I've been thinking about our first month as a stallholder at Curated Aberdeen. So it's time to put some of that thinking down in words. In case anyone needs to hear these things. And to keep things nice and real world, I'll write this from our experience.
I don't need to set the scene, Curated has been part of Aberdeen City centre since 2021. Curated Aberdeen is an opportunity for small businesses and makers like ourselves. They provide affordable retail space in Aberdeen for us little guys.
For all that's said around the decline of Aberdeen City centre, Curated Aberdeen is a jewel in the city. A beacon of quirky, weird and interesting businesses.
It's Aberdeens best kept shopping secret.
But let's cut to the business chat. I'm sure that's what you came here for.
I signed our business up for April 2023. Keen to see what we could do with a month of retail space in the heart of Aberdeen. Over those weekends, I kept an eye on sales figures. But to stand any chance of making a profit, I got to work on marketing. Chatting to the public and other stallholders helped me figure out what I should do. I then made friends with staff in other shops in the Bon Accord Centre and chatted to the Charlie House team. I definitely made a nuisance of myself all over social media. At the end of April it was time to do the money dance. I did a bit of profit & loss on our sales figures and projected them over 12 months. I established what this retail opportunity might be worth to us. I then thought about what this would do in real terms of building our brand in the local area.
But I've never been a "let's stick to the facts" kinda guy. I like to imagine, to dream and to push things. That these things build on top of the facts is what makes them real possibilities. We all need things to aim for. We all like to see things improve and we all like to share successes when they happen.
In short, I saw a lot of potential. Not only for our primary income, but in more ideas which we'll grow into over time.
I made three decisions for our business:
- We are staying at Curated
- We will make our space a better experience for people
- We are definitely hiring
But before we get into these things, let's look at the hard facts.
What it costs
Curated costs £90 per weekend. That's a bank of 20 trading hours over Friday, Saturday and Sunday almost every weekend of the year.
What's in it for us
The long and short of it is we get a very relaxed 3M x 2M floor space in an indoor, city centre location. We get a slice of the window space. We also have loading bay access, a storeroom, use of electricity in the unit and reduced parking fees. That’s it. No tricks, no hidden anything’s. What we do with that space is up to us. We've already improved how we use the space and have more upgrades coming. We get mentioned in the Curated Aberdeen marketing. We also appear across their social media channels at the weekend. The unit itself is open to the public Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
What success looks like for us
Time to look at those three decisions.
First up, we made the decision to stay at Curated. We booked the next full month. This needed to be a decision which improves our business. And it does so in several ways:
- Sales figures are good and with some effort, we can make those even better
- Local awareness of our brand has improved
- Exposure to our chat and tasting of our products, face to face is a very powerful sales experience
- The in-person experience helps us discover what is most important to customers. Whether they know of us at that point, or not
- We gain exposure to other stallholders customers. We also use other stallholders products to convince people to come and see us. This works the same for other stallholders, the other way around
- Bringing people into Aberdeen City Centre has benefits for the whole city. Whatever vision or masterplan you see for the city, we all win from Curated Aberdeen. It's already functioning. Local businesses are coming into the city centre and making the city all the more interesting for it
- We now have returning customers. Yep, people are visiting us weekly to chat to us and to stock up
Our second decision was to upgrade our retail presence. In plain English, that means we decided to make our setup look less like a farmers market, and more like a shop. Because it is a shop. Because it's not a farmers market. So we've made a start with some shelving for our sauces. We popped in a clothes rail for our merch. We're now working on new signage too. When we replace our folding market table with something a little more fitting, we'll be happy. This will help with some of the new things we're planning, now we've got a fixed retail space to play in.
And so we come to the matter of hiring. Curated has meant we've been able to create a job for someone. We've now welcomed our first employee. This gives us new thinking, new personality and the opportunity to grow further. For us, this is a pivotal moment. We've now moved status from a "one man band" to an employer. It wouldn't have happened so quickly without Curated Aberdeen. And if we can do it, you can do it better.
Things to keep in mind
Most important, is the reason for Curated existing. Curated Aberdeen is the brainchild of Charlie House. It's aim is to raise money to build facilities that Aberdeen doesn't have. Here are the details on the Charlie House website. This will make such a difference to families facing some of the toughest struggles there are. The money generated from stallholder space goes directly to this purpose. That Curated Aberdeen gives businesses like ours a platform is a win. The brand association with the most worthwhile of projects, feels like another win.
Nobody will do this for us. The Charlie House team will kindly mention us on social media each week. They even featured us once we told them we were there for the duration. But then it's over to us. It is our business and our job to help people understand why they should care about it. Other stallholders are a good source of hints/tips and collaboration. We have also started working with other city centre businesses to create a bit of excitement. We do deals, create offers and set challenges for people. Driving people to each others businesses feels good. It's good fun. At the most basic level, we use social media to let people know where we are. We promote our business as we usually do and set our expectations in line with the effort we put in ourselves. Having an indoor, city centre location has made it easier to convince people to visit us.
Retail is not a farmers market
A weekend indoors in a shopping centre, is very different from a 4 hour farmers market in a windswept carpark or field. We had to change our expectations around what "busy" looks like. A monthly farmers market will see lots of people appear and disappear over a few short hours. A retail space is a regular, fixed location with different opportunities. And it's not muddy. Nor do we have to wrestle a drenched gazebo into the boot of a car in a hurricane at the end of it. We also have the opportunity to create some long lasting influence for our brand. Being in one fixed place regularly, builds recognition and adds a bit of weight to our business. Now people know how and where to find us on consecutive days, on consecutive weeks. Our business is now part of Aberdeen City Centre. It is actively improving what the city has to offer.
There are other ways to use the space too
Think about a specific product launch. You could pop up a stall in the unit for £90, promote the hell out of it and bring an audience. You will also benefit from the passing trade and the customers of all the other stalls.
How about a product tasting? You know the local food & drink scene is often mentioned as a key part of our city centre. Well, here's an opportunity to test the ground, to have a presence. To make a fuss.
How about creating a pop up exhibition? There are tons of artists, crafters, makers in the city. There are also concerns about the lack of access to space in the city. Here's an opportunity to show, discuss, create, promote, collaborate and sell.
And we haven't even touched on the possibilities for larger takeovers of the space. The opportunities that brings for all involved are fantastic.
Curated Aberdeen is an opportunity for us little guys. We can trade on a level playing field right in the heart of Aberdeen City Centre. With some effort, determination, some new thinking and by working with others, we can all make a success of it. And that success is shared success. Our business, other stallholders, Charlie House, The Bon Accord Centre and the wider city centre all share in it. It's a win for everyone.