I was intrigued when driving up to Perth yesterday for a marketing consultation to hear that retail sales have slightly risen in the past month. Like the expert that Radio Scotland had on to discuss this I was surprised having heard business updates on some of the bigger retailers so was delighted to hear that it’s not them who have benefited but local shops. The retail expert on the radio said that one reason for this could be that with high petrol prices people are keeping the car at home and walking to local shops.
I am sure that there is some truth in this but I have also felt during this current economic downturn that with less money in our pockets we are more careful where we spend that money. Local shops and businesses have benefited from this. I for one have changed from someone who would have bought a meal in Marks and Spencer’s on pay-day to someone who will treat the family to food from the butcher. I would rather they got my money and to be honest the product is far better than having a ready meal from Marks and Spencer’s despite what their current adverts say.
This does not mean that it is easy for local shops and businesses and this was brought home to me as I drove into Perth. A UK wide car washing and valet company had a huge banner outside its premises which said that it would beat any local car wash company on price. As I discussed with the client that I was meeting how can a local car wash company compete? Well I would advise not on price as you can’t beat the big guys they can always under cut you. But what you can do is offer better customer service, show that you care genuinely about your customers and offer an overall better customer experience which includes regular communication with your customers.
As you know I love to boast about local shops in St Boswells as I am really proud of the quality of the shops that we have in this small village. So here is another boast. Mainstreet Trading our bookshop has won the Scottish Independent Bookshop of the year and are now going forward to the UK awards. I am so pleased for them as they really deserve the accolade and as a resident in the village it makes me proud to live here. Mainstreet Trading is a case in point for a local shop. On paper it shouldn’t work. St Boswells is not a large village, Amazon is used by so many of us to buy books and other goods and like car wash companies Mainstreet can’t compete with this. So what have they done to build a successful business? In a word experience or in three words created a destination. Mainstreet Trading has become a destination that people want to come to and they come from all over to our little village. I can see the car park from the back of my house and it is nearly always full. It’s not just about the books or the cafe they have it’s making sure that both experiences are the best. So the children’s book section is the first area you come to and is set out so that kids and parents can browse and spend time. The rest of the books are set out in an attractive way with comments on certain books from staff members and a range of books that you would not necessarily come across on Amazon. The staff are all book worms and are happy to discuss options with you. As well as this there is a great cafe with cakes such as chocolate cake that is worth going for alone and good quality coffee as well as soups and sandwiches. Along side this Mainstreet runs two book clubs and a number of regular author events keeping customers up to date with regular monthly enewsletters. No price cutting not head on competing with Amazon. They don’t need to as they have created a business that is a destination that people want to come to and come back to. And please note Mainstreet are not a client I simply admire what they have done and love the business as a book-worm myself. They are also a great example of how local can compete with big by offering an experience that the big guys can’t. For me these are one of the many reasons to shop local as who wants the same experiences everywhere you go that would be boring in the extreme.
However sadly that is what is happening now across the UK and was brought home to me when our best man visited last week. We were discussing our test of not using a major supermarket for a month. He said we were lucky as where he lives he has no choice there are no local food shops so he has to shop in the supermarkets. So this is why I titled this “If you don’t use it you will lose it.” as it made me realise how lucky we are in the Scottish Borders as we have an abundance of local great shops. But we need to support them. Our test to not use Tesco’s has been extended we haven’t visited since the end of February. We have eaten as well if not better, we have less waste and as I have said the quality of our life is better as we have more time to spend living not shopping. I am looking to picking up our leg of lamb for sunday from our cheery butcher and enjoying Easter sunday dinner with local meat and fruit and vegetables from Melrose. The experience of the buying and the quality of the produce will beat anything that the big guys can offer.
So in conclusion I am delighted that local retailers are being used more and would urge you to shop local where ever possible as if we don’t we will lose it and mundane will rule across the UK. And who wants that? Happy Easter.