Northern lights or retail blackout?

  • 1,500 start-ups in Liverpool in 2012
  • 2,545 start-ups in Manchester in 2012
  • 58m visitors to Liverpool City Region in 2013
  • More than 100m visitors to Manchester in 2013

You want to start a retail business – what are you looking for in your location? Top considerations might include good transport links, somewhere with a thriving, or at least growing economy, with a
good business support network, and a readily available pool of employees.

The North West ticks most of these boxes and represents an attractive proposition for start-ups and emerging enterprises. There are solid business support networks and innovative thinking, and growing tech, science and digital economies.

Business in NW Liverpool(resize)

Let’s look at the main North West cities of Liverpool and Manchester. In 2012 there were just over 1,500 new start-up businesses in Liverpool, with survival rates (from 2009 to 2012) of just under 56 per cent, according to the Start Up Cities Index 2014. Figures from Liverpool City Council show start-ups stood at 2,250 in 2013, when the three-year survival rate was 54.2 per cent. In Manchester the figures stand at 2,545 start-ups in 2012, but a survival rate of 52.4 per cent.

Liverpool has excellent transport links, being only two hours from London by train and boasting its own airport, and with four universities there’s a ready pool of highly skilled graduates. Almost a quarter of the city’s population are of working age with NVQ Level 4 qualifications and above.

Its vibrant city centre, busy port and investments in retail offerings such as the £1bn Liverpool One attract shoppers and tourists in their droves.  In 2014 it was the sixth most popular destination for
international and domestic visitors, and sixth for international and domestic business visitors. It was also voted fourth best tourist destination in the UK in the 2014 Travellers’ Choice awards. An
estimated 58m people visited the Liverpool City Region in 2013 (figure from STEAM research).

Liverpool hosted more cruise ships in 2014 than ever before, providing a ready-made audience of willing shoppers.

The Liverpool City Region LEP and Liverpool Vision work to accelerate growth and build a stable economy, and there are many start-up accelerators offering access to grants and funding.

The city also hosted the inaugural International Festival of Business 2014, establishing it as a dynamic centre of enterprise, with more than 400 business events and 75,000 delegates attending from 88 countries.


Looking to Manchester, it’s another story of reinvention and innovation, a city boiling with creativity and drive, and the largest city economy outside of London. It is of course, a huge university city, with the biggest university campus in Europe, and five universities in total. Around a third of population is of working age with NVQ Level 4 qualifications and above.

Transport links are undeniably excellent with an international airport, the third largest in the UK, good motorway connections and is only two hours from London by train. This could be cut to one
hour if the HS2 high speed rail project goes ahead as planned.

Manchester visitor numbers in 2013 totalled more than 100m, according to Marketing Manchester and it also topped the Start Up Cities Index 2014, assessed by a number of factors including access to talent, business support, funding and quality of life (compiled by and looking at the top 25 UK regional start-up cities).

Generally, the outlook for start-ups in Manchester appears to be improving. More than a third of employers (36 per cent) reported an increase in turnover in 2013, an improvement on the 34 per
cent reported in 2012. Coupled with a reduction in the proportion of firms reporting decreased turnover (21 per cent down from 28 per cent), the overall picture is of a city on the up.

As digital shopping chips away at traditional bricks and mortar retail outlets, The North West is also proving a hotspot for digital start-ups.

Manchester is the UK’s top online start-up hotspot with a greater concentration of these businesses than anywhere else in the UK, according to a Digital Density study carried out by Ebay, which predicted that the North West could become a digital stronghold for start-ups, with digital clusters or hubs of new businesses emerging across the region.

grim up north(resize)

It’s clear the North West is a region of entrepreneurs and innovation, a ‘can’t keep me down’ spirit that is determinedly striving to pull itself up from the downturn.

In the next in this series we will be looking at the biggest future challenges for UK retail.

Aug 21, 2015