Planning a start-up? Here’s your agenda for success (using my beloved Poundland to illustrate).

[Warning: this post employs a degree of flippancy to make some serious marketing points] 

A year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of setting foot inside any of the pound pleasure palaces. Then, I started working in Staines upon Thames – where there are two ‘price point’ retailers, Poundland and Poundworld, in the same short high street – and I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Since its inception in 1990, the main protagonist, Poundland, has become a multi-billion pound business, and although it’s frequently jeered at, one thing even the naysayers can’t discount is its pure entrepreneurial genius.

So, what did they have on their agenda that you should have on yours?

1. Get the proposition right.

At Poundland, the proposition is clear: every item costs a pound.

However, when I first arrived in Staines, the high street also boasted a third high-stacking cheap-selling outfit, called ‘98p+’. You can see what their thinking was: to seemingly undercut the pound-peddlers, while permitting themselves to charge exorbitant prices (such as £1.09) when they could get away with it.

A few months later, 98p+ went out of business, I believe because it aroused its target audience’s suspicions that they might get ripped off, albeit not too seriously. Pound-punters are a no-nonsense breed who need to know precisely where they stand on price. That little ‘+’ could have been 98p+’s undoing.

2. Start as you mean to go on.

This is something Poundland didn’t do when they started, and it led to prejudice which dogs them to this day. Prejudice that’s mooted by a colleague each time I return from the outlet. According to him, they only sell tat. Even if it says ‘Heinz’ on the tin, he postulates, am I not aware it’s foreign-sourced, and tastes odd?

He’s wrong, of course. These days, the quality is largely sound, and Poundland now boasts bespoke contracts with major brands in the UK, many of whom package lines especially for their stores.

3. In a crowded marketplace, concentrate on quality control above price.

On the face of it, there’s not much between the pound-peddlers (I sometimes quip about visiting each to compare prices).

However, I once had a couple of duff recordable CDs, and a pair of crackly earphones from Poundworld. There was something awkward about taking things that cheap back to the store, so I didn’t bother. But from then on, I’ve always given Poundland first shout for my business.

4. Always think things through.

A few weeks ago, there was a demonstration (quite literally) of what happens when you ignore this brand-essential, at the Wrexham branch of a ‘99p Store’. Despite their everyday low prices, 99p Store saw fit to run a half-price sale. But when they became inundated with customers, the store halted the event in a panic – much to those customers’ chagrin, especially as some of them were already in the checkout queue at the time.

It required the North Wales police to restore order, and all because the shop had not bothered to make it clear precisely when they were going to restore their prices back to 99p.

Any other business?

Well, always think laterally and do something unexpected to wrong-foot the competition.

For instance, I was meandering down the posh King’s Road the other day, and found myself thinking, ‘why not open a Poundland here?’ I don’t mean to stereotype, but affluent older consumers watch not just the pounds, but every single penny (which is how they became affluent in the first place).

All the pointers above may seem obvious, and a tad flip. However, they could mean the difference between desperately trying to keep your business afloat, and (as Poundland will be doing soon) floating on the stock exchange.


About Jeremy

Pop, rock and ballad vocalist to studio-quality backing tracks.
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