Look Beyond London: Running a business in Sheffield

16 min read

21 December 2017

Former deputy editor

Our Look Beyond London series continues and this time around we’re observing what Sheffield offers entrepreneurs.

With Look Beyond London, we’ve spread ourselves across the UK so far, speaking with company directors in Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge, but now we’ve turned our attention to running a business in Sheffield.

Back in summer, it was highlighted by doing business in Sheffield brought about financial reward for the firms and employees. The job site’s research revealed that the city had experienced an 11.3 per cent year-on-year salary increase in June 2017 versus June 2016.

Sheffield came top of a top ten list, which saw Southampton in last place with 0.2 per cent salary growth.

Well-placed to know first-hand what doing business in Sheffield is like is Pennie Hudson-Ward, CEO of ArchformByte.

Explaining why her company was launched in the city, she said: “My father took a job at the University of Sheffield in the late 50s teaching orthodontics. He later started the business, which I eventually took over and developed.

“I was born and raised in Sheffield, so it made sense to keep the business there when I took it over. It was already working well, so I didn’t feel like I needed to change the location.”

Describing the business community in Sheffield as “great”, Hudson-Ward detailed that support is readily available to companies whether they’re just starting or scaling.

“Business Sheffield has been brilliant in supporting us,” she said. “They are a great link, and give advice and contacts for anything from marketing, IT through to introductions to the DIT for exporting.

“We have also worked with the Sheffield City Region team for advice on availability of grants for projects to grow the business, which has been a huge support.”

Doing business in Sheffield has the added benefit of lower costs, so operating in the capital isn’t of interest to the company.

“We couldn’t run our business as cost effectively as we do if we had to pay for premises in London on top of the day to day running costs of manufacturing,” reasoned Hudson-Ward.

“We’re lucky, because we are a national business and supply to dentists across the country, so we can be based anywhere, and this allows us to take advantage of the cheaper overheads by being based in Sheffield.

“The cost of living is lower in Sheffield too, so homes are affordable for our young team and it’s easier to achieve a good work life balance than it would if the business was based in the capital, all of which is important to us.”

She highlighted that Sheffield is geographically sound and called for it to be the UK’s manufacturing and business hub, but said other northern cities are stealing its thunder. As a result, she suggested more should be done to promote brand Sheffield.

“Sheffield should invest in better infrastructure, improving our roads and rail links, and a good airport to really put Sheffield on the map. This would make it easier for us to export and make deliveries faster and more efficiently,” said Hudson-Ward.

“Sheffield must also invest in better superfast internet access in the area, if we want to compete with the best in the world, we must have fast and reliable broadband.”

Business in Sheffield

“What makes Sheffield special is that it has a great community feel to it, which you don’t find in other big cities”

American entrepreneur Koreen Clements, co-founder of Hot Yoga Sheffield, said it was family ties that kept her in Sheffield rather than being born there.

“My business partner Anne-Marie and myself – we’re both North American. Anne Marie hails from New York and I’m from Canada, but we love the city and our English husbands attended university in Sheffield and ended up staying,” she detailed.

“It was the right time and the right place because hot yoga, which is where you practice yoga in a room at 30-40 ºC, has been popular for quite a while in North America and in bigger cities like London, but we wanted to bring the new trend to Sheffield.”

The concept of the exercise is that the heat allows participants to warm up quickly, allowing them to get more flexible, while meditative breathing techniques are also taught. Clements noted that the active and lively nature of city inhabitants would make Hot Yoga Sheffield a success.

In terms of why doing business in Sheffield has been so ideal, she added: “Seriously, I think some of the best people on the planet live here. We received a lot of help from people across the city and had financial support from The Start Up Loans Company, which allowed us to bring Hot Yoga Sheffield to life.

“What makes Sheffield special is that it has a great community feel to it, which you don’t find in other big cities. People are incredibly friendly and having two universities in the city gives a great boost to our customer base. You always see new businesses popping up in the local area, and everyone is keen to support them which makes a huge difference.

“They’re also always ready to try something new, which is why when we started Hot Yoga we had so many people wanting to have a go. Without that welcoming and adventurous spirit, our business wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Doing business in Sheffield is also attractive to but one thing is that Sheffield is more accessible for entrepreneurs that want to achieve growth.

“We’ve just opened our second studio in the city, so having access to affordable and reasonable rent is crucial for growing the business. Starting up outside of London has probably given us a lot more opportunities to expand than we would have had otherwise,” said Clements.

One such opportunity has been the ability to encourage a loyal base of customers, with regulars attending frequently, allowing the co-founders to get to know clients well. In turn, that helps with word of mouth.

Echoing Hudson-Ward’s sentiments, brand Sheffield needs to be nurtured to help attract other customers, according to Clements, who said: “We need to build the city’s reputation as a start-up hub in the North of England, which would encourage more business investment in the area.”

