Creative Enterprise students from Burnside Business and Enterprise College took part in a thought-provoking day of visits and talks from local businesses in Whitley Bay for day one of the TICE create stage. With coffees at the ready, we began our day at Olives at the Station Bar & Restaurant with a briefing from Jennifer Barrett (Founder and Managing Director of TICE, Fashion and Enterprise Mentor) and TICE enterprise mentor Lee Casey about the day ahead and the preparations for the students projects, where they will create marketing plans to be presented at a final showcase. The marketing briefs themselves fit into two categories, menswear and community projects aimed at teenagers, with the day’s agenda taking us to relevant local retailers and community venues.

Our first stop was the family-run business Pirate Escape, which hosts pirate themed escape rooms and Virtual Reality (VR) rooms, as an example of a niche market specific to the community, with even the pirate theme taking inspiration from Whitley Bay’s seafront. We were lucky enough to have a one-hour session in one of the three escape rooms, ‘The Brigg’, where we split into prisoners and rescuers to complete a series of complex puzzles and tasks to escape. Though the escape room was a challenge for all, we made it out just in the nick of time at 59.55 seconds! Andrew Simms, co-owner of Pirate Escape, gave an engaging talk about the creation of the business with his brothers based on their disappointment with other escape rooms without a solid theme. Impressively, the owners create all the puzzles from scratch in such a way that diverse groups can access the rooms, including not only adults, but also family parties. To further diversify and utilise their vast venue, they have a Virtual Reality room that has a variety of games to attract visitors who may not want to access the escape rooms. The students learned how the business initially used Groupon as their marketing tool, now relying on Facebook as a highly effective method of promotion, as they take pictures of groups who take part in Pirate Escape and post them online. We all jumped at the chance to dress up and have a picture of our own!

The next stop on the day’s agenda was the menswear retailer, Hamiedog Menswear, owned by Scott Glazebrook. The shop currently boasts local designers as its unique selling point, including Bravesoul, Low Quay, Tri Xta and Longsands, with the latter brand currently making a bespoke Whitley Bay branded T-shirt. We chatted to Maz Glazebrook, Scott’s mother, who helped to renovate the smart store, whose shop front they continually rearrange to attract customers. The incorporation of local brands was said to have pushed their demographic to younger men and Scott is looking to diversify and move into ladieswear in the near future. Moreover, Maz gave us an in-depth insight into their marketing methods, with social media and their mailing lists being far more successful than the more traditional magazine advertisements, which they trialled. With this being said, they did favour the traditional leaflet drop as an effective tool locally, which they were currently co-ordinating to continue spreading the word about their new brands.

As a counterpoint to Hamiedog, we visited another menswear retailer, Mitchells Menswear, allowing the students to observe competition and different approaches in the area. The store is co-owned by husband and wife, Carl and Lisa Mitchell, who also own a well-established ladies wear shop in the area, Escape Boutique. Carl explained how the store had been able to build up a solid clientele in tandem with Escape using a loyalty point’s scheme. Mitchells’ has a high price point, but attracts customers using well-established brands such as Fred Perry and Lyle and Scott, alongside featuring a diverse range of stock including shoes, gifts and toiletries. It quickly became clear that the choice of brands is essential for menswear retailers, as no two local shops can have the same brand stamp. In terms of marketing, social media triumphed again as their method of choice, which crucially helped them to save money. Additionally, we learned how the shop interacted closely with the community, as their opening night collaborated with a street food vendor. In fact, all the businesses we visited were connected to each other and the community through the ‘Our Whitley Bay’ Campaign, set up by our very own mentor Lee, working to showcase and celebrate local businesses.

