To expand into another city, business leaders need to have an in-depth understanding of exactly who their customers are and why their business has worked so far. Bristol-based board game café Chance & Counters took the leap after a year and a half.
When co-founder Steve Cownie started looking at potential cities, he initially set his sights on Brighton. With a thriving food and drink scene and a hub of creative industries, it was where their target customers were. But when the team stopped to consider the logistics, they realised it wasn’t the best choice.
“We looked at a few sites, but it’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive from us. What if something hit the fan? What if someone called in sick last minute on a Saturday night? It’s not feasible for any of us to get there fast enough to cover,” Steve said.
Chance & Counters has since expanded to Cardiff and Birmingham. Steve talked us through their research process and how pop-ups stores have been central to their marketing.
Research the culture in a city
Chance & Counters settled on Cardiff for its second location for a number of reasons. It didn’t have a board game café already, so the business wouldn’t be going up against an established competitor. It had a university and lots of young professionals, making it a similar audience to their Bristol café. Finally, it was a 45-minute drive over the Severn Bridge, putting it at arm’s length if something went wrong.
When it comes to finding a site, understanding the successes and limitations of your previous sites can help businesses to continuously improve. Being surrounded by other independent shops and pubs in Bristol had helped Chance & Counters to attract their target customers. But the site lacked natural light and good air circulation, which was something the team was keen to improve on in Cardiff.
“We had to speak to more people about what the going out culture was like. Cardiff is a different beast to Bristol. They like getting dressed up and going for a night on the tiles, whereas Bristol is much more casual. We had to do a lot of research about the areas people go out and drink in,” said Steve.
Use pop-up stores
Before launching in Cardiff, Chance & Counters ran pop-ups in bars that shared a similar ethos and customer base. For a business opening up in a new city, connecting with an established company can help to give your brand more weight.
“We got in touch with Tiny Rebel, which had a pub just around the corner from our Cardiff site. It’s a big part of how we market going into a new city – what we do in a venue that represents us,” Steve explained.
Engaging with the local community helped to quell nerves about launching a second site. Their first had been backed by an engaged Kickstarter campaign, providing a tailwind going into the Bristol launch. The pop-ups enabled Chance & Counters to start generating similar interest in Cardiff.
“Cardiff was a super-scary thought,” Steve admitted. “It’s a terrible idea to just open the doors and expect people to come in.”
Less than a year later, the team ran pop-ups in Birmingham, visiting a huge food market and award-winning independent bar 1000 Trades. As Steve explained, they found locations based on where they would want to visit – they class themselves as their own target audience.
“We didn’t run a pop-up in Birmingham anywhere that I hadn’t been tipsy in. One of the places was even somewhere I went on a first date with my girlfriend. If it was good enough for my first date, it’s good enough for us.”