Quality-led experiences and a fiercely independent new breed of innovative small businesses are coming to the fore in a new-look UK high street, according to recent research by Experian, which describes the rise, for example, of vegan eateries, dog-grooming salons and micro-breweries. One town which reflects this well and, in fact, is setting trends nationally in respect of its high street template, is Falmouth, Cornwall. It is a destination that not only showcases exciting individual retailers but is also viewed as a dynamic and inspiring hub for a wide range of innovative enterprises and sectors, from digital design agencies to superyacht manufacturers, marine renewable start-ups to gaming academies.
Across the town, flexible business models are flourishing, with niche food and experience-led activities under one entrepreneurial roof. Daytime themed cafés transform into evening drink-led venues, capturing the visitor pound by day and the local/student evening economy by night. Artisan retailers combine creative workshops and online merchandising techniques, making the most of their retail space, while nurturing a loyal community in the process.
It’s not difficult to see what makes Falmouth so attractive to SMEs. With an enviable coastal location, it encourages a ‘blue mind’, live-work-play mindset, where collaborative businesses, exciting career options and an enviable lifestyle play out, supported by an award-winning destination management team. It’s a town that punches well above its weight, attracting people worldwide to live, study, work and create, and with the region’s most diverse year-round festivals calendar, the number of visitors to the area continues to rise, and with it the opportunity for small businesses to flourish.
Richard Wilcox, left, Executive Director of Falmouth Business Improvement District (BID), Chair of Cornwall Towns and South West BIDs groups, said: “Falmouth has a dynamic business community, with the spirit of collaboration strongly evident. And it is the diverse nature of the high street which really adds to Falmouth’s appeal and ‘investability’, with quality-led businesses from retail, hospitality, digital, creative and marine sectors, working and operating successfully alongside one another.”
“We then align that business offer to the experiential, by curating an enviable programme of events, happenings, pop-ups and festivals that work for and engage with our resident and business community. The annual International Sea Shanty Festival is one of many examples of how well the whole town comes together at key times. Without volunteers, partnership working, and supportive businesses, the event would struggle to host the 50,000 visitors that attend the three-day, free-to-attend festival each year.”
That vision to make Falmouth the ‘events capital of the region’ is bearing fruit, culminating in 2021 with the town being chosen to host the world’s media as part of the G7 Summit which was held in Cornwall. And, with National Armed Forces Day and the Tall Ships Regatta both choosing Falmouth as their venues for 2023, the Town Team will continue to position major events in the port town, thereby showcasing Falmouth to a global audience.
Richard Wilcox adds: “Falmouth has always been a melting pot for ideas – a place where a myriad of business sectors and creative influences operate alongside multinational and independent retailers. We have much to be proud of and to celebrate here, as well as across the region. Successful high streets and communities are ones that combine local expertise, enthusiasm, and pride of place, to foster an environment that is conducive to creative thinking. Falmouth has all that and more.”
Falmouth is brimming with independent small businesses and in fact, these now make up more than 75% of the business community. Many of them have adapted expertly and now exemplify the ‘experiential’ high street model.
From humble homebrew between friends, to a business which looks to turn over in excess of £6 million in 2022, Verdant has grown rapidly from its Penryn HQ. Home to a range of hoppy IPA and Double IPA craft beers, created for others with an appreciation of a good brew, Verdant was able to rapidly grow thanks to a very successful crowd-funding campaign. In Falmouth, Verdant owns the Seafood Bar, close to Custom House Quay. It’s a tapas-inspired seafood restaurant serving small plates and a range of Verdant’s beers. Adam Robertson, co-founder of Verdant says: “The Seafood Bar is a small, but mighty space. Already an established and well-respected seafood restaurant, we built on that reputation, giving it our own unique twist. It’s helped us enhance the brand and its position in the heart of Falmouth has enabled us to reach the town’s local and visiting population, who love the provenance of local produce”.
Many of the restaurant’s out-of-Cornwall patrons come from across the UK as well as welcoming international beer lovers too, while also continuing to order ‘a Verdant experience’ via the company’s website and e-commerce platform. As a consequence, Verdant has also developed a partnership with another craft beer company, Pressure Drop based in London. This has furthered the brand’s reach, helping to bring the tap room experience and a taste of Falmouth to the capital city – under the railway arches of Hackney Central. Such is the popularity of this independent beer brand, that it is stocked across numerous independent stores across the UK, and exported to many different countries across Europe and Asia.
As Adam goes on to say: “We used to brew each day and always ran out of stock before the day had ended. Our new facilities enable us to produce more and have enough beer in stock for demand, and to supply new routes to market. We’ll always be independent and Falmouth & Penryn will always be our home, but our mission is to share our love and skill in making beer to the many people who appreciate craft beers as much as we do.”
Stitches & Cream
Created by sisters Jane and Sandra out of a love for dressmaking and needle craft, Stitches & Cream is situated on one of the oldest areas in Falmouth, High Street, and retails natural yarns and quality, contemporary dressmaking fabric, as well as running drop-in sessions, stitching workshops and talks.
Taught by their mum from an early age, they bring a lifetime of passion for needlework to the high street, providing welcome advice and support to customers while engaging with their audience in new and innovative ways, such as stitching evenings and via social media. “We want to be the centre for Falmouth’s knit and sew community”, said Jane. Somewhere people get together, learn and share tips and techniques, as well as purchase the materials for their crafts.”
The shop opened in 2019, only to be in lockdown, like so many other businesses, shortly after. Jane said: “We switched to online sales quickly, and also offered a click and collect service. The lockdown brought with it a reconnection with arts and crafts for many, and so we find more people of all age groups and genders, taking an interest in knitting, sewing and the creative arts.”
Entrepreneurial musician Brandon Hargrave has combined a successful music career with quality bagels in the heart of Falmouth. A bakery by day, it also provides a well-received delivery service to restaurants as well as a contemporary café/takeaway to visitors and the local community. In the evenings, it transforms into a café/bar with a cool chill electronic vibe, showcasing Brandon’s individual style of music. Working as a full-time songwriter for the last ten years, Brandon decided to part ways with his Sony record label and focus on bringing his music to people direct. He started from a Mercedes Sprinter conversion, powered by solar energy, where he created 18 independent chillout tracks, while also developing the van into a coffee and bagel truck.
After a year of trading and pushing the music, Brandon had achieved more than 20 million streams and more than 18,000 sales from the vehicle. Soon after, he launched his flagship coffee house and quality bagel bakery on Killigrew Street in Falmouth. Koala Karlous now has 16 employees across three locations and Brandon has aspirations to continue to grow the brand across Cornwall and the South West.
He says: “Music is a big part of my life and I want to show young, aspiring singer songwriters that it is possible to be successful, without the big corporate record labels. Life can be short. We need to enjoy what we do and maximise the time we are blessed to have here.”
When asked about the name Koala Karlous, Brandon comments: “It stemmed from a quirky present from an Australian fan who sent it to me as a gift. Koala Karlous ended up on a speaker in my studio and became the inspiration for the name. It’s representative of a journey through life and the people who knowingly, or otherwise, come into it and just make a few special moments to treasure. It is these random, chance connections we hope to nurture through our business outlets and music.”
For further information on Falmouth and its energetic high street, visit: falmouth.co.uk