We like pop ups at Can Do Places.

Pop up shops, pop up cafes, pop up restaurants, they all bring innovation and vitality to our towns, so we were really interested in a unique project aimed at revitalising Airdrie’s town centre and which has helped dozens of aspiring local entrepreneurs set up in business.

Very #scotlandcando !

Launched in September 2013, of the 28 clients who took up short term residences in The Shop@Starting Point in its first year to learn how to run a business, 25 are still trading.

Said Sandra Mackay, project manager of The Shop@Starting Point which is run by Town Centre Activities Ltd. (TCA) and funded by North Lanarkshire Council:

“There are lots of projects services that teach the basics of how to set up and run a business but as far as I know, we are unique in operating a retail unit that is open to the public and allows our clients a six-month period to test the market and trial their product before making any big decisions about how they want their business to develop.”

As well as being allocated a free space in The Shop, which is situated in the high street in Airdrie town centre, clients receive a training package covering everything from business planning to marketing which is also free.

Sandra whose own retail experience includes 10 years at M&S, said that the original aim of the Starting Point project had been to get clients through the business start up process and out into their own retail unit at the end of just six months.

“But very early on” she explains “it was recognised that you can’t become a shop keeper in six months. So the remit was widened and became much more flexible. If I can help you get a business further along, then that is what we’re here to do. And if you can only come in a few days or afternoons a week, due to work or other commitments, than that’s fine.

“I’m hugely proud of the project and what we’ve achieved so far” said Sandra. “Looking at the 28 clients who came through Starting Point in its first year, 25 are still trading, either in a shop, on-line or at markets or craft fairs. Three decided a business wasn’t for them but, thanks to our project, they didn’t have to risk their life savings to find out.”

She added: “Four of our clients went into premises together and have already had to move into something bigger.

“Two new ‘graduates’ have just opened their own shop, having come to us with a great product but no idea how to sell it or what they should call the business.

“Another client is ready to move on and into her own premises, having built up her brand and her customer base since joining Starting Point. But her search for the right place is taking a little longer than usual because she knows just what she wants and isn’t prepared to compromise.”

Clients who decide to take the leap into commercial premises can get help from TCA with lease negotiations. And once the lease is signed, they can also apply for a £1000 (one thousand) start up grant.

But Sandra admits that working with aspiring entrepreneurs can be frustrating at times – especially the more creative ones. She said:

“It can be a struggle sometimes to convince clients of the need to follow a certain path if you want to build your business and make it a success, because there are certain basic things you need to do.

“For instance, pricing is often a problem, with people reluctant to factor in the time it takes them to make their product because they think it will make it too expensive.

“Social media is hugely important for businesses but that’s another issue that some clients have difficulty taking on board. We point out that a Facebook page is free advertising. Business cards which don’t have to be expensive, are another basic, not just for prospective customers but for business-to-business connections.”