Modern Retail

The Borrow Shop: An Innovative retail approach

The Borrow Shop photo credit: Anne-Marie Hayes

Sophie Watson has launched The Borrow Shop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, allowing customers to borrow items instead of having to buy them.

Alongside the ability to borrow items for reasonable prices, Sophie sells a range of eco-friendly gifts, as well as coffee and vegan bakes for customers to enjoy.

This innovative approach to retail has impressed customers, allowing them to borrow anything from carpet cleaners and power washers, to chairs and pasta machines. Sophie’s work has seen The Borrow Shop become a key part of the community, delivering an excellent experience and supporting other local businesses.

Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Sophie about The Borrow Shop. Here’s what she had to say:

1. How did The Borrow Shop Begin?

“The idea of The Borrow Shop began when I wanted to do new things during lockdown, but I didn’t have the space to store the items or money to buy them all. I’d heard of libraries of things on a podcast and so I started researching how I could make that a reality for our community. There’s approximately 10-12 across the UK and I think nearly all of them operate as part of larger charities. I wanted The Borrow Shop to be self sufficient and not reliant on grants and volunteers, and so that’s where the gifts and coffee come in to play. I think diversifying brick and mortar stores is really important nowadays as you just don’t know what will happen in the future.”

2. What was your experience like with Crowdfunding and what advice would you give to anybody wanting to do the same?

“It’s a very scary 4 weeks! Some days are good and others are bad, so it’s just so unpredictable! Luckily our community could see the benefit of The Borrow Shop and we raised over £8k, including a £3k grant from Natwest Back Her Business Scheme. I probably spent nearly 2 months preparing the crowdfunder page – I completed lots of their e-learning which is very in depth, created the video for the page, the budget, and the organisation of the info. It’s really hard to get right because you know your own project so well and you need to convey that to others who are brand new to the concept!”

3. What has the reception been like for The Borrow Shop?

“The reception has been great! We’ve had lots of people come and support us, whether that’s buying a coffee, becoming a Member to borrow from our library of things, or spreading the word on social media etc. Lots of people have said it’s great to have some new retail options in the Jewellery Quarter, as well as the borrowing element.”

4. I see that customers can also buy sustainable and eco friendly homewares and gifts – tell us more about that.

“We stock a range of eco-friendly homewares and gifts and I seek out local creators and makers where possible to boost their profile in the local community. Many makers have an online only presence and so it’s good to be able to stock their wares on physical shelves. We have all sorts of things from art prints, greeting cards, candles, glass amber bottles, to reusable cutlery made from rice husks.”

5. Have you noticed a shift in consumers’ attitudes towards sustainable and ethical retail?

“I think in general more people are looking to purchase sustainable and ethical items where possible. Having places like us in local communities make it easier for people to make those choices and maybe think twice about purchasing from Amazon for example. They can see they’re supporting not just us as a small business, but also the local makers.”

6. What’s next for The Borrow Shop?

“We’ll be expanding our library of things items and offering some free to borrow items for members in the near future. In the long term, I’d love a bigger space where we could have more cafe seating and a place to hold events and workshops. I’d especially love to offer workshops that teach people how to use the items (e.g. drill, pasta machine).”

Click here to learn more about The Borrow Shop.

Subscribe to Modern Retail's Weekly Newsletter

Holly Worthington

Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail's Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today's ever-changing market.