger has teamed up with cold-pressed juice start-up Raw Press to create a new bar at its store in Mayfair’s Dover Street.
The juice bar is launching in August, and will have a “symbiotic relationship” with the store, explains Raw Press co-founder Jack Graham, who runs the business with cousin Toby Graham; Wolf & Badger founders George and Henry Graham are also related.
“Fashion isn’t just about being seen in the right clothes, but about looking after your body,” Jack adds. “Customers will come to have a juice and then browse the store and vice versa.”
Cold-pressed juice is a fast-growing industry in the US, where early pioneers have been snapped up by corporations like Starbucks. The juicing technique preserves more essential nutrients and antioxidants, according to devotees, as no heat or oxidisation takes place.
“We didn’t want to appeal exclusively to yoga bunnies,” says Jack. “And the people who like fashion tend to be interested in green juices and dairy-free diets.”