Having started as a digital department store, Brityard has made its physical debut – and wants to become the authority on independent British brands
There are certainly safer options than London’s Regent Street as the location for your first major foray into physical retail. But for Lara and Rob Gibson-Chant, founders of British-only ‘department store’ Brityard, it was important to be ambitious.
“If you’re going to try and redefine something, you have to start at the top,” Lara tells The Grocer. “We have a mission to change the way people think about homegrown brands and the way people engage with them.”
That mission began in 2020, when the spouses founded Brityard as an e-commerce site that brought independent, British-based food, drink, lifestyle and clothing brands together in one dedicated marketplace.
“No one was fully representing independent brands as a category,” says Lara, whose background is in publishing. “You’d go to Selfridges, Waitrose, or a couple of independent stores and you’d find a handful at best.”
Having attracted backing from a pool of investors and raised £220,000 via crowdfunding platform Seedrs, the pair launched a two-day pop-up store on London’s Oxford Street in 2021 as a way of testing whether the prospect could work in a physical space.
After seeing how well the category was received by customers, they decided to shift the focus increasingly towards physical food and drink experiences, and have been working with the Crown Estate over the past 12 months to find a suitable site.
The new 2,000 sq ft Regent Street space opened in November. It features a ground floor food hall with concessions from brands including Cornwall-based Origin Coffee and cheesemaker Cheesegeek, alongside shelves of grocery products from brands including LoveRaw, Sipsmith and petfood brand Marleybones.
A number of food to go options, including sandwiches, soups and salads, are also available, along with a selection of lifestyle and fashion brands.
The basement is dedicated to events, including cheese and wine tastings, gigs and comedy nights.
“Brityard isn’t really a retailer,” Lara says. “It’s a redefined version of retail that intersects with experience, events and hospitality.”
Rather than buying stock to sell at margin, Brityard charges brands a subscription fee to be listed. In return, those brands get access to the space, which includes the opportunity to run curated events, activations and the potential for collaborations with other Brityard-listed brands.
Packages can range from a single shelf to a full concession. For example, British wine brand Gusbourne has opened a dedicated, British-only wine and spirits bar in the basement.
The activation-based model is a “win-win”, Lara says. Brityard wouldn’t be able to open without the support of the founder brands, while the brands are getting access to a premium retail location they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to fund on their own.
“We want to get to a point where we’re seen as the authority on, or go-to destination for, independent, best-in-class brands and talent,” adds Lara.
There’s already a programme of public social events scheduled over the next couple of months, and the Gibson-Chants aim to start arranging industry events to introduce brands to buyers for supermarkets and hospitality players.
They also hope to eventually grow to a bigger site and offer a “comprehensive food offering”, which could include supper clubs or tasting menus, Rob says.
The initial lease has been secured for six months, with plans afoot to extend to 12. The website is also undergoing remodelling to make it more reflective of Brityard’s new physical-first approach.
Although the “dream” is to have Brityards all over the country, and abroad, the pair say they have to “prove the concept works” first. Once they’ve done that, they’re certain “brand Britain” will sell itself.
“There’s still a sense that British food and drink is slightly underrated,” Lara says. “It’s so clichéd, but we’re not just fish & chips and red buses.
“There’s some really hardworking people making incredible products… and they deserve to have a bigger platform and space on the high street.”