'The Next Big Thing?' is a series of blogs that will focus on small businesses and start-up brands in the UK. Whether they are quirky, practical, pioneering or downright bizarre, this blog will shine the spotlight on what could be the next big thing...
So far, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games have been a resounding success. Indeed pollsters are almost gleeful at the optimism surrounding London 2012. On Sunday, YouGov report that 'most polls of the British public are a litany of grumble and complaint... people's opinion on the Olympics is almost unremittingly positive'. And the proof of this? 71% of people now think the Games will be a success and 69% think they are lifting people's spirits.
The British public are definitely embracing London 2012, with the UK media fuelling the frenzy with some spectacular reporting (YouGov also found that 87% of people who are watching at least some of the Games say the BBC has done a good job in covering it). What's more, big brands - especially the major sponsors like Coca Cola, Visa, Adidas etc. - are reaping the rewards from their involvement, even if the restrictions around branding are somewhat outlandish (spare a thought for the owner of D. Olympics Hair Salon, close to the Olympic Park in Stratford, who was forced to change her business' name by LOCOG).
But what are British SMEs feeling about the Games? Has the same Olympic jubilation helped small businesses with their bottom line?
The honest answer is probably yes and no, with mixed fortunes for small businesses from the Games. A recent study by the Executive Offices Group found that only 11% of small business owners anticipated financial benefits arising from the Olympics in the short term, with 75.6% saying they would have no impact. Take our city centres - although shoppers on the High Street have dropped, large shopping centres (those with big screens in particular) have managed to draw in more customers. And whereas London's theatreland is unseasonably quiet, visitors to cities like Glasgow (where Olympic football fixtures have been taking place) have risen significantly.
One thing's for certain - there are innovative small businesses that have found ways to benefit from the Games, including those who will gain from the millions of visitors to the UK, those who use London 2012 as an opportunity to cement international relationships, and those who ride the wave of British patriotism and use their 'Made In Britain' tag to their advantage.
One organisation that has been supporting enterprising businesses during the Olympics is StartUp Britain, a national campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. StartUp Britain chose to launch their new initiative, called 'StartUp High Street' just before the Olympics kicked off.
Emma Jones, co-founder of StartUp Britain, said: "One element of StartUp High Street is called 'PopUp Britain', where start-up businesses have a unique, low-cost opportunity to experience life on the High Street on a rolling two-week basis. With a pilot store in Richmond, six start-ups businesses were able to set up temporary shop for a two-week period, and enjoy larger-than-life crowds from both the Olympic Torch Relay and Olympic cycling races. As they were selling British-based products, sales were really strong. We're confident that this success can be emulated across the UK, as desire for British brands continues to grow beyond the Games".
Vulpine, a new cycling apparel brand and one of the first six start-ups involved in the project, was definitely in the right place at the right time - the epicentre of the British cycling Olympic experience. Founder Nick Hussey said: "Being in Richmond has been ideal because it is one of the densest epicentres of keen cyclists in the UK. The Olympics, along with Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France victory, has been extraordinary for us. Online sales have tripled, and subsequent interviews on TV, radio and print have increased our profile enormously."
StartUp Britain has further capitalised on Olympic sentiment by helping to organise 'The Start-Up Games', recently announced by No. 10. The project will bring together technology start-ups from all over the world to compete, in the spirit of The Games, for the prestige and PR of being recognised as one of the high growth companies of the future, with the ultimate aim being to give a boost to London's Tech City.
So yes, the branding rules are strict. And yes, people's attentions have been more focused on their TVs than shop windows. But small businesses can - and have - used the Games to their advantage. BrandGB is a powerful thing; so let's use it both now and beyond London 2012.
Alex Perry works at consumer PR and brand marketing agency Be More
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