I am not wholly convinced about Small Business Saturday, which took place on the 6th December. Another US import, it is now in its second year in this country. It has had an impact and a lot of publicity and one hopes this is a good thing for some shops, especially given its position in the run-up to Christmas. But, shouldn’t our commitment to diversity and small shops be part of our everyday activities, not just a Saturday in December?
This year as well, the promotion and adverts for Small Business Saturday have been run in sponsorship/collaboration with American Express. This has had some benefit in terms of visibility and reach, but is not without controversy, articulated especially on social media. Whilst Amex is a service provider, often to small businesses, the association with such a global player does jar somewhat, for some.
I did not make much comment about Small Business Saturday in advance, except for some promotion of specific Scottish events on Twitter. But that did not impact my personal activity on the day.
For a couple of years I had been wanting to go to West Kilbride, Scotland’s craft town. I became aware of it a while ago, especially around the award of Weaving Barony Centre. So my personal commitment to Small Business Saturday was to visit West Kilbride and as many craft providers as I could.
Despite choosing perhaps the windiest and wettest day of the year so far, West Kilbride proved an interesting place to visit. The Barony Centre itself is a great building and place with its retail component, exhibitions and coffee shop. In the town itself the presence of craft producers was easily noted through the development of coherent signage and linkage. There are a number of craft studios, combining workshop space and retail element. The producers themselves were interesting and it’s always great to be able to talk to the people who have made the product.
So what can we learn from West Kilbride? The enthusiasm and investment have been present for a while and has an obvious effect on the culture and creativity of the place. The coherence and integration of the craft makers was both visually obvious and also less tangible through the sense of place. The re-linkage of production and retailing produces quite an impact.
Whilst not on the scale of the original book town in Hay-on-Wye, there is a link in that West Kilbride is not only craft focused, but also contains the support retailers and other functions that make it a town, not a museum or a light workshop space. And Hay-on-Wye in its early stages was quite small scale in its range of book outlets.
So on a simple level, a visit to West Kilbride is a good thing to do, and I will return, hopefully on a better day, weather-wise. It is clear of course that not all towns can be a craft town or a book town (such as Wigtown). The story of West Kilbride is not so much about the crafts, but the sense of finding a theme/idea/approach that focuses and talks about the place. As was said in our recent STP Towns Conference (and the storify recap of the day in social media and video is now available), every town has a story and needs to find its (own) voice. Towns need to have something to shout about; in West Kilbride it is craft town and crafts, elsewhere it will be something else. What is your town about?