Birmingham’s independents separate our city from the rest. But what’s it like to run one in 2018?
There’s something magical about introducing someone to one of Birmingham’s ‘hidden gems’. Tucked within the nooks and crannies of our thriving city are shops, restaurants, bars and more, each with their own personality, history and ethos. Spending our money with them brings a sense of satisfaction, knowing that our pounds will go back into the local economy. But there’s much more to it than that, as Independent Birmingham’s Joe Schuppler explains:
“Behind each independent is someone who has poured their heart, and life, into a business. They’re real people who work hard to offer something you won’t find anywhere else.”
So who are the businesspeople that are making our independent scene so special? And what do we need to do to support them? We spoke to some Birmingham business owners to find out.
16 Frederick St, B1 3HE
“1000 Trades opened in June 2016, and going into business has to be one of the most rewarding and distressing things a person can do. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m in the bar every day,” says John.
“The appetite to do something new in the Jewellery Quarter is huge, and we’ve been able to work with other businesses in the city to make that happen,” Jonathan adds. “We offer craft beers and natural wine, and our kitchen has seen residencies from businesses that have gone on to make a name for themselves and open their own restaurants.”
“For a bar we do a lot of activities and events, but making sure we communicate everything that we’re doing effectively can be a challenge. There’s so much more to it than just pouring drinks. Seeking out and ordering beer is one of the best bits. Taking care of beer can be temperamental at times, but we’re very proud of what we serve. If a bar gets a reputation for serving bad pints, it’s hard to recover, so we have to take extra care with that.”
The People Shop
50 Poplar Rd, B14 7AG
“My husband Christian and I have been in business for 18 and a half years in Kings Heath, but we made and sold our clothes for ten years before that on the Birmingham Rag Market. We don’t have any employees, it’s just the two of us and our son Milo helping out – it’s a family thing.”
“Being in business is tough going, especially for shops like ours, selling clothing, homeware, gifts and more. It’s hard to compete with the big boys and difficult to compete with the internet. We have to work twice as hard to get people through the door. We get really lovely customers though, and that’s one of the very best bits about it.”
“Independent bars and restaurants are absolutely smashing it at the moment, but the same can’t be said about shops. We’re fewer and further between, so it’s hard to create a scene.”
“If you come in the shop you can hear the sewing machine going as Christian makes our clothes right there. It’s quite old fashioned, a traditional way of doing business, and we love that – so do our customers, who have been coming for years, seeing our children grow up. We love our local community, and customers have become friends – you can’t get that online.”
The Barber House
102 Colmore Row, B3 3AG
“The Barber House has been on Colmore Row for four years, but I’ve been in the business for 23. Setting up in the city centre was intimidating – I worried we wouldn’t be good enough for the city centre, but we are.There are 11 of us now, from apprentice level to senior guys. It’s a great team – I couldn’t do it on my own, they’re my extended family. We deliver a high end service, which we felt was missing in the city when we came here.”
“We give an experience, hot towel close shaves, beard sculptures and more in a relaxing space. There’s somewhere for men to come now to get away from the stress of the day. We offer a shoe shine, a complimentary beer or whisky and some time being pampered and looked after. Pressure is on to keep a high standard. Social media can be your best friend or your worst enemy – anyone can write a review to say you’re not as good as you know you are, and that’s a challenge. There are more barber shops in the city now too, but we’re proud of the job we’re doing.”
“I’ve been making hot sauce for five years with my partner Matt Speer, in the kitchen at the Hare and Hounds and now at home in Kings Heath. It all began when we were having lunch at The Plough in Harborne. There was no hot sauce, so I was moaning. I began making my own, giving away little jars as gifts and asking people for feedback.”
“The next time I went to The Plough I took a bottle with me. The waiter spotted it, took it out the back and the next thing I know, the boss Adam was asking me for 128 bottles. Since then, we’ve won a number of awards, including our third Great Taste Award – our second two-star award. We’ve had the chance to go into supermarkets, but we want to make it ourselves in Birmingham. We’re proud of it.”
“You can find Pip’s Hot Sauce in loads of independents across the city now and we ship to customers all over the world.”
“There’s a worry that we may run into a problem with the import of chillies and peppers, but we just take it as it comes. Our biggest challenge at the moment is keeping up with demand – we make thousands of bottles a week.”