With community spirit in mind, we headed to Jam Jar Cinema where Dan Ellis, the Managing Director, welcomed us into his community cinema and provided an honest discussion of the trials and tribulations of setting up the business, as well as expressing his determination to keep it thriving. From having a drama background as a touring actor, to a completing a business masters degree, Dan did not expect to be a cinema owner, however after working part-time at the Whitley Bay Playhouse he noticed a gap in the market after many customers were seeking movie screenings locally. With an ironic humour and modesty, Dan explained how the cinema idea got far more ‘real’ after winning a business plan competition at university and later grant funding. From finding a venue, to adapting to the changing market and finding investment for costly equipment, it was far from plain sailing establishing Jam Jar. In Dan’s own words, the cinema’s strength lied in ‘diversifying the night-time economy’ of Whitley Bay, by providing a place to access the cinema without having the expense of travelling to the city. It was fascinating to hear Dan’s attitude to the intersections of community and business, ultimately wanting the cinema not be viewed as a community or charitable venue, but as a serious competitive cinema that also serves its community and good causes. Jam Jar have ultimately found their niche focusing on British film, prompted by work with the BFI, alongside Hollywood and Indy films.

We wrapped up the day with a visit to Evan’s Bistro, a new business venture by co-owners Gareth Bowden and Mark Spratt. As a chef, Mark’s passion for good quality food was a driving force behind the bistro, which serves ‘European food with a modern twist’. Initially a traditional restaurant, they quickly pivoted to a more casual atmosphere including a bar, a snug area for children and no time-limit on sit ins. Gareth gave us a warm welcome on the day and explained their ambitious plans to hold diverse functions, including live music and private hires. Moreover, as his fifth venture, Gareth was full of helpful insights for the students about running a business, including stressing the importance of the planning and researching stages, particularly when it comes to budgets. On marketing, he explained that they wanted things to develop organically, but again championed social media over traditional adverts.

In the relaxing atmosphere of the bistro, Lee took the opportunity to reflect on what we had seen and to discuss with the students about their initial thoughts for the marketing plans. Although all had been certain of choosing a menswear brief at the start of the day, one of the students was inspired to pick a community event. It was clear from each local business that social media was taking over traditional versions of marketing, potentially helping the students keep budgets down in their own plans. Moreover, by viewing niche markets and creative businesses, we were able to see the most innovative ideas coming to life in a viable way, which then inspired creative brainstorming for the first project ideas. Armed with this knowledge, the students were excited and ready to develop their ideas in day 2 of TICE Create!

Day two was based at Entrepreneurial Sparks Newcastle HQ, utilising their fabulous office and co-working space.  It’s a hub of inspirational talent supporting new start up businesses on their self-employment journey and perfect for developing the final project ideas.  Following an introduction to the day and recap of the briefs chosen it was straight down to a bit of business theory with Enterprise Mentor Lee and how to begin creating a marketing plan with a focus on Product, Price, Promotion and Place.  Ideas were brainstormed under the relevant headings and the time used to research each element through Internet searches and a lot of very constructive discussion.  Through this process the finer details of each project idea was pinned down including considering target markets, price points, promotional strategies and branding for how to best persuade a customer to buy the product or service.

For the afternoon session we joined a workshop by Alex of Storified Art.  Alex is based at Entrepreneurial Sparks with her new business, specialising in creating visual stories through art.  This workshop allows for people to create the vision statement for their business idea or new business in a very creative and colourful way and no drawing skills are necessary! Alex works through stages of questions and tasks as a group to tease out where peoples thought processes are at both personally and in thinking of their business idea.  Honing in the detail before taking pencil to paper as such.  The end result is a piece of framed art and clarification of a business idea, what a great and fun way to finish day two.

Day three saw the Creative Enterprise students meet at the Barbara Tang Teaching Centre within Newcastle University to pull together and complete their projects using the Photoshop software package.  Jennifer, TICE MD joined the session to pass on her fabulous Photoshop wizardry skills and guide the group through creating their final presentation boards.  Combining photographs and sourced images with the marketing information from the first two days and thinking of how best to combine the ideas visually and effectively using a range of techniques. Lee and Jen worked with the students over the course of the day on Photoshop and individually to finalise the ideas and complete the Creative Enterprise journey ahead of the final showcase at the Great North Museum.

Thank you to all the special guests and Burnside Business & Enterprise College for your involvement. We are so proud of our final three students. Check out their projects here: