The Danish Executive Board for Business Development and Growth is extending a popular and effective European Social Fund project which has generated growth and optimism in the shopping streets of four municipalities in southern Fyn.
The business community in four southern Fyn municipalities is well aware of where there’s a ‘Skjern’ business tycoon behind the counter and where a shop is run by an enterprising type like ‘Agnes’.
These well-known characters from the Danish TV series ‘Matador’ are one of many effective tools used by the targeted Social Fund project called ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ to generate higher sales and more jobs in over 200 retail shops and other businesses in the high streets of Svendborg, Faaborg-Midtfyn, Ærø and Langeland.
The project’s effective methods have enabled many companies to engage in more and better e-commerce and digital marketing, and have developed individual, digital business models for businesses. The Danish Chamber of Commerce, which is part of the steering group, has described the project as ‘thorough and organised’ and the project is now receiving an extra DKK 4.7 million in support from the Danish Executive Board for Business Development and Growth’s COVID-19 pool.
From 206 to 256 companies
With this additional funding, the ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ project can be extended by a year until the end of 2021. It can thus reach a further 50 companies in the municipalities of Svendborg, Ærø, Langeland and Faaborg-Midtfyn, and at the same time extend the service it offers to the 206 companies and 266 employees already involved in the project. It is run by the municipality of Svendborg in partnership with the other three municipalities.
And more action is sorely needed because, after many weeks of lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, customers have developed new habits and new needs, says the project manager, Helge Padegaard.
‘Everyone is facing challenges as regards their business model and their bottom line, but many businesses have quickly adjusted to the new situation. They have revamped their business model, they have exciting online experiences to offer customers and can make money out of this. These changes have made them grow up very quickly, and we need to use the aid to step up some activities and cut down on others, so that the businesses can continue to be supported in their development,’ says Helge Padegaard.
He points to continuous, local-level one-to-one guidance from consultants, external expert mentors and networking activities as some of the main activities of the project.
Specific tools and customisation
Essentially, this project is about consultants working closely together with businesses on an individual action plan leading to a digital business model that includes digitisation, e-commerce and digital marketing, mainly on social media. The action is targeted and the plans are customised to the individual business.
‘It is absolutely vital for the project’s success that solutions are tailored to individual businesses. All companies have individual needs and they must be helped through individual solutions,’ says Helge Padegaard.
The ‘Matador’ archetypes are used as a systematic, simple tool for applying the approach that is right for the participants.
‘Many of the businesses we have in ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ are relatively cautious in their attitude, and therefore an atmosphere of trust and security is vital when discussing matters with them in order to foster development. Some may tend to be rather like Varnæs, the banker in ‘Matador’, preferring to keep things safe and traditional, but there should perhaps be more ‘Agnes’ self-starter types, who come with plenty of energy and constantly spot new opportunities,’ says Helge Padegaard, and explains that many of the participating companies have started from the bottom with developing their skills.
The project manager also points out that the COVID-19 crisis and the many shopping streets with one closed-down shop after another have shown us how important a strong commercial life is for our towns and cities and for the experience people have of the urban environment.
‘If you suck the commerce out of a town centre, then it has no appeal left, and it’s difficult to attract new inhabitants or to keep the current ones. Everything counts, and that is why this project involves all the high-street businesses present in a typical pedestrian street, including accountants, restaurants, dentists and physiotherapists, for example, because they are all part of the patchwork making up a town centre,’ says the project manager, Helge Padegaard.
The project has yielded good results: so far, 206 companies and 266 employees have generated DKK 30 million in additional turnover and created 14 new jobs. When the project is over in 18 months’ time or so, the additional turnover is expected to be DKK 46 million, with 46 new jobs having been created.
