TOMORROW is the UK’s first Small Business Saturday – a grass roots campaign encouraging people to “shop local” and support small businesses in their communities, not only on that day but also over the long-term in a bid to stimulate local economies.
The plight of the high street is a concern across the country, especially for those running bricks and mortar businesses.
Butchers, bakers (the candlestick makers have long since moved their business online to reduce overheads), greengrocers, hardware stores, womenswear shops, cafés, hairdressers – these are just some of the independent businesses that are continuing to work hard just to keep going.
The Small Business Saturday initiative started in America three years ago in a bid to boost sales for small retailers on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year across the pond.
Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, decided to work with American Express, the concept originators and the organisation that holds the rights to the name, to bring the event here.
Last year’s US Small Business Saturday helped to drive sales worth £3.5bn to small businesses with reports that it has also led to repeat custom. Why wouldn’t we want some of that for our British high streets?
Yet this new initiative has not been without its critics – including me. As a former high street retailer (I owned a children’s continental shoe shop in a North Yorkshire market town), the mention of American Express made me shiver.
Not known in the UK as the most competitive card provider for small firms (their charges to business owners are higher than those of our “everyday” credit card companies), the link seemed a little hypocritical.
I was assured branding for Small Business Saturday UK would not be embellished with the company’s logos, but that the marketing budget they have as a large financial organisation would ensure the day had an impact.
In reality most people, including me, have given their services for free to ensure this day is a resounding success. Budget has certainly not been given to those volunteers for their out of pocket expenses.
But do we actually need any more American business initiatives? My response one week after Black Friday would be a resounding “no”.
We already have some great schemes in the UK that offer grassroots support to small independent business owners and help them to engage with the communities around them.
Most of these initiatives are started by independent organisations that are not politically aligned and who have put their own time, money and passion into getting them off the ground without the benefit of big business support.
I am the co-founder of one such independent community interest company.
Last week I received a large number of emails and messages from micro- business owners (those employing up to nine people) about the impact Black Friday would have. They wanted to know if they should jump on the bandwagon.
Black Friday is the equivalent of the Boxing Day sales. Crowds queuing for hours to get a handful of seriously reduced products so they feel they get a bargain is my idea of hell. I much prefer the intimacy of an independent shop to a large chain.
The fact is that independent business owners cannot afford to reduce their stock in the same way as large national or international companies and therefore should not try to compete. Instead they should concentrate on ensuring they offer a personal, friendly, caring service that goes that extra mile.
So why should you be part of the shop local revolution?
Well, research shows that of every £1 spent locally, between 50p and 70p recirculates in the local economy. If you spend £1 online or out of town, that figure drops to just 5p.
Nearly two years ago, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and pledged to only shop independently wherever I can – as a result, 95 per cent of my spending budget is now given to independent businesses.
I am not asking you to make such a significant change but a shift of 10 per cent of your spending to small independent businesses can have a huge impact on your local community.
Only this week the release of quarterly sales figures from Tesco showed a 1.5 per cent drop in UK like-for-like sales. Is this indicative of consumers changing shopping habits? I hope so.
If you fancy being part of this fledgling – and long overdue – return to community trading, why not start tomorrow?
Despite having some concerns about the principles behind Small Business Saturday, it does not stop me being one of their ambassadors.
I will be out and about in Yorkshire promoting the benefits of small business – not only tomorrow, but most of the other 364 days of the year as well.
See Country Week tomorrow for the initiatives being undertaken by rural traders in North Yorkshire.
*Tina Boden is a micro business specialist and a Yorkshire ambassador for Small Business Saturday.