How to save our independent shops is something nearly all of us would like to do. But sometimes it seems futile, as the big supermarkets now have so much share of the market. Is it doomed to failure? Will we one day live in a country where you have to shop at Tesco or Amazon, and be done with it? Not wanting to do that? Then read on!
Read Real England by environmental writer Paul Kingsnorth. This book was written around 10 years ago, and things are now even worse. He travels the country exploring how the big supermarkets and corporations are killing off small indie shops, pubs and the like. It’s all rather depressing, but it will fire up your belly to do something.
For instance, did you know that most supermarket car parks offer free parking only for a couple of hours? So it’s nonsense to suggest that people can go visit indie shops: by the time an exhausted mother or a carer with a wheelchair has done the shop, they would get fined if they went off somewhere else, to have a cup of tea in an independent cafe.
In the US, things are looking up, and we can learn from them. Small shops thrive there (they also have much better customer service). But there is Chinook Book and The Sunrise Guide, both are coupon books packed with info and discounts for green businesses (thousands of dollars worth over a year). So the books sell themselves, charities raise funds selling them, and small shops thrive, as people get discounts.
One good independent here is Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery, which has a free Grow Your Own Grocery guide if you want to do the same. Other successful people-owned supermarkets include Brighton’s HISBE (stands for ‘how it should be’).
The path to success, is to know what small shops can offer. They can’t offer ‘cheap’ because they don’t have the same suppliers as supermarkets. But they can offer many other things:
- They stick around when things get tough
- A community spirit, know you by name
- Many let dogs in shops
- You can leave something in the fridge, while you go to town
- Most offer home delivery for free, if local
- Most will order in, for you especially
- By ratio, provide more jobs
- Support local suppliers (signwriters, pubs etc)
This is how small shops thrive the other side of the pond: by looking at what they offer, that supermarkets can’t. A few books to start you off:
- Good Morning, Beautiful Business is the lovely story of Judy Wicks, who stumbled by accident into creating a tiny muffin shop that morphed into one of the USA’s first sustainable organic restaurants. All because she was trying to save her row of Victorian brownstone houses from demolition. This memoir shows how creating local living economies that value people and place over commerce, thrive.
- The New Local Economy is a book by a Scandinavian small business expert, who wants us to break up the global economy into local economies, so local shops and businesses thrive. The book covers everything from supporting local food endeavours, to local currencies (which can often be used exclusively in independent local shops, to help give real competition against the big stores).
- The Aisles Have Eyes is an interesting book: sell it yourself, and people will come to your small shop! It’s quite concerning how big retailers use consumer advertising and tracking, for more sales. Digital studies expert Joseph Turow pulls back the curtains on modern trends like data mining, in-store tracking and predictive analytics to prove that when you shop, you are not alone..
- Specialty Shop Retailing is the bible for small shop owners in the US. The author has successfully run a beautiful gift shop for several years, and this book is constantly updated to reflect growing trends. This covers the lot: how to design and arrange your store, what to stock, how to sell, customer service, marketing, staff, adding an online shop, serving disabled customers and preventing theft.
Discount Cards for Local Shops
The way to get around the fact that small shops cost more, is to encourage loyalty. And you can do this by offering discount cards:
- The Mustcard is a new card to support indie businesses. You can take a free trial for 30 days, then it’s only £20 a year. Your virtual membership lets you get discounts on indie stores, and they donate £1 to your chosen charity. Just search indies partnered with them and get discounts in the south east of England (from shops, cafes and restaurants to exercise classes and even florists and architects).
- The Local Buyers Club (London) is just £12 a year. In return you get 10% to 25% discounts and other perks at over 150 outlets. And help keep them in business, at the same time.
- Vegan Card is pretty cheap (monthly or yearly membership). In return, you get discounts to hundreds of physical and online stores, not just for food but for other goods (like organic clothing and beauty, and vegan shoes). Members of Vegan Society and Vegetarian Society get good discounts in indie health shops.