In my last post one of the statements that garnered quite a lot of attention was
“As an example, I am hearing of (and locally seeing) quite a lot of local independent businesses opening up, and a better realism of what the stock of store units should be. Both are positive signals of retail change. Maybe we could speed these processes up by targeted investment and replacement and better and faster support for independent retailers?“
My own observations, as well as what others are telling me from various places across the country, suggests that there has been a growth in independents opening in the last wee while. We also know of many who have, during the pandemic, pivoted to online (often non-food) or seen strong local trade (especially food, some of whom have also gone online).
Around these independents have developed some stronger supply systems from wholesalers and producers whose markets have been hit (again often in food, but perhaps some non-food Brexit effects) and also support and technology systems and apps allowing retailers to collaborate sectorally and locally and to move online rapidly and successfully.
But at the same time we may be missing the detail and other stories, good and less good (some may have closed never to reopen). For example my watching brief of #IndieHour (twitter on Tuesdays at 8pm) saw a recent discussion about the speed or otherwise of the financial support from governments and through local government. In some cases there was nothing but praise, and in others sheer frustration, if not despair, at the lack of timely support. In one case this varied depending on the side of street the shop was.
In Scotland, the #ScotlandLovesLocal campaign and the support for businesses through BIDS and other town funding sometimes routed through Scotlands Towns Partnership (we have chanelled c£3.6m into business and communities on behalf of the Scottish Government) has been strongly backed by many businesses, local authorities, politicians and media companies.
One of the advantages of the independent sector is its vast scale, but that also means much happens locally or great stories or issues remain hidden. We need to know more about what worked or did not work during the pandemic in terms of support and operations; and we need to know what more could be done as we re-awaken economy, society and the sector (and its support channels).
It is this that Bill Grimsey (of the Grimsey Review, Grimsey Report 2 and Build Back Better) is wanting to uncover for his next report from his team.
Grimsey (@BillGrimsey) has campaigned for greater government support for small businesses and said there was a dawning realisation that independents have an essential role to play. “Smaller shops and hospitality businesses have been undervalued by government for years … but two things have happened during the pandemic that’s challenged this thinking. Firstly, there’s been a rise in localism with people coming to value smaller, local shops and commuting less. Secondly, many major brands have gone bust and disappeared for good from our high streets leaving huge gaps behind … A few years ago, everywhere wanted a Debenhams but now towns are realising that the clone town model is over. Independent shops and hospitality are key to developing a distinctive identity and unique sense of place.”
Grimsey is thus inviting Independent high street businesses (and wholesalers, trade bodies and others that have interest in the independent sector) to share their pandemic experiences, highlighting the challenges they faced, the action they took and the help (or lack of) and support that they received from local and central government, third sector bodies and their local communities.
Independents (and others) are being invited to email their experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org
Four questions can help structure any responses (but all responses in any form are welcome). Have you made changes during COVID in any or all of the following ways and how successful have these been and what problems have you faced?
How the business gets goods and services to consumers? (e.g. example, have you traditionally just sold goods through physical outlets and now set up online ordering and delivery? Have you set up a click and collect service? Have you closed aspects of the business and opened others?).
Have you targeted new groups of consumers? Have you changed the range of products and services that you offer? Have you made changes to branding? Added new products/brands? Have you communicated with customers in different ways e.g. developed a social media strategy? Have you changed pricing strategy? Have you made changes to the way goods and services are presented to consumer e.g. re packaging? Have you adopted any new technology? Have you implemented any new systems to deal with customers?
Have you taken on more/less staff? Have you collaborated with other businesses, either formally or informally? Have you changed ownership of all/parts of the business? Have you sold parts of the business? Or acquired new?
Have you accessed any external funding support during COVID? If so what was it and how useful has it been? What further support would have been useful?
In order a report can be published in June 2021, the closing date for getting in touch with Bill is 24th May.
As always very interesting and informative thoughts and observations. As someone who has worked closely with the independent businesses for 12 years now, one of my frustrations is projects get funding such as incubation centres, only for that funding to run out after a relatively short time.
I have been involved with several projects where things were getting going and results being achieved only to have to stop.
However that being said there are some fantastic businesses and people in our communities and great projects like Cockenzie House that are providing help and facilities.
Thanks John. Recognise the issue you raise. One of the reasons we asked for longer term, more sustainable and substantial funding and capital and revenue spend in our recent Report. There are great local businesses out there and waiting to start and we need to support them