Look Beyond London: Running a business in Bristol

13 min read

24 August 2017

Former deputy editor

For our Look Beyond London this month, we’ve taken a trip to the south west to find out how entrepreneurs feel about running a business in Bristol, hearing about everything from nurseries to burgers.

Last month we introduced Look Beyond London, a new feature that recognises entrepreneurial talent can be found across the UK and not just in the capital, which kicked off with a look at Leeds – now we move onto doing business in Bristol.

Real Business attended the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this month, invited by Webgains, a London-based affiliate marketing company that also operates the business in Bristol.

We heard from members of the team just how the southwest location is ripe with technical talent, as well as youngsters eager to learn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it isn’t just SMEs that have a taste for the area – Amazon will do business in Bristol with a new warehouse that will recruit some 1,000 staff members in roles spanning HR, engineering, IT and management.

“There are several factors we consider when deciding on where to place a new fulfilment centre, and Bristol offers fantastic infrastructure and talented local people who we look forward to joining the Amazon team,” said Stefano Perego, Amazon’s director of UK customer fulfilment.

Speaking with Real Business about why Webgains was launched in Bristol, CEO Richard Dennys said the city is becoming the new London.

“It is a vibrant city with less crowding and we see a lot of young talent come over from London who want the same vibe with less chaos. We have found that it is becoming hub for talented people, in particular for us in the digital marketing sector,” he detailed, noting staff with various skills have been found without issue.

Dennys continued: “It is a city of fresh ideas and full of creative individuals so it is a positive environment for a business in particular one which is forward thinking. As Bristol is vastly being developed and growing it is perfect for businesses which is also growing and expanding.”

Helpfully, business in Bristol is made more convenient with an entrepreneurial spirit in Webgain’s office, which is shared alongside other digital SMEs – a trend he expects to continue.

“Bristol is accessible in many ways, from a location perspective to business attitude. There are many collaborations and partnerships as a result of this. It is also less crowded and chaotic which in turn creates a more relaxed atmosphere to do business in,” he said.

In terms of changes to business in Bristol though, he would like to see more London firms embracing the city and called for more events to meet contacts.

“This month, we hosted an event at the Balloon Fiesta to showcase all our partners the Bristol spirit, which was a great networking opportunity.”

Business in Bristol

“There’s still more opportunity in Bristol for businesses that understand what life with a job and young children is like”

Changing sectors now we move into childcare, speaking with Helen Nott, the co-founder and CEO of Charlton Nursery. As a native of the area, doing business in Bristol was something of a no-brainer, she explained.

“Bristol has always been my family home and I am very settled here in this wonderful city. I had struggled to find great early years childcare for my two sons and realised there was a need for quality children’s nurseries in Bristol,” Nott shared.

“I launched Charlton Nursery in 2004, initially in Wraxall and then opened two further nurseries in Flax Bourton and at Winterstoke Road in Bristol.”

Referring to Bristol’s enterprise environment as “fantastic”, she highlighted the accessible links into the city and neighbouring towns, essentially making it convenient for staff, whether they live in or out of town.

“It has a good mix of vibrant city life and ‘on the doorstep’ countryside, which provides a good focus for work-life balance. Bristol also has so many talented people for employment and Charlton Nursery is able to recruit really high quality people, who are enthusiastic to work in early years education and nursery provision.”

With nurseries in both the countryside and city, Nott noted that contact with working parents across Bristol can offer valuable insights and feedback.

“Bristol has always had a supportive culture – it feels like a close-knit city, so that whilst there is healthy competition, there is also a sense of support,” she said. “There are great local networks, formal and informal, and we don’t need to look outside the city for anything.

“There’s lots of opportunity witnessed by the brilliant range of startup companies and entrepreneurs who base themselves here.”

Adding desired changes, Nott said that her enterprise has allowed her to see that many local companies still don’t understand flexibility and work-life balance.

“There’s still more opportunity in Bristol for businesses that understand what life with a job and young children is like, and design roles that are sensitive to the family’s needs,” she opined.

On the next page, find out why this winner of The Apprentice decided business in Bristol was the way forward, and read about the burger business that went from Bristol to Cardiff and back again.

The Apprentice winner Mark Wright is the founder of digital marketing company Climb Online, and it was in 2016 that he decided to open the business in Bristol with a dedicated office.

“The overarching growth strategy for Climb Online is to expand into key locations across the UK and overseas. After some initial research, we found Bristol to be one of the UK’s most vibrant and successful cities for both established and startup businesses and therefore felt it would provide real potential as an out-of-London office location,” Wright told Real Business.

“The Bristol office opened at the end of October 2016 and has so far has surpassed growth expectation. 

“Bristol and the south west is an exciting environment for growing a new business. From a digital marketing perspective, we are fortunate that there are so many startups and established businesses looking to grow, who are also open to collaborating with others.

Wright and the team have secured referrals from businesses in the city, which he believes shows a sense of genuine community, with SME owners looking out for each other.

“Bristol is a vibrant place that boasts a real entrepreneurial spirit – as such, the city is home to a vast range of startups and established SMEs, hungry for peer-to-peer engagement and business growth,” he explained.

Business in Bristol

Climb Online has found a great deal of local entrepreneurs are young

“This demonstrated by the fact Climb Online Bristol has such a mix of clients, many of which are younger business owners setting up their first venture – with Bristol very much their ‘entrepreneurial playground’.

He went on to highlight “excellent” transport links that cost a fraction of travel in London and added the entrepreneurs appear more dedicated.

“What’s more, there is a better and perhaps more dedicated business community, who attend regular business-related events and offer peer support with growth and development,” he said, but insisted there are still improvements, such as openness, to be found.

“For every business owner that is open-minded and willing to collaborate with others, there are still many which aren’t,” Wright revealed.

“Climb Online Bristol boasts some great examples of collaboration where all parties win – but, ultimately, there are a vast number businesses that remain set in their ways and/or existing processes, which in turn is affecting their growth.

Next, we talked with Rory Perriment, who is hoping to make the city tastier than ever with the launch of Burger Theory.

He and his co-founders chose to do business in Bristol for its street food scene, which he called “bustling”, providing opportunities for vendors.

“It’s an exciting environment, and to launch our first restaurant in the UK’s food capital was a brilliant opportunity,” Perriment said. “With our street food side of the business, we’ve worked across the UK in a variety of locations, but no area quite has the buzz and opportunity of Bristol.”

Business in Bristol Burger Theory

Stiff competition keeps Burger Theory innovating

Despite that opportunity, running a food business is competitive, he detailed, but that just encourages the team to work even harder.

“It drives us to keep innovating and to provide the best service to our customers, and also encourages us to be experimental in the food we make. Bristol is great place for a new business to grow,” Perriment said.

“Everyone is very supportive of each other in the Bristol business community, and through working on Burger Theory I have made lots of friends with other business owners.

“This creates a nice environment for new startup businesses and there’s a real sense that everyone wants to support each other to make the Bristol business scene prosper and thrive.”

Interestingly, the business started off in Bristol, but moved to Wales for a permanent fixture at Kongs in Cardiff, a bar complete with table tennis, arcade games, table football and, now, a Burger Theory kitchen.

“In December of last year, we moved into Kongs of Cardiff to run one of our kitchens on a permanent basis,” he said.

“As for London, Bristol has all of the action without the stress – business owners are happy to help one another and the community spirit is felt by our customers.

“It’s nice to be able to get to know our regulars and see an immediate reaction to our new products and techniques. There’s a buzzing food scene here in Bristol that we love being a part of.”

All of the leaders we spoke with clearly feel passionate about running a business in Bristol, regardless of whether they’ve been there since day one or expanded into the city. But where do you feel passionate about? Let us know which city or town you want to see for our next Look Beyond London via @Real_Business or Zen.Terrelonge@realbusiness.co.uk