When Dan Whytock worked on a market stall selling furniture at the age of 14, he was simply looking for ways to make some ready cash.
‘Watch your head on the way in because our prices are low,’ he used to call to those passing the little stall in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
Working ceaselessly before and after school brought more than expansion (he also started a clothing stall) and steady returns, it also unleashed Dan’s inner entrepreneur and led to him founding a business designed to save Britain’s high streets.
Dan, now 30, and his business partner Amanda Lowe, 50, run downyourhighstreet.co.uk – selling more than 100,000 products online, all sourced solely from independent retailers as far flung as Scotland and Ireland.
What makes them different from their competitors is that every business featured here – ranging from toyshops to shoe stores and clothing boutiques – has a bricks and mortar shopfront.
And a third of the products cannot be found on any other marketplace.
‘The idea is to put high street retailers back on the pedestal they enjoyed years ago, before online shopping ate away at their presence and their profits,’ says Dan, who founded the business with Amanda back in 2013, and launched it to the public in 2019.
Initially the pair came up with the idea of producing a magazine featuring local retailers.
But then they realised they could combine the best of both: offering high street independent retailers the chance to have an effortless online presence that would boost both their profile and their profitability on a commission-only basis.
‘Initially it was tricky to gain interest with retailers as contactless payments had just started to be accepted and they were just getting used to that, so the online transactional idea was a bit of a tough pitch,’ Dan recalls.
‘But we met with shop keepers and showed them the website we had built. The most important feedback was that it had to be cost-effective as independents are not cash rich. It also needed to save them time and not be a burden to their business model.’
In the first few years the pair successfully wooed 200 businesses, listing 15,000 products, while Amanda and her entrepeneurial uncle, Bernard Cook, supported the burgeoning enterprise financially.
Then, in 2019 they offered people the chance to invest via Crowdcube after first raising £100,000 through their own investor network.
Crowdcube allows people to invest in early-stage companies in return for an equity stake. For a company to go live on Crowdcube they have to pass a due-diligence process and supply proof of statements they’ve made on things such as revenue or the amount of customers they claim to have.
Downyourhighstreet.co.uk now has 135 investors who raised £261,020 – which helped the company improve its platform, rebrand and start marketing.
Today the company is supported by business leader Martin Newman, and is now looking for larger investment groups to further expand. Dan believes it can drive £10m of sales to small retailers in the next two years.
In the first 12 months downyourhighstreet.co.uk generated £279,635 sales for independent stores, jumping to a massive £1.2m in the second year, and has now launched three new categories – food and drink, sporting goods, workwear and PPE.
The company’s latest campaign is #THINKWHEREYOUSHOP, to encourage customers to look beyond the biggest online players in the market and support their local businesses.
Now the business is also working with local councils to create ‘E-towns’, which will sit alongside the website to promote regional, independent businesses by location.
‘We’ve gained fantastic support from Mark Heyes, ITV fashion stylist, who mentions us on TV and has featured our products on Lorraine,’ Dan says.
‘But we couldn’t have built the business without the financial commitment of Amanda and her uncle Bernard – he gave us amazing support and trust but sadly died just over a year ago.
‘It is incredible the way it’s taken off. But we do have a unique business model. The independent shop owners pay only a small commission on what they sell – there are no other fees – so it’s cost effective for them.
‘At the same time customers have the chance to buy unique goods and products that they often won’t find anywhere else.’