Beautiful Spaces #2

Bear will look to strengthen its presence in existing geographies before venturing into the South of England, with a particular interest in coastal areas, Craig Bunting tells MCA.

The independent coffee and lifestyle brand has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign with Crowdcube, aiming to raise £2m to support its national expansion.

Originating from the Midlands, the business offers sustainably sourced specialty coffee, seasonal fresh food, cocktails, and craft beer in thoughtfully designed spaces.

Since its inception in 2016, it has grown to seven locations - Uttoxeter, Derby, Stone, Derbion, Northwich, Ashbourne, and Nottingham - and is now poised to more than quadruple its footprint across the UK, with plans to open 22 new stores over the next five years.

The business is actively seeking new sites in regions like Cheshire, where it has already started to grow, as well as exploring new markets in the South of England.

Bunting says that its next location “may be a bit of a curveball” in terms of regionality, but the broad plan is to build a presence in the North and Midlands, before looking further South.

“We always want to make sure that we break into new regions. But the key is we’re never going to just drop a store in isolation, we want to build multiple stores so that we can slowly build brand and build community around that.”

Next natural steps for the brand, which currently operates in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, could be neighbouring cities of Sheffield, York and Manchester.

Moving South, the coast is a particularly appealing prospect for Bear. “The coast really inspires us. We particularly love coastal areas that have countryside around them as well. And so putting our brand towards that South coast is something that is very appealing to us.”

Location types will continue to include high streets, as well as “drive to” destinations, similar to its existing Ashbourne site.

“Ashbourne is a perfect store for us. It’s a market town, but we’ve made quite a big noise in a small area, and it’s a big tourist destination. People go there as a gateway into the Peak District.”

BEAR Ashbourne

Within cities, the brand is more likely to target “leafy neighbourhoods” and “creative” areas. For Bunting these are all “places that inspire adventure, connection, and lifestyle,” key pillars of the brand identity.

“Currently we’re opening stores on high streets because we want to be part of the community, but we as a brand need to sit in the heart of our guests’ lifestyles.”

While Bear has a history of partnerships in London, such as those with Jack Wills and Paperchase, the brand is not rushing to establish standalone locations in the capital.

“We absolutely loved being there, and if there was a partnership opportunity within the city, we would look at it. In the short term, I think there’s so much opportunity regionally without going into London that when we do go, it will have to be at the right time. I don’t think it’s a necessity for us right now.”

Bunting, who co-founded the company with lifelong friend Michael Thorley, tells MCA that overall, sustainable growth is a key priority.

“We want to build something that creates freedom and opportunity to explore interests that we have as founders. And an offering that we’re proud of, almost like a legacy. We’re not seeking growth at all costs.

“It has to be something that we’re truly proud of. Right now we absolutely love coffee, and we’ve created these spaces because we love going out to coffee shops.”

Maintaining a strong community connection is a priority, even as it expands nationally: “Ultimately, it’s about people and how they connect to the brand. We continually invest in our people so that they’re fully engaged, equipped and empowered to do the best job that they can.

“The product can be phenomenal, but people are part of your product. And if your people aren’t fully engaged, you will just lose that edge.”


Bunting highlighted the central role of partnerships in Bear’s journey so far: “We are anchored around the idea of partnership, and why we’re doing a crowdfunding raise, we co-founded the business together. Partnership is at the heart of everything that we do and it’s something that really excites us.

“People might discount themselves because they might think I could only put £20 in, but we genuinely want to bring a crowd on board.”

Reflecting on the initial response to the Crowdcube campaign, he adds, “So far, the response has been phenomenal. There are hundreds and hundreds of people that have registered for early access and that just blows my mind. We’re genuinely humbled by the amount of people that want to buy into the success of our brand.”