We're incredibly proud to support startups all over the UK, in all kinds of industries. Starting a business has its own unique challenges and benefits wherever you are - there's no one-size-fits-all pattern. One area of the UK that's seeing startups thrive is the North East, where more and more entrepreneurs are taking the plunge. We spoke to Imran Ayoub, who along with his wife Nadia runs artisan coffee shop De Melo, about how they started a business in Middlesbrough.
Who did you speak to in the North East for advice, and how did they help you?
My initial point of contact was James Craft. Our first meeting was to clarify what the business was, where I was in terms of business plans, and what the end goal was. James was fantastic at simplifying what steps to take in order to get up and running. His help with the cashflow forecast was vital for us to secure funding. After receiving the funding, Mark Johnston became our advisor and mentor and has helped keep us on the right track by consistently pointing us in the right direction.
Did you go to any networking events in Teesside/Middlesbrough - what were they, and were they any good?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any networking events. I was working two jobs whilst trying to complete a business plan for our business, which made having any spare time extremely difficult.
Why is the North East a good place to do business?
We love the North East. We’re loyal to Middlesbrough because Middlesbrough has been so kind to us. The North East has some of the best towns and cities in the UK, a diverse population where all walks of life come together, some of the best businesses in the country (as well us the best football teams - up The Boro!) and a loyal customer base. We’re here to create the next big brand - a brand born in Middlesbrough.
The North East is relatively small, and connecting from one town to another is relatively quick. That’s what makes having a business here so beneficial - within the space of a working day anything is possible, because like-minded entrepreneurs surround you and make being in business so enjoyable.
Where in Middlesbrough is your shop and why did you base it there?
We’re based on the main road in Middlesbrough - Linthorpe Road, directly in sight of the university and in the heart of the student residential area. Our products and facilities are suitable for everyone, but we are ideally suited for students. We offer free WiFi, unlimited refills on weekdays between 3pm and 7pm, large communal seating areas, and phone/laptop charging ports. We based the shop here because it is easily accessible from anywhere in the town centre with good transport links and great parking availability. We are also in a redevelopment zone and there are several businesses opening up in the next 18 months that will surround us. This made negotiating the rent when we first applied for this unit much easier.
What advice would you give to other people looking to start a business in the North East?
In the words of Sir Richard Branson: “Screw it. Just do it”. The North East is the perfect place to invest in because we’re cheaper than any other part of the country. Our rent and rates make opening a business here easier than it would in London. We’re a proud group of people and we always associate with each other, which is why it makes perfect sense to buy products from other local businesses. There’s no reason why your foundations can’t be here, but your main goal is to crack London. That’s De Meló’s target - we want to be the new kids on the block in London in the next 5 years, and be the next big name in coffee and gelato.
Is it expensive to start a business in the North East?
That depends on how much you want to spend! It sounds a little clichéd but opening a business like a coffee and gelateria can range from anywhere between £50,000 to £250,000. One of the goals of opening De Meló was to assure that we would also look the part in a town where artisan isn’t a common theme. Our starting up costs were £100,000, but they could have easily been £60-65,000. The reason for investing that extra was to make sure that we looked and felt like an established brand to help cut that starting slump most business have… and it worked! With clever marketing and plenty of social media advertising we got all of Middlesbrough talking, and started off with plenty of business.
What types of businesses do well in the North East?
In the North East, if you’re cheap you’ll do well. Us northerners like nothing better than a bargain. If you can walk in to a restaurant with £20 and walk out after a three course meal and a drink with change, you’ve had a good day. Most food businesses in Middlesbrough are in stiff competition with each other because the population isn’t huge. The businesses that do well are those that can cope with big numbers, maintain good standards, and keep their social media platforms trendy and popular. Also, it’s never a bad thing to give away freebies as part of a weekly competition. We give away a freakshake every week - to enter you simply hashtag a picture (#DeMeloPOTW) of your most recent visit and you get put into a prize draw. We choose a new winner every week.
Any other tips?
Find a savvy accountant! If you find an accountant who will take care of all your papers for £100 p/m, chances are they won’t be able to take care of your needs in the long run. We had to find out the hard way by almost losing £4500 worth of VAT refunds because our first accountant didn’t submit everything. By switching to a bigger firm and paying almost double the fees, we were able to save that money and are now planning our budget for the next two years. We now have an account manager who we speak to on a daily basis, have a better understanding of our finances, and are able to successfully apply for grants and funds, overdrafts, loans and any other sort of financial help. This is all through hiring a specialist accountancy firm that takes care of our every need. Your accountant can either make you or break you - so choose carefully!