Has your business got the Retail Factor?

Many of the UK's big brands started off as grassroots businesses founded on nothing more than a creative idea and a belly-full of determination.

Dame Anita Roddick launched The Body Shop in 1976 with no training or experience, but managed to grow her business into a global brand bought by L'Oreal for �652m in 2006.

And the founders of Hotel Chocolat, Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, transformed their business in just 15 years to include 60 stores in the UK and six worldwide.

Now Norwich's Castle Mall is hunting for the next up-and-coming entrepreneur in the east to take on the big retailers.

In partnership with the Evening News, the shopping centre has launched the Retail Factor, a competition which gives start-up businesses the chance to win two months free trading at The Mall, Norwich.

The competition is worth more than �10,000 and will expose 11 local businesses to the thousands of customers that pass through the shopping centre each week.

Victoria Haverson, marketing manager at the Mall, Norwich, said: 'With the challenging economic climate and government spending cuts, many people are finding themselves out of jobs and looking for work, so The Mall Norwich is encouraging entrepreneurs to explore the option of working for themselves in retail.'

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Signs across the city point to a boom year for Norwich retailers after a demand for retail space has led a number of vacant stores to be filled with big name brands.

Top fashion outfitters Superdry, Jack Wills and Hollister all launched new stores at the tail end of last year, while home and leisure store Claus Ohlson filled the vacant Chapelfield store left by the former bookselling giant Borders.

Property expert Adam Fenell, the partner in charge of retail at chartered surveyors Roche, reported seeing 'sudden renewed interest' in the city with retailers believing that Norwich will come out of recession faster than other cities.

John Clarke, business trainer for enterprise agency NWES, said: 'People will always tell you that there is a recession on and tell you that it maybe not a good time to start your own business.

'However, people who have got the desire to make something work will be able to do that, no matter what the economic situation.

'If you can plan your business well, and offer the right service and the right product, then there will be customers who will seek you out.'

Each business chosen by the judges in the Retail Factor will receive a retail merchandising unit (RMU) in a prime position on The Mall shopping floor.

The RMU is a small sales unit that gives the businesses a guarantee of high visibility, as well supplying all the facilities a start up business needs including lighting, power and space for stock.

The general manager of The Mall Norwich, Alan Day, said: 'This scheme is absolutely ideal for people who are looking to get their businesses off the ground and running. We are trying to give something to the enterprising individuals who have different products to offer.

'The chance to get two months' trading is a great opportunity and worth a lot of money.'

All entries will be judged by a local panel which includes Mr Day and the acting business editor for the EDP and Norwich Evening News, Elaine Maslin.

All the entries will be scrutinised on their commerciality, their innovation, and how unique they are in comparison with other local businesses on the high street.

Successful entrepreneurs will then be given two weeks to trade in The Mall Norwich, between February 28 and April 10, to prove that their product can sell. Sales figures and overall business performance during this period will be judged by the panel of experts, who will then pick an overall winner.

Mrs Haverson said: 'The successful business will not only go on to win two months' free trading with The Mall but they will also receive a brand new Sony Viao laptop with Microsoft Office, worth more than �600, and tailored business mentor sessions with the National Skills Academy. One of the 11 overall winners, across The Mall corporation shopping centres, will have the chance to win a place on the exclusive business retail course at Oxford summer school.'

The Retail Factor opens on Monday, January 17 and will run for five weeks until the closing date for applications on Sunday, February 20.

If you want to enter the competition, you can collect an application form from The Mall Norwich Ask Me point on level two of the shopping centre, or you can download a form online from http://www.themall.co.uk/my-mall/norwich/default.aspx