6 July 2016

Fine Words Butter No Parsnips - Supporting Independent Retail

It's July and that means one thing - no, not school holidays but Independent Retailer Month! It begins with 4th July and Independents' Day when we pinch an idea from our American cousins and make a play on words. Some people, some businesses, some towns make a big thing of it. Elsewhere it passes with nary a mention. But it is a vital part of the retail calendar when we are all encouraged to support local independent businesses. It's not the only such campaign, just one more nudge to remind us that our unique small businesses actually need year-round support, not just for one day, week or month.

A newspaper article from the Guardian archives that I saw recently, courtesy of a retail colleague, *Present Purrfections in Fife, expressed our title phrase above in the rather more direct terms of a modern alternative; 'use it or lose it'. For small independent businesses, survival requires tangible rather than simply verbal support.

Present Perfect Melrose, interior

The article is by a shopkeeper who's business was closing because despite all the 'fine words' she heard from visitors to the shop: - "You have some beautiful things", "What a lovely shop you have", "Now I know where to come for Christmas presents" - actual sales were in short supply. We too are familiar with these sorts of phrases; in fact, we hear the first one regularly.

Selection of gifts at Present Perfect, Melrose

And it's true, we DO have some beautiful things. Brian and I select everything personally; we offer a mix of unique, handcrafted items sourced locally, and from the wider UK and Europe, alongside more commercial manufacture from India and China. We have fair trade goods from India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Candles made in the Scottish Borders, the Lake District and in the United States. Our greetings cards feature the works of independent artists and designers, all printed in UK. And we aim to suit budgets from £2 to £200.

We are grateful for a core of very loyal customers and it's a job we love doing; when we receive compliments, for our service or our stock, that gives pleasure too. Melrose is a retail destination in its own right, with a great selection of independent shops all offering a point of difference to the high street generally: personal, singular, providing quality and value. But in the nine years we've been trading, the task hasn't become any easier.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post by a retailer in Perth, Whispers of the Past, that was celebrating its 32nd birthday. They said: 'Today is the shop's 32nd has been a very interesting and challenging year but we are still here and that's down to all you lovely people who still come and shop with us....'. Thirty two years makes our nine pale but when one thinks of bhs having been a giant of the high street since 1928 it shows that every business depends upon public support and goodwill.

In July, Independent Retailer Month gives us all the opportunity to show support for our small local businesses, from the antiques shop to the takeaway. Perhaps discover places we haven't used before. So please, whenever you are shopping - think LOCAL, think SMALL, think INDEPENDENT. We will all love you for it!

So please, help spread the word and the habit. "It takes YOU to start the trend".

To emphasise how vital your support is, we get to celebrate local independent businesses again on Small Business Saturday (SBS) which will fall on 3 December this year.

There is also the Just a Card campaign, reminding us that even if we only purchase a greetings card we are helping to keep independent artists, designers, galleries and shops alive in our communities.

Another initiative is operated by the Totally Locally organisation.

*Present Purrfections was selected as one of the SBS100 small businesses for 2015/16.
  Present Perfect was one of the original SBS100 selected in 2013.