On this 4th of July, Skillsmart Retail and the National Skills Academy for Retail have teamed up with independent retailers and trade associations across the country to do just that. Today is Independents’ Day 2012, a chance to support Britain’s real-life high street heroes and for all of us to answer a nationwide SOS – to help Save Our Shops.
The retail landscape
When it comes to adversity, our high streets have had more than their fair share of late. Even before the wettest June on record swamped our streets, many shops have struggled to stay open with nearly 24,000 units, almost 14% of shop units in the UK, currently vacant in UK town centres. Yet a report published in March shows that independent retailers may hold the key to saving the situation: the number of independents grew by 2.4% last year, with more than 15,000 opening – three times more than chain stores.
Why we love shopping local
Recent research conducted by the National Skills Academy for Retail sheds some light on exactly why this might be. It seems shoppers do want to support their community: 42% choose to shop locally to boost businesses in their area and 38% feel they are keeping local people in work. Perhaps most revealingly, 51% of shoppers believe they receive a higher level of customer service in independents, while 43% of people cite a ‘unique service’.
The kind of unique service on offer was brought home to me last week when, as usual, I was buying groceries at my local independent store after work. I’d forgotten my purse and was trying to get my other half to drop in and pay when one of the employees asked me if there was something wrong. I explained the situation and he insisted I borrowed ten pounds off him to pay. “You can pay me back later,” he said with a smile. The shop got its sale and I left humbled by the generosity of the man. Needless to say, I popped in the following day to settle my debts and will continue to show my support regardless of the offers the supermarkets throw my way.
Time to celebrate
There is a crucial point here: independents offer something outside the normal shopping experience that we have perhaps grown used to. Independents’ Day provides a focus point and chance to celebrate the stores that help make our villages, towns and cities so special; it is about their value to the wider economy, the local community and, as I found out last week, each customer. It is a chance to show our support for diversity on the high streets and recognise the myriad skills required to run a successful business of any size, whether green grocer, butcher, off-licence, florist or fashion boutique.
Skills are vital
As head of the National Skills Academy for Retail, I know how important skills are to every single retail business and today is also about encouraging independent retailers to invest in skills and training to ensure they continue their strong presence on the high street. As ever-increasing numbers of larger retailers invest in training their staff, the 2009 National Employer Skills Survey found that only 4% of small, independent retail businesses currently employ an Apprentice. Ensuring these businesses have the right skills is just as vital to their future success as footfall through the door.
Show your support
I am delighted that right now retailers across the UK, from Aberdeen to Penzance, will be coming together to support the campaign and take part in the wide range of activities both in-store and on the street, from special discounts to barbecues and street parties.
Every region in the UK has something happening and in the year of the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games, community spirit remains strong. Retailers can still download the posters and put them in their shop windows, but today is really about us – the shoppers. Instead of going to a usual big brand store today, I call on everyone to get behind our high street heroes and buy at least one item in an independent shop.
In every story, heroes can make a difference but they need the help of the people. Check out our full schedule of events and show your support for our high streets today. Happy Independents’ Day 2012!
A full schedule of activities is available at www.retailindieday.com – you can also follow the campaign on Twitter @Retail_IndieDay and facebook.com/independentsday
Author – Jane Rexworthy – Head of the National Skills Academy for Retail
Jane is Director of Skills Solutions & Head of National Skills Academy for Retail. She has responsibility for the development of the National Skills Academy for Retail and promoting products and services directly to employers and through the network of skills shops. Jane project managed the development of the National Skills Academy for Retail business plan and secured £5million of government funding, which was matched with over £5million employer contribution.
Jane has eight years’ experience of working at a strategic level within the retail skills arena. In her current role she is responsible for the risk management, design, delivery, quality assurance and evaluation of the National Skills Academy for Retail, recruiting and managing the team, overseeing the development of the network of retail skills shop members and the development and delivery of industry training products. Since joining Skillsmart Retail in 2002, Jane has had responsibility for the development of key stakeholder forums in England. She developed regional and national action plans to support the retail sector skills agreement, as required by the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) (now replaced by UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)).
Before 2002 Jane worked in the private sector within blue chip retail companies in a variety of roles from store operations and management to area training and HR, auditing and developing company in-house training programmes. Jane also has experience as a training consultant and has additional qualifications in teaching holistic therapies.