If you’ve had the chance to get outside over the past couple of weekends, then you might have noticed that spring has come.
Whether you’re eating fish and chips by the cliffs of Whitby or picnicking by the banks of the River Nidd, the roads are packed, the car parks are full and everybody’s out to enjoy Yorkshire’s market towns in the sun.
Those market towns are part of the reason why Lonely Planet declared Yorkshire the best tourism destination in Europe.
Our region is packed with them; no other LEP covers as much land as we do.
But how do we make sure that the small businesses in those market towns can sell to large crowds if we cover an area so wide?
We’ve got to be inventive and we’ve got to be a little bit different and we’ve got to let businesses choose the way in which their towns attract visitors.
One of the ways we’re helping businesses to build up their customer base is through a little thing called Phlok; a digital phenomenon that helps businesses to reward shoppers for buying local.
It allows small businesses to create networks and boost their marketing through the digital reach of Phlok’s website as well as its handy app.
The loyalty scheme is just one of the possible choices that we’re offering retailers in our market towns through our Love Your Customer events.
The events, which have already seen success in towns including Boroughbridge, Ripon and Pateley Bridge, give local businesses a chance to drive the agenda for drawing in crowds.
Business groups from within our towns can invite us and our partners into their networks so we can talk about the different ways in which they their client-base can grow.
Take WorldHost training courses for example, WorldHost are customer service experts - they trained tens of thousands of volunteers and staff at the London Olympics - and their courses are being delivered locally through MooreSkills who’ve accessed Skills Enhancement Funding to subsidise costs to businesses in our area.
And if you think that level of training might be a little over the top for a tearoom in Yorkshire then you might be forgetting this: in July we’ll be welcoming over a million visitors for the Tour de France and we want to make sure those visitors keep coming back for more.
Our market towns are distinctive, genuinely distinctive; driving customers to their high streets is about finding opportunities for businesses and letting those businesses choose how they should face the world.
That could be through world class customer service fit for an international market, it could be through taking advantage of new digital technologies and it could be through a conversation over a cup of coffee.
And that’s how we run our pop-up business café.
The pop-up business café is how we scale down big business events, loosen up their rigidity, tailor them to local businesses and then fit them into communal spaces in the towns that we serve.
We’ve already had success in Pickering and our next one takes place in the Kings Head Hotel in Richmond on April 30.
It’s not formal and it’s not pushy, you don’t have to pay to attend and neither did the business experts we handpicked and invited to talk to you.
It’s just our way of helping businesses to grow by letting them drop by, when they’ve got the time, with a coffee or a cup of tea, to talk with someone about what their business needs to grow whether it’s legal advice or a better online site.
In the end, business growth comes when businesses talk. And we want to let them talk.