Nick Freer: Combining tech with hyper-local businesses

We spent last week up on Deeside as our eldest was off school for the February break. There's a great general goods store in the local town where you can buy almost anything you would need to get through the week. Before the internet, George Strachan of Aboyne must have been an Amazon of its time and its bricks and mortar popularity shows no sign of letting up in 2018, evidenced by the fact that the place is always out of the door.

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners
Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners

As a Glaswegian, I’ll admit it’s an unusual experience asking for Glasgow rolls in the morning – of course, in Glasgow they’re just called rolls – so I quite often keep it local in Strachan’s by requesting a few butteries or “rowies”, the staple breakfast of every good, God-fearing Aberdonian. I always like to read local news when I’m away, so the Deeside Piper hits the mark. And, if it’s a late evening dram you’re after, Strachan’s has one of the best selections of Speyside whisky on the planet.

It’s also nice to get a bit of chat with the locals, many of whom deliver comic gems with a straight face in what appears to be a common trait in this particular neck of the woods. Waiting in line one morning with a couple of rowies and the Press and Journal under my arm, the shopkeeper nodded towards the window as a blizzard continued to rage outside and said it was good to see the weather improving.

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In the US, Strachan’s would be described as a “mom-and-pop” store and despite an olde worlde type of charm, the proprietors have a decent enough website so they can’t be accused of not moving with the times. Having said that, I imagine that years from now not much will have changed at George Strachan of Royal Deeside.

Accounting giant Deloitte has suggested retailers need to “reimagine the store of the future” and put “digital in the physical” – using bricks and mortar stores to boost online sales. Commentators predict that augmented reality and virtual reality are set to transform the shopping experience, that artificial intelligence will allow retailers to “personalise at scale” and how increasing numbers of customer journeys will begin with a photograph or image in our new Instagram reality.

Tino Nombro-founded digital marketing agency, Ambergreen, who were acquired by Toronto-headquartered DAC Group in 2016, do a lot of work in this space with brands like Hotel Chocolat, connecting them with buyers at national, local and what they describe as the “hyper-local level”. I’ll have to tell Tino about Strachan’s next time I see him, because retailers don’t get much more hyper-local than this.

Having got to know John Lusk, a Seattle-based retail entrepreneur and adviser, on a couple of his visits to Scotland last year, I’m excited to report that he is plotting a move to Edinburgh this year that will see him getting involved in our own tech ecosystem. More exciting still, John is hopefully a lock to take up a role with Full Circle Partners, the investment advisory firm set up by another retail entrepreneur, Scotland’s own (and, to be fair, Liverpool’s too) Mike Welch, last year.

As a fellow cofounder of Full Circle Partners, I think it’s great to see a portfolio of companies coming together – including a Scottish sports wearable tech start-up, an international fashion tech business, an Indian-based online tyre retailer, and a new restaurant chain concept in the UK.

Nick Jones-founded Galvanise is another investment firm that is young, dynamic and going places at speed. With a sizeable exit last year – the acquisition of data analytics startup Aquila Insight by US marketing group Merkle – Nick and co-founder Harry Weber-Brown, Devina Paul and new recruit Kate McKay, a former Saltire Fellow, are building a portfolio brimming with tech talent. Galvanise has close connections to London that are likely to be the envy of many other Scottish angel firms and these guys definitely come under the category of “ones to watch”.

l Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners