Brighton is a city of epithets. There’s bohemian Brighton, gay Brighton, touristy Brighton, high-tech Brighton. But what of business Brighton? Is so-called ‘Silicon Beach’ a shiny commercial, high-tech gem of the South coast, or is Brighton merely the seat of significant retired – and tired! – wealth?
Last year I did some work to analyse the true nature of the business demographics of Brighton and its environs, and it led to some interesting findings. With 94% of operations in the city being parentless, Brighton is certainly a bastion of the independents. This puts it 7% above the national average and is in marked contrast to, say, Crawley which has 10% fewer independents than Brighton.
Confirming Brighton’s reputation as a creative hot-house, a 2015 Centre for Cities survey stated: “Brighton has the highest proportion of SMEs in the creative industries relative to the size of the city’s total SME base, with one in eight SMEs operating in the sector.”
The ‘Silicon Beach’ label certainly seems to be justified as almost a quarter of all these businesses are in the high-tech sector. This is an enormous proportion - six times the national average! Many of these make up the high share – 14% compared to 9% nationally – of ‘fast growth’ companies in the city.
More than 8.5 million tourists, who plough around £800m annually into the local economy, support a huge swathe of hotel and leisure businesses. Thousands of independent shops, retailers and B&Bs make up a very big proportion of the smaller business community.
Also really notable is the size of these small businesses. Brighton businesses, on the whole, are very small. It’s estimated that 85% of them are ‘micro’ businesses – that is to say they have nine or fewer employees. Of course, when you look across the demographic of any significant city, there will always be a raft of smaller businesses, but it’s particularly true of Brighton – by some margin. 75% of Brighton businesses have a turnover below £1m – that’s 15% points above the national average.
But Brighton is also a city that doesn’t get its fair share of larger businesses. In fact I can find only a couple of private companies that employ more than 250 people. To put this into context, Crawley has five times the number of £100m-plus turnover businesses within its borders. Having said that, 50% of employment is generated by businesses with more than 50 employees and there is a rich stream of 280- 300 medium-sized businesses. And, of course, the public sector is a big local employer.
Hemmed in by the South Downs, one could even argue that it’s only half a territory – given that the English Channel is the other half! It doesn’t really have any sizeable industrial estates and there’s very little room for manufacturing businesses to be established.
Indeed, it has half the national average number of these. But ‘there is money in them thar hills!’. You only have to drive around the outskirts of Brighton and Hove to witness the concentration of HNWIs (high net worth individuals) who have established themselves in the area, many of whom have settled down from London/Gatwick where they have other business interests.
So what does all this mean…?
• It means there is intense competition to service the city’s medium-sized businesses, requiring sharply crafted and smart business development strategies designed to land the more promising ones.
• The established wealth in the area is an opportunity for professional services – but again this is a crowded sector with many sharp elbowed players seeking out their share. Perhaps acquisition might be the best play here.
• Penetration of the rich seam of fast-growth, high-tech stars requires a compelling sector strategy that demonstrates track record and an understanding of the issues they face. Solutions need to chime with their own often innovative and progressive ethos.
• The great swathe of micro-businesses are likely to be looking for solutions and products that can be easily adopted with flexibility around their commitment over time. They are likely to respond to laboursaving high-tech solutions that are scalable as they develop – but very low perceived cost.
There are some lucrative markets in Brighton, but they require cunning business development and marketing strategies. If your target market consists of larger, perhaps international players, then look north to the Gatwick Business Diamond. But then again, this is also a complex mixed bag requiring its own analysis which, incidentally, I have also done and would be happy to discuss.
If you are reflecting on your own approach, it might be a good idea to get an outside perspective on the best way forward. I and my colleagues at EMC have carried out literally thousands of projects over the years, helping small business owners to refine and improve their business development and marketing plans.
Give us a call on 01273 945984 to arrange a free no-obligation discussion about how we might be able to help to make ‘Silicon Beach’ work for you.
EMC is headquartered at Rochester House, Rochester Gardens, Hove BN3 3AW.
Tel: 01273 945984. www.emcltd.co.uk