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Elevating your high street

The Retail Champion challenges independent retailers to actively engage with BIDs.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are business-led partnerships which are created through a ballot process to deliver additional services to local businesses.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), “they can be a powerful tool for directly involving local businesses in local activities and allow the business community and local authorities to work together to improve the local trading environment.”

Evidence and feedback from around 270 UK BIDs proves that these partnerships really do make a difference to the businesses within their catchment area.

Yet still I hear some smaller, independent businesses talking about their concerns when a BID is proposed in their area. They fear it will be a waste of time and money, that the levy will cost far more than the value to them, and that it’s not relevant to them. I think this stems from a lack of understanding as to how a BID comes about, what it does, and who it is for.

So, before I explain why I wholly encourage smaller retailers to get actively involved with their BID, I’ll briefly explain how they come about and the potential costs.

A BID can be started by almost anyone with an interest in an area. Typically, a group of local people, with a common commitment to supporting local businesses, come together to create a BID. They would canvas opinion of as many local businesses as possible, and they would look at what “performance measures” need to be improved to benefit the businesses that trade there (e.g. increased footfall, increased sales, increased loyalty to the area).

Then they’d discuss how those measures can be impacted through various activities and projects. This is usually supplementary to, but in collaboration with, the local authority. The projects are then costed, the BID proposal becomes more like a business plan, and ultimately the proposal goes to ballot. All businesses within the catchment of the proposed BID are then invited to vote for it to be created, or not.

When a BID is approved through the ballot, all the businesses within the catchment become liable for a statutory BID levy. This usually varies according to the rateable value of the premises the business occupies.

This is where it gets interesting for independent retailers. Usually independents occupy smaller premises, with lower rateable values. Often BIDs charge a low, flat-fee to single-store retailers, but even if they charge a percentage of business rates, the lower the rates, the lower the contribution.

Of course, the largest contributions come from the businesses with the highest rateable values – typically the largest premises within the catchment – and these are usually retail chains. So, the majority of funds raised by the BID to deliver improvements for all local businesses comes from the bigger businesses.

To me, it’s a bit of a “no brainer” for smaller businesses to jump on the opportunity to either support or create a BID! While there may be a small cost due to the levy, the value each retailer is likely to derive from the BID will far outweigh the investment.

I’d urge every business owner to find out about BIDs proposed or running in their area, and to get involved. Check when they meet up, see if you can attend and contribute your ideas. BIDs need the active input of the businesses they are committed to supporting, so don’t hold back!

If you are passionate about your area, you could even offer to be part of the BID board or steering group. This is usually a group of local business representatives who help to define the purpose, direction and activities of the BID, and who ensure the BID management team (usually paid employees of the BID) are accountable for the delivery of the promises the BID made to its levy payers when it went to ballot.

The reality is that small businesses benefit a great deal from BIDs, so get involved if there is one in your area, and if not, then why not get a few people together and put the idea forward? When businesses in the community collaborate to improve performance the positive impact is shared by all.

But as with many things, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

Clare Bailey (formerly Clare Rayner) is Founder of The Retail Champion. A respected retail expert, she is in demand for all media and as a speaker on retail, high streets and consumer matters, and as a retail consultant.

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