“It’s well known that many retailers are struggling,” says Suzanne Caldwell, Deputy Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
“The picture is certainly a tough one. But there are those, of all sizes, who are bucking the trend. That’s something that the Growth Hub is here to help with – in this case through helping House of Malt to explore opportunities in the business-to-business market as you’ll see below.”
We’re used to reading about store closures and the decline of the high street but House of Malt is defying the odds.
The specialist whisky retailer, which began as an online enterprise, opened a shop in Crosby Street, Carlisle, at the end of 2016.
Now it is moving to larger premises in the renovated former Lloyds Pharmacy building around the corner in Warwick Road.
At first sight, it’s an odd decision, taking on a higher rental and business rates liability when bricks and mortar retailing is supposed to be in retreat.
Business founder Ben Turnbull has a clear rationale for the move, which is scheduled to take place next month and will involve taking on more staff.
He said: “It is a risk but it’s not it’s not a massive one. The new shop is more expensive but it’s bigger and way more prominent.
“Where we are is out of the way and people don’t know we’re here.
“Even though we’re not taking all the space it will be double the size. The extra will give us more room to host tastings. We have them now but it’s a squeeze getting 20 or 25 people in.
“The larger windows mean we can mount displays and get more support from distilleries for promotions.”
He is an evangelist for fine single malt whisky who sees retailing as much about education and having a dialogue with customers, and potential customers, rather than simply shifting stock.
Ben said: “I love the quality of what whisky can be.
“My background is in sales in high-end audio and I learned in that career that there’s no value in cheap. It’s exactly the same with whisky.
“We help people to appreciate quality. We can show someone who spends £25 on a supermarket whisky that there are huge benefits in spending £5 or £10 more – precisely because the quality is much better.
“You’re buying a whisky created in a craft setting rather than one rolling off a production line.”
Although the bulk of sales are single malt whiskies from Scotland, including special bottlings under the House of Malt label, the business sells whiskies from around the world as well as a selection of artisan gins and craft beers.
Despite having the shop in Crosby Street, 80% of sales remain online.
Some are international – House of Malt has shipped orders to Europe, the United States and Taiwan.
Ben said: “The business could operate from anywhere but we like being in Carlisle. It can be an eye opener for customers. They don’t expect to find a quality whisky shop here.”
He enrolled House of Malt on the Business Start-up Support programme (BSUS) run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub and began working with Growth Hub adviser Peter Fleming.
The business was already operating by then but BSUS is open to businesses within the first three years of trading.
The package of free support includes a three-day course covering the basics of starting a business, one-to-one meetings with a business adviser, training, help with a business plan and membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
Ben said: “I didn’t know about BSUS when I started the business – I wish I had. The advice from Peter was good and he referred me to another Growth Hub adviser, Paul Teague, who helped us with SEO and online marketing.
“Paul’s advice has been really beneficial and I’ve not yet implemented everything we talked about.”
The sessions led House of Malt to look again at its website with a view to improving functionality, design and SEO, and to target specialist retailers, hotels and wholesalers, allowing them to order online.
A revamped website is under development by JH Web Development of Scotby, paid for in part by a £1,110 grant from the Growth Hub’s Subsidy Scheme.
This enables ERDF-eligible businesses – that are looking to grow and create jobs – to access a 40% contribution, up to a maximum of £2,000, to buy-in consultancy to support their plans.
Ben said: “We probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the subsidy. We’d have got around to it eventually but not at this stage.”
A wide range of consultancy services are covered by the Subsidy Scheme.
For example, it can help businesses looking to buy-in advice on accountancy and finance, social media consultancy, legal advice and public relations – and that isn’t an exhaustive list.
The scheme requires businesses to go through a tendering process to evaluate at least three potential bids. Growth Hub advisers help businesses put together a brief to select and manage the best consultant for the task.
Carlisle City Council helps to fund the Growth Hub and Council Leader Colin Glover is encouraged by House of Malt’s decision to move to bigger premises.
He said: “We recognise that there are changes on the high street that retailers are having to face but, by looking innovatively at how the business wants to position itself, there are still opportunities as House of Malt shows.
“It’s good to see a small local business investing and growing within the city. It’s important to us as a council and it’s important for Carlisle that we nurture businesses like House of Malt, which is why we support the Growth Hub.”
Alternatively, call Cumbria Business Growth Hub today on 0844 257 84 50 and find out how we can help your business grow.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub this comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.
The Subsidy Scheme is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce