How to mobilise support for local business on our high streets

We know all about the plight of local business on our High Streets which is all the more acute now post COVID.

Too many of us (apparently) shop online, people don’t want to wait for a parking space and an increasing number of empty shops creates an unappealing look and puts visitors off.

But retailers are pushing back and have been for some time.

The campaign to ‘Shop Local’ is there to encourage people to make more use of their high streets and their local businesses. Even big businesses like VISA and American Express have cottoned onto the message. Both of them encourage customers to spend more of their money locally.

So if you own a shop in a high street or you run a local business, how do you maximise these existing marketing efforts? And if there isn’t a strong ‘shop local’ vibe in your town, how do you create one?

How to promote ‘Shop Local’ in your area

Although there is a national desire to utilise our local shops and businesses, people won’t just queue up outside. You will have to give customers a business they want to use. You will also need to create a real sense of community among the other businesses in your town.

Here are some things which might help:-

1. Improving your local business network

If you think of a high street, there is often more than one hairdresser, café or gift shop.

It can be easy to feel you need to stand out from your competitors but actually, by working together as a group you will be better placed to fight off the chains and internet shopping.

If there isn’t a business network, set up a local business group. Meet regularly to see how you can improve the customer experience. Perhaps you could hold an annual event to celebrate the high street. Or hold a Christmas Fair or make sure that shops are all involved in one if it already exists.

In the same way you might hope neighbours would be there to support you at home if you need it, local businesses can do the same. If you are excellent at window dressing but not so good at stock inventory, why not see if you can offer to help dress another shop’s window if they’ll help with the stock check?

Owning a business can be a lonely and at times, daunting experience. Create a support network with competitors who will make the businesses and local area stronger.

2. Joint marketing

Big retailers have a big budget to spend on marketing.

We hear about their products on the TV and radio, see them in the newspapers and magazines and online.

How can independent businesses compete?

If you have a local business, you’ll need to have a budget set aside for marketing and that money needs to be well spent. To make the most of your marketing investment, utilise the existing local business network. If there is a local magazine, consider advertising in that.

Social media is a relatively cheap and very accessible way to advertise to the local community. You could speak to other shops and businesses about setting up a joint Facebook or Instagram account. The group could promote the high street and all shops and businesses. It can be used to promote special offers, new products, shopping evenings etc. This can be particularly effective in the run up to Christmas, for example.

The community needs to know why they should shop local. What’s in it for them?

So use your marketing channels to spread messages such as where the materials and supplies come from, how many local people are employed, etc.

If you’re a local café and you use local ingredients in your cakes, make sure you publicise that. That’s a big tick for many people when compared to the big brands.

3. Keep them coming back

Hopefully, your pooled marketing efforts are working and more people are shopping local. The next step is to keep them shopping with you rather than the big retailers.

Consider starting a loyalty scheme.

The big coffee chains all have loyalty schemes, so if you have a café, why not start your own? If you have a shop which sells cards, have a loyalty scheme which gives people their sixth or eighth card free. A simple card and stamp system will suffice.

Other ways to reward customer loyalty are giving them money off future purchases, letting them know about new products early or free samples, for example.

If you can collect their email addresses as part of this, you can ask if they would like to get information on offers. You then have a good group of people to focus your marketing on.

If shopping local also means saving money, then they are even more likely to do it!

How to give your local business the edge

Now dependant on the business, there will be a myriad of things which contribute to success. What works for a florist is going to be different to what a local financial advisor should focus on.

But there are some basics to get right, whether you’re the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker.

Shops need to:-

  • Have a welcoming atmosphere
  • Provide great customer service
  • Have great knowledge of their products
  • Be a part of the local community
  • Have a well-dressed window
  • Be able to build relationships with customers.

Those with a local business need to:-

  • Provide a great customer service
  • Be knowledgeable about their industry
  • Be a part of the local community
  • Be professional
  • Be able to build relationships with customers.

Offering the above to customers will give you an advantage over bigger brands but loyalty is key. Be clever with your marketing and use social media where you can.

The BIRA website is a good place for resources and guidance for local businesses. And take a look at American Express’ Shop Small campaign and VISA’s Where You Shop Matters webpage.

Come and pay us a visit

We’ve helped lots of local businesses to grow and become part of their local community. And as a local business ourselves, we understand what it takes. Why not come and see us at one of our offices in  ChelmsfordSuttonWanstead and Saffron Walden or give us a call.

Need further advice on any of the topics being discussed? Get in touch and see how we can help.

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    Avatar for Kirsty Demeza
    About Kirsty Demeza

    With a portfolio that ranges from startups to companies with a £10 million turnover, Kirsty’s talent for working closely with her clients ensures her services remain in strong demand.

    “The most rewarding part of my role is seeing clients succeed,” she says. “When you help a new business and watch it expand into new premises and secure big contracts, it’s a great feeling.” Kirsty never finds two days are the same.

    As well as providing accounting services that range from self-assessment tax planning and VAT to audit and accounts, she’s part of THP’s sales team and closely involved in helping our trainees to develop their skills.

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