The end of a year is always a time for reflection, and also for setting goals for the year ahead. In my reflections I’m looking at how far the “Support for Independent Retail” campaigns have come in such a relatively short space of time and I am going to be asking YOU to make a pledge to support independent retail in 2013.
The Support for Independent Retail Campaigns – Independent Retailer Month, Independent Christmas…
In January 2012 I was dashing from meeting to meeting, trying to engage support from national organisations for what was going to be the 2nd Independent Retailer Month in the UK. I had no idea it would be so well received, and by so many, I just thought the team and I would give it our best shot. As it had such a great take up I realised we couldn’t let the momentum lapse and wait a whole year to create that buzz again. The outcome was a decision to create a new campaign, to “Celebrate an Independent Christmas”. I can now reflect on that too, and I’m still stunned that something that was just a mere musing in early August managed to whip up enough support to get over 50 towns, UK-wide, creating Christmas Shopping Crawls. If you weren’t aware of the campaign you can find out a bit of background via www.indiechristmas.co.uk.
About the “Celebrate an Independent Christmas” campaign
The purpose of the Independent Christmas campaign was to get business owners really working together, as a team and as a local business community, with the common purpose of attracting shoppers back to their local retail centres. The aim was to encourage consumers to divert some of their Christmas spending to independent businesses – not only retailers but all those who served consumers – cafes, restaurants, salons etc.
And it seems to have worked. The feedback from shoppers, communities and traders has been extremely positive. We’ll certainly be doing it again in 2013. What was interesting was to see how those who were cynical at the outset were pleasantly surprised by the results. Consumers really enjoyed the concept to, we hoped they would, it’s inspired by something called “gamification” – essentially taking something that is considered mundane and turning it into something fun, something with a bit of a challenge or competition around it. Some of the businesses who didn’t get involved were soon kicking themselves for not participating – a number have already said they will definitely get on board this year, which is great!
Regular, repeated re-engagement of local people will help to keep them coming back
All these campaigns and initiatives work well for those who put in the most effort, energy and enthusiasm. Those who don’t get into the spirit of it don’t get as much benefit, but even by taking part they have more of an opportunity to connect with the community. It’s very sad to hear stats such as that recently reported in a study by by O2 Priority Moments and BIRA – 16% of independent retailers don’t expect to survive 2013. So many retail business owners are feeling completely deflated, sales are down, bills are up, and it seems that it’s only going to get worse. That’s why these campaigns are so important. We don’t offer a “golden bullet” but with sustained, repeated activities that really engage the local consumer, step by step, we hope to make a difference. The good news is that however disheartened they feel most smaller retailers don’t want to give up without a fight!
Ensuring local retailers are front-of-mind when local people need what they have to offer
You’d be wrong to assume that by taking part in one of the campaign events that you’ll get an instant uplift in sales. You might, but you might not. Consumers have become disenchanted with high streets and with local retailers and our aim is to provide the platform that enables retailers to re-engage the local people, your local shoppers, to earn back their trust and to make them feel safe to part with their hard-earned cash. Whilst you may get a small increase in sales as a result of being involved in the activities it’s the longer term benefit that adds the most value. For example, traders involved in Christmas Shopping Crawls had the opportunity to meet people who potentially never knew they existed – really helping to raise awareness of their brand. When customers visited their shop they were able to showcase their product and impress with their friendly, warm service. Not all customers wanted to purchase there and then, some were browsing, others focused on completing their shopping crawl map – the allure of winning the prize was compelling… but that didn’t mean they were time-wasters. Every interaction with a potential customer matters, and, when that consumer has a need for what those retailers offer, they will remember having met them, having enjoyed the experience, and they will want to come back.
What next? Let’s “Enjoy an Independent Easter”!
So, in mid-November I was reflecting on the feedback from all those backing the “Celebrate an Independent Christmas” campaign. I was musing again, musing that when the Christmas campaign comes to an end it’s a LONG wait for Independent Retailer Month in July… musing that it might just be fun to do something for the independent retail sector a little earlier, perhaps around Easter…
Creating “Indie Easter Egg Hunts” in towns nationwide…
As a result the “Enjoy an Independent Easter” campaign was born! Website domain secured, branding currently being created. Our Easter activates will focus on engaging local families, getting them out and about during school holidays and exploring the independent shops in their area. Similar to the Christmas Shopping crawls, families will collect “virtual eggs” (cute egg shaped stickers) until their “Indie Easter egg hunt map” is complete. Upon completion the family will be awarded a real chocolate egg and a fun certificate to recognise their achievement.
Connecting the local community with local traders, rebuilding the shop-local habit
As with the Christmas activities it’s all about connecting the local community with the local traders, and this really is the first step to building the habit of shopping locally. However, I do believe that to really continue the process of re-engaging people with local retail centres, drawing them back from out of town and online options, bringing them back into the community, we really need to move away from viewing then as shoppers and think of them simply as people, citizens in the local community, where we all live, work, play… Our campaigns aren’t only about delivering incremental sales; we want to ensure local retailers are valued members of their local community and that they make their local customers feel valued too. We want local people to make a definite choice to shop indie and to shop local because they want to “give back” to their community, spending their cash with local people, people just like them.
Spend your £££s wisely – a little can go a long way
The CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies) did some research for FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) about the value of a £1 spent locally – the results were compelling, sufficient to convince most people that when they shop locally they are genuinely having a positive impact on their community! They discovered that for every £1 spent locally around 50p – 70p of that money recirculates back into the local economy. For the same £1 spent out of town or online only 5p trickles back to the local community. When people appreciate the impact that their choice of where to spend can have we believe that more people will make more effort to spend more with local independent businesses.
New Year Resolutions…
As its New Year I want to take a moment to talk about “resolutions”. I want you to ask you to make a pledge. We ALL need to set an example, to put our money where our mouths are as such. If we, as small business owners and independent retailers, don’t spend enough locally it is really rather hypocritical to expect other people in our communities to spend with us. We need to lead by example.
Pledge you support for independent retail in 2013
The pledge I want you to make is to divert 20% of what you currently spend with chain stores or big online brands and spend that with your local indies instead – retailers, cafes, bars, restaurants, salons etc. If you can pledge to divert more, fantastic, but 20% will make a huge impact in your area I am sure! Throughout 2013 I will be posting guest blogs from Independent Retailers about their own experiences of shopping indie, promoting their stores and the stores they’ve discovered on their travels. It will be great to hear from you too, to share your experiences.
Spread the word, each £1 spend locally is worth 10 times more to your community
As you begin to make more of an effort to shop indie, you can spread the word of your 2013 pledge to Support Independent Retail. You can explain what you are doing and why, to all the shop owners you encounter. You can tell your family and friends too. You may even be able to encourage them to pledge to do the same. Over time more and more people will get involved, you never know, we may even get it going viral! Before we know it that little bit of effort will soon add up and will make a big difference, particularly because your £1 spent locally is worth at least 10 times more to the local community that if you spent it elsewhere…
Let’s make 2013 the year of the Independent!
It’s obvious but has to be said – our communities are made up of people – people like you – people who work and live there. If we want to help make a difference, to turn around the fortunes of your local area, of your own business, then we all have to start by making changes to how we shop. I hope that 2013 will be a year of positive change for the independent retail sector and for the UK high streets overall. A thriving local community is a great place for us all to be, as citizens, whether we’re business owners or residents.