ReThinking the messages

By, Alan Moore

They call it Blue Monday. The 3rd Monday in January, when normality strikes; It’s cold and wet and dark, Christmas is over and you’re back to work to pay off that festive credit card bill. It’s difficult for me to imagine Blue Monday at the moment, as I write this there are less than 2 weeks to Christmas and I’m in full festive mode; cosy jumper on, dram in hand and writing to a soundtrack of Now That’s What I Call Christmas.

However, it’s 2am on a school night. it’s the first chance I’ve had to get some writing done over the last few weeks, as I’ve been so busy in the Studio. As a small business owner, every month matters, the lead up to Christmas is especially important for retailers as we rely on the festive business to see us through the tough months of January and February, where most Mondays are blue. 

There are over 5 Million business in the UK with 99% of them being classed as small or medium sized. These businesses collectively bring in nearly £2 Trillion to the UK economy, which is more than 50% of all private sector income. In Scotland over 70% of small businesses are family owned and are responsible for over 1.2 million job opportunities. In Ayrshire alone, there are over 1000 small businesses – independent retailers of clothing or home wear, butchers, pubs, cobblers, coffee shops, off licences, hair dressers, beauty salons, tobacconists, florists…the list is endless. (As an upstanding contributor of the Ayrshire Magazine my writer’s integrity must be unbiased, so no name dropping!) 

Shopping locally improves the lives of others, it’s as simple as that. When you shop in a small boutique or coffee shop or local pub, you’re not paying for shareholders dividends or directors salaries, you’re helping with mortgage payments, heating bills, Christmas presents, swimming lessons, school uniforms – your business directly affects someone’s life. Likewise lack of business can have the adverse effect. Rent, rates, suppliers, advertisers, HMRC all need paid regardless of how many suits, steaks, pints, shoes or coffees you’ve sold in a month. 

So why shop local? 

For A More Personal Customer Experience 

How often have you caught yourself aimlessly wandering around the big department store searching for a size that isn’t out or looking for some style inspiration, only to be met with a shrug of the shoulder and blank expression from the Christmas temp, who giggles “This is my first day!” When shopping locally you’re usually speaking with the business owner. They know their products inside and out and happy to chat at length about how to wear it, hang it, cook it or care for it. Passion is infections and speaking to someone who is truly passionate about the products they sell, will make you love it even more. Conversation about product and provenance makes for a much more enjoyable experience than numbly picking things off shelves and scanning them into a trolley. 

They Go The Extra Mile 

Last year I drove to a customer’s house on Christmas eve to deliver a suit. A wine merchant I know drove across the country to deliver a case of wine in time for Christmas after a shipment got lost in transit. Small businesses will go to great lengths to make sure their customers are happy, not for financial gain (sometimes these gestures come at a financial loss!) but because they are committed to customer satisfaction and building rapport with each customer. Yes the big stores can deliver to your house on a specified day, but can they open early when you’ve got a busy day or stay open late when you’ve been stuck in traffic, I don’t think so. Common sense rules supreme, with the phrase “it’s company policy” very rarely heard – small businesses are keen to accommodate their customers in ways the big brands aren’t interested in. 

They Encourage Community Spirit 

Positivity begets positivity, and the gratifying mindset of shopping locally is infectious. Every small business owner understands that it takes time, patience and most importantly support to grow a successful business. I know a lot of small business owners who would much rather spend that bit extra or travel that bit further to support a fellow local business. Independent retailers are entrepreneurs and always looking for the next opportunity, which is why collaboration, cross promotion and collective markets happen so often, people love to gang together and showcase their products, especially if they are made or sourced from the local area. There’s something very satisfying in knowing the provenance of your products; where it’s produced and the hands that it’s passed through. With artisanal craft and hand made products a prominent feature of small businesses, teaching opportunities arise when the business is exposed to a wider audience. We are tactile beings, we like to feel things and make things with our hands; given the right exposure, local experts can teach classes and workshops around the local community, helping to inspire the next generation of makers. 

The Uniqueness of Products 

Ever been at a party and noticed that everyone is dressed the same? Or you recognise where the food is from? Local artisans or boutiques offer a uniqueness that cannot be replicated on the high street. Hand drawn art work, handmade textiles, family recipes and artisanal craftsmanship is what local produce is all about. To rival the big brands, small businesses have to offer something unique, something special. The quality of the product must be better, more considered and rare. There’s a real joy in finding unique products that have a story, conversation starters and talking points that excite imagination and ignite ideas. The flexibility of small businesses open themselves up to new experiences and opportunism – unique party catering, local food tasting evenings or intimate private shopping events, experiences that can’t be replicated with the expert knowledge and passion of the business owners. 

I’m a huge advocate for small businesses and true believer that shopping local is more beneficial than shopping with the big brands. However, small and local businesses must deliver the same expected standard of customer service and product quality that we’re used to. I make no excuses for retailers who don’t offer value and quality and you shouldn’t either. However, small businesses thrive on feedback and constructive criticism can help turn a business around, so don’t be shy in speaking up if you’ve had a bad experience. 

As we start the New Year and you make your list of resolutions, rethink where you get your messages. Consider changing your weekly shopping routine, try a new local pub or buy a gift in that wee shop you never go into – it means a lot more than you think.