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Up-and-coming brands get rent-free retail opportunity

25 July 2023

Small businesses are being offered the chance to take over a shop rent-free on London's Oxford Street, as part of Westminster City Council's Fairer Economy plan.

Meanwhile On: Oxford Street is inviting applications from "innovative, cutting-edge and up-and-coming brands" looking to launch their first store that could offer something new to one of the UK's most iconic shopping streets.

The campaign is being run by Westminster City Council, in partnership with New West End Company. Selected brands will be given a prime store location for an initial six-month period. These opportunities will be rent-free, with a minimum 70% reduction in business rates. Stores will either be available for single occupancy or as a themed concept store shared between multiple brands.

Although rent-free, successful applicants must be able to fund the other associated costs of running a store for six months and show potential to launch long-term. There will be retail mentoring and design support for successful applicants.

Pop-ups take small retailers to the next level

Meanwhile On: Oxford Street builds on previous pilot schemes. Kitty McEntee, founder of Lab Tonica, was offered a short-term pop-up by Westminster City Council in 2021, to sell hand-blended botanicals, teas, balms, and aromatherapy gifts on Regent Street. The brand now has a permanent concession in Selfridges. Kitty McEntee said: "As a new start-up, this was an incredible experience and helped to fast-track the launch of my brand, providing a multitude of marketing and collaboration opportunities, and delivering much-needed revenue."

Meanwhile On: Oxford Street is expected to support around 35 brands over three years, with the first store opening in Autumn 2023. Up-and-coming small businesses are being encouraged to apply; new opportunities for brands will also continue to roll out over the coming months and years, as units become available.

Cllr Geoff Barraclough said: "The West End has recovered quickly from the pandemic but there are still too many vacant units and poor-quality occupants. That's why we've set up Meanwhile On: Oxford Street to help fill the gaps with upcoming brands showcasing their innovative new ideas. I am excited to welcome new brands to one of the most famous streets in Europe, and support them with free rent, reduced business rates and help with promoting their businesses."

Retail sales volumes rise in June

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that there was a 0.7% rise in UK retail sales volumes in June 2023 and a rise of 0.4% in sales in the three months to June.

Commenting on the news, Tina McKenzie, policy and advocacy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "These statistics prove the enduring potential of our high streets … It's a feather in the cap of the nimble high street retailers that stay one step ahead of market shifts and trends. However, it's not all rosy, with rising interest rates and concerns about consumer demand. There are still huge roads ahead for our high street stores who are wrestling with business rates, VAT, late payments and poor transport links. Only with certainty and support can the full potential of these small firms be realised."

The FSB is calling on small retailers to participate in its annual Future of the High Street survey which runs until 27 July.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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