Køkkenfreak owners now more customer-focused
In Svendborg, Line and Martin Fischer had already started to market their kitchenware shop Køkkenfreak [Kitchen freak] on social media when they joined the project. Here they have benefited from the network with other traders and from collaborative projects with other businesses. And something important dawned on Martin Fischer in the course of the project:
‘It is all about customers and their wishes and needs — we need to think like them. We can no longer just sit in our shops during opening hours and have some good things to sell — we have to get out there and draw attention to ourselves. And you have to be where the customers are — especially on social media,’ says Martin Fischer, who has opted to reach customers by means of short video clips. The kitchenware couple now have more than 170 inventive YouTube videos on kitchen products under their belt which they use as advertising for both their high-street shop and their online shop. And they are becoming increasingly important in the retail sector.
‘It is essential to have a link between a physical store and an online shop, and this has become very noticeable since COVID-19. We saw it clearly in March, when we doubled our turnover in the online shop. It is an easier way of growing, as you can of course get new customers from all over the country,’ explains Martin Fischer.
One of the project’s key points is that companies are challenged to think commercially.
‘Operating a business has to be profitable. Good ideas are all very well, but they have to fit in with the business plan that has been drawn up. In particular, the answer to the question ‘Can you earn money from it?’ should be ‘yes’,’explains the project manager, Helge Padegaard.
‘And the approach works,’ says Anja Mosen, who runs her popular textile web shop, Louifax, from her private address in Marstal. She was visited by a ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ consultant who helped her with developing a new business model and new sales channels.
‘In the past, I sold my clothing designs only through Facebook, but now I have invested in an online shop and branched out into selling fabrics as well. I am also in a shop run jointly with other entrepreneurs in Ærøskøbing where my clothes are sold. My business is now based on two sources of income, and I feel that I am in a much stronger position and now have a ‘real’ business. I feel a greater sense of ownership because I myself now own the sales channel and I have control of the channels of communication with customers,’ says Anja Mosen.
Stephanie Lose, President of the Regional Council of the Southern Denmark Region and member of the Danish Executive Board for Business Development and Growth, welcomes the project:
‘At the Board, our focus is on both major strategic measures and local measures that are tailored to the needs of local businesses. And here it is a pleasure to help a local project which was launched by the Southern Danish Growth Forum and which makes a huge difference to retail trade in four municipalities. ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ is precisely the kind of local project that the Board is keen to support. It addresses businesses’ specific needs and provides practical and forward-looking solutions.’
At its meeting of 6 April 2020, the Danish Executive Board for Business Development and Growth allocated a total of DKK 114.7 million to the adjustment and scaling of existing business support projects which can help companies on two fronts:
Fifteen projects are currently being funded from the COVID-19 pool. With the pledges made so far, up to DKK 88 million of the resources allocated are accounted for. The measure is being funded by the European Social Fund, the European Regional Fund and decentralised business promotion funds.
Operator: Svendborg Municipality. Main partners: Faaborg-Midtfyn Municipality, Ærø Municipality, Langeland Municipality.
Until COVID-19, the project had been working on improving employees’ and managers’ digital skills to prepare businesses for introducing e-commerce and digital marketing, for example. In all, 266 employees from 206 high-street businesses in the four southern Fyn municipalities have so far been involved. The lengthy closure of the retail sector during the COVID-19 crisis has created additional needs for action, including one-to-one guidance, mentors and networking activities.
The Danish Executive Board for Business Development and Growth has just granted the project additional funding totalling DKK 4.7 million from the European Social Fund and the decentralised business promotion funds. With the additional funds, the project can be extended to cover around 50 more companies.
In the 2014-2020 period, the European Social Fund, the European Regional Fund and Danish partners are investing DKK 1 billion each year in activities that create growth and jobs nationwide.
The Social Fund programme for 2014-2020 is targeted at entrepreneurship, education and social inclusion. We need more new businesses and a more skilled workforce. That is essential to increase productivity, competitiveness and growth.
The European Social Fund therefore co-finances projects to:
‘All companies have individual needs and they have to be helped through individual solutions,’ says Helge Padegaard, the project manager for ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’. Photo: ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’.
‘Strengthening high-street businesses’ has made a big contribution to the astonishing growth experienced by the couple Martin and Line Fischer with their kitchenware store, Køkkenfreak, in Svendborg. Photo: ‘Strengthening high-street businesses’.