Continue on the next page as we hear from the Jonas Hotel and catering business PJ Taste about running a business in Sheffield.

Next, we heard from the Jonas Hotel about doing business in Sheffield. We spoke with Steve Timmins, business development manager for UNICUS at The University of Sheffield, who oversees Jonas.

“The Jonas Hotel is the latest addition to the commercial enterprise based at The University of Sheffield under the auspices of Unicus, the wholly owned business of the university & therefore it was natural for the hotel to be conceived & developed for the city,” said Timmins of the hotel’s introduction to Sheffield.

“The hotel complements the existing 38-bedroom boutique-styled Halifax Hall Hotel & Student accommodation. Sheffield City Region has a population of over 1.5m & with both universities providing 60,000 students, Sheffield enjoys a burgeoning accommodation renaissance. 

“The Jonas Hotel provides a hybrid of communal, home-from-home comfort, fun, recreation, & study for everybody in a truly diverse environment.”

Offering some figures to support doing business in Sheffield, Timmins detailed that commercial developments in the Sheffield City Region rose 73 per cent in the year ended March 2017. There were also 46 investments in the region during that period, resulting in 2,300 new jobs.

“In the last year supercar maker McLaren invested in research & production at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (owned by The University of Sheffield) & Singapore company Metro Holdings investing in the Acero building on the Sheffield Digital Campus,” Timmins said.

“The top five projects were the £75m Hitachi Maintenance development; IKEA’s £60m facility; the £50m McLaren site; Ferdinand Bilstein’s £38m distribution centre & Amazon’s latest Doncaster site which cost £25m all within Sheffield City Region.

“Sheffield City Region has acknowledged the need to develop & today is a base for advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, world-leading universities, a recognition of the need to augment Chinese relationships along with a hugely entrepreneurial workforce.

“Prime examples of developments include Sumo Group, the Sheffield-based independent game developer, announcing its £145m AIM listing on 18 December, while a partnership agreement between Sheffield City Council and the Chinese-led Sichaun Guodong is the biggest deal for any city outside London, with the first three years’ worth more than £200m to the city and will see major investment in Sheffield.”

As for what would make doing business in Sheffield more desirable, Timmins said connectivity to the wider Northern Powerhouse with a high-speed rail line will be the answer to grant fast access to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull. Inspiration could be taken from London also, with integrated travel offering movement across different types of transport, he said.

“Further emphasis & delivery on a revised proposal for a Trans-Pennine Tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester will also facilitate the fundamental ease of transportation for business,” he continued.

“The proposed tunnel would be shorter than the 20 mile versions previously proposed and include upgrades to the Woodhead Pass and new roads links east of Sheffield to avoid congestion.

“Sheffield is a hugely entrepreneurial city; we need the infrastructure to help us go from strength-to-strength.”

Business in Sheffield

“We always work to the maxim that you are only as good as your last meal and aim to do things better today than we did yesterday”

Meanwhile, Peter Moulam, founding partner of catering business PJ Taste launched the business in Sheffield despite not originating from there.

“Not originally from Sheffield but very much calling it home after University (as many people do) along with a good understanding of the catering market locally were key drivers in the decision to set up in Sheffield,” he said.

Additionally, Moulam saw a market gap back in 2006 to open a café that specialised in sustainable food sourced locally, but admitted food and drink in the city has evolved considerably since.

“Once up and running we did feel well supported particularly by our customers but also government agencies in the form of advice, training and some financial support for upgrading equipment after a year via Yorkshire Forward,” Moulam added.

“More recently Business Sheffield has facilitated mentoring and inspiring networking with Sheffield small business champions Andy Hanselman Consulting. The key was getting to first base.

Moulam recalled how tricky it was to get taken seriously before the first premises was secured, but said it taught them a valuable lesson.

“The learning point was to be absolutely and completely resolute in our convictions to keep going and overcome all the barriers which were placed in our way. It’s certainly much easier now!” he said.

Doing business in Sheffield is made easier by the fact the city isn’t as developed as somewhere like London, which means PJ Taste can keep innovating.

“We always work to the maxim that you are only as good as your last meal and aim to do things better today than we did yesterday,” Moulam continued.

Two universities in the city means that there’s no end of staff seeking quality food, while students are often on the lookout for work.

“Add to this Sheffield as the Outdoor City has continued to offer a playground for us adventurous spirits with rock climbing, mountain biking and plenty of foraging opportunities on our doorstep!” declared Moulam.

“Given our experience of the difficulties in initially starting up, I feel that public agencies should concentrate in this area. As a retail business securing premises was key, but landlords will naturally prioritise existing larger business when there is competition for vacant sites.

With a strong business plan and sensible funding in place perhaps a better way could be found to help new starters over this initial hurdle.