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Courier produces useful, inspiring content for modern entrepreneurs. Our Friday newsletter features stories on working better and living smarter.
Friday 31st July

This week we launched our annual Design Issue – packed with stories, case studies, how-tos and inspiration for making it work as a creative business – plus our latest Workshop podcast and newsletter, all about nailing your tone of voice. Below, we consider a way to bring your barber to your apartment block, show how to measure your product's carbon footprint without consultants (or software), and ask if this is the year for playful brands...

Recent months have seen the rise of hyper-local shopping. According to data from Kantar, sales at small independent grocers in the UK were 69% higher in the month to June this year than last year. Surveys from Nielsen back this up – 25% of shoppers say they visit their local convenience store more now than before the pandemic.

But, of course, not all local businesses have benefited. Small grocers, cafes, corner stores and others with the misfortune of being located where footfall has dropped dramatically, such as areas of a city with lots of shuttered offices, have suffered. We heard from a barbershop owner in central London who saw a surge in custom after lockdown lifted, but who’s now seeing revenue at 20% the normal level. The reason? Two large office buildings down the road accounted for a huge proportion of customers – and they’re currently closed.

As a solution, some new businesses are deliberately following people where they live. Last week we profiled ARC, a co-working company riding the wave of working near home – it’s opening locations in residential neighbourhoods. But how can a shop or service-based business take advantage of this idea?

A clever concept we came across via Neil Heller, an urban planner in Portland, are ACUs, or ‘accessory commercial units’. It’s the commercial equivalent of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), a self-contained structure or annex on a residential property often used as an office or guest apartment. An ACU can be a storefront tucked under an apartment block, a tiny standalone shop on the property of a residence, or a basement retail space below a brownstone. Basically, a neighbourhood-friendly ‘hole in the wall’. They can house everything from a bike shop to a tattoo parlour or insurance office.

Heller lays out some of the reasons why ACUs are an interesting option for small businesses (and small developers) in the post-Covid era.

Back in April, we predicted that booze-free drink brand GHIA was set to take off – before it even launched. Lockdown-drinking aside, consumers have been slowly reducing their alcohol intake, and as a result the low-to-no alcohol market is booming.

Founded by French-born, Los Angeles-based Mélanie Masarin, formerly head of retail and offline experiences at DTC beauty brand Glossier, GHIA has now launched – after a few starts and stops. As Melanie told us on today’s episode of the podcast, she and her team were supposed to launch the brand on 1st April with a restaurant-focused approach, but ‘all the restaurants in the world closed down two weeks before that – so that was very challenging.’ A series of operational challenges then caused further delay:

‘Our bottles got stuck in Italy. Our factories then started making hand sanitiser so we couldn't produce. Some of our extracts got stuck in different places. We couldn't develop our second formula because a specific spice that we'd been sourcing for a long time came from Wuhan! All of these things you can’t invent...'

Mélanie explains how she got the brand off the ground – and what she learned.

The design industry, like most industries, has a huge diversity problem. In a survey of 9,429 designers in the US, 71% of the respondents were white, 9% Asian, and only 3% were Black. The design workforce in the UK, meanwhile, is marginally more ethnically diverse than the wider UK economy – 13% BAME as opposed to 11% – but as this report states, ‘BAME designers are least likely to be in senior roles, accounting for only 12% of all design managers.’

We recently caught up with Mitzi Okou, an interaction designer at HP, who launched ‘Where are the Black designers?’ – a project aiming to give a platform to creatives of colour. It kicked off in June with a virtual conference which you can watch here and has now launched a Slack community to keep it going year-round. Read our chat with Mitzi, along with our interview with British-Nigerian fashion designer and illustrator Tolu Coker, our latest cover star.

With climate moving to the top of many sustainability agendas, calculating a company's carbon footprint and offsetting it is becoming a bit of a table stakes exercise. Until recently, brands keen to understand their emissions could either buy fancy software or hire a consultant to conduct a thorough, technical – and expensive – life-cycle assessment of their products. Or they could use an online tool to get to a basic estimate based on their annual revenue or high-level information about their offering.

Enter Doconomy. The Swedish sustainability startup recently launched a free ‘2030 Calculator’ to help brands quickly get to a useful estimate of their products’ carbon footprint, using the weight and material of each product component. Right now the tool is optimised for apparel brands but it will soon expand to support calculation of food, furniture and consumer electronic footprints as well.

And finally, Interbrand has released its annual list of this year's 30 breakthrough brands. The consultancy studies hundreds of brands with growing momentum and buzz to read the proverbial tea leaves and try to work out any common trends or themes. This year’s list – in a time of gloom and doom – oddly has a common theme of positivity and playfulness. The report’s authors say this was influenced by three big factors: ‘(1) the need to be responsive and witty on social media, (2) a requirement to be authentic and speak as humans – not as corporate machines and (3) the positive zeitgeist of an (until recently) up-and-up economy.’ Below are some of the themes along with brands on the rise.

Playfulness. This year there was a strong emphasis on brands with fun, optimistic and joyful personalities and tone of voice on social media and beyond. Great examples include Redwood City-based Impossible Foods, which sells plant-based meat substitutes with a colourful palate and a loud voice; Malmö-based Oatly, known for its excited punctuation and irreverent, self-aware slogans; and New York-based Gen Z makeup brand Milk, which uses fun space-age package design and out-there ingredients like ‘meteorite’ powder.

Community. As we become more physically distanced, brands are trying to create their own communities and provide real ways people can connect with each other. Some are serving subcultures like New York-based smart betting platform Action Network for sports fans and Detroit’s Stock X for trainers and streetwear obsessives. Others like home fitness company Mirror are creating community through built-in interactive options like sharing your name and location with those in your class.

Corporate sustainability. New brands are popping up to help big corporations meet their ethical and sustainability commitments. Trenton-based eco-friendly packaging company Loop is helping bigger brands create a reusable packaging process where customers buy it, use it, ship it and get it back. Meanwhile, electric vehicle firm Rivian is helping Amazon become more sustainable by providing more environmentally-friendly delivery trucks. These are symbiotic wins for all the brands involved.

1. The rise and fall of a billion-dollar jewellery empire.

2. Why your business can’t beat Amazon – but there’s still a way to coexist.

3. More innovation in the art startup market.

4. Italic launches with an interesting business model.

5. Passion doesn’t have to mean constant stress.

6. How Oatly got really, really big.

7. What’s your company’s long-term remote work plan?

8. How startups make money with subscription pricing.

9. What's a ‘negative cash conversion cycle'?

10. And now you can swap windows with someone.

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