3 ways to unlock the value of your small businesses

29 October 2020, 13:55 PM
  • Small businesses have seen a surge of support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s increasingly important for fine food shops to cash in on consumers’ love for local
3 ways to unlock the value of your small businesses

Why do consumers shop locally? According to consumer guru Kate Hardcastle MBE, there are a range of reasons: it could be the way it makes shoppers feel connected to their community, the local provenance of the products that small shops champion or the sense of familiarity and the personal touch they offer with regards to customer service.

Over the lockdown, the special place that small businesses hold in their communities became even clearer to consumers. In fact, 59% of Brits said they were now supporting their local businesses more than previously, according to research commissioned by American Express and Small Business Saturday UK.

As large supermarket chains grappled with panic buying and snaking queues, consumers flocked to their local independent food shops. Even when overall consumer spending plummeted in April, research by Barclaycard found that food and drink specialist stores recorded a rise of 37.7%. More than half of British consumers said the pandemic made them realise how much they value their local shops.

Importantly, this support hasn’t been short-lived: more than a third of people surveyed in Small Business Saturday’s research said they will continue backing small shops despite the recession.

The rise in public support comes as small firms play increasingly vital roles in their local communities. Not only have they worked hard to provide new products and services, such as deliveries and click and collect platforms, through the lockdown, but research from retail tech company Ubamarket shows that for many, getting to the shops was a lifeline in a dark time. 50% of Brits told Ubamarket their weekly shop was vital to combating isolation during the lockdown.

Mark Walmsley, chair of the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC) told Speciality Food that small independent food and drink shops have always played an important role in local communities. “We have seen clearly how communities have wanted to support local restaurants and cafés that were forced to close in March by ordering takeaway food from them, not just because they like them and they value them, but also because they know that the food they received from them is distinctive and of a high quality.

“Similarly, we saw how in May there was a sales growth of 63% at independent food stores, particularly in terms of buying grocery items, and whilst that growth has tempered as lockdown has eased, it is still around 20%, according to recent data.”

Michelle Ovens, director of Small Business Saturday, said along with being there for local customers, small businesses have “shown strength, determination and agility in coping It’s no wonder that support for Britain’s small businesses is rocketing,” Michelle said.

SMEs lead the charge on sustainability and innovation

One reason behind the success of small shops is their ability to tap into the issues that are important to consumers. For instance, independent shops have emerged as champions of sustainability, which is an issue of growing significance in the food industry – and one that consumers are clearly motivated by.

“We know that more than half of UK shoppers have reduced the amount of single-use plastic that they purchase over the last year or so,” Mark explained. “Because the independent retail sector is nimble and innovative, it has been best placed to lead this charge in a highly creative way, and the fact that shoppers have so significantly bought into what these zero-waste shops are offering is one of the reasons why larger retail chains are trying to replicate the approach on a larger scale.”

Earlier this week, the IRC released its shortlist for Britain’s Best Small Shop of 2020, which included three zero-waste shops as well as an organic and natural food wholesaler. “The shortlist reflects increasing public interest in ethical and sustainable shopping,” Mark said.

As well as tapping into the sustainability movement, these shops also showed how small businesses can unlock further value in their local communities by kick-starting innovative initiatives.

1. Invest in innovative tech

Sarah Martin, the founder of Nourish of Topsham, one of the shortlisted zero-waste businesses, said her shop is actively involved in local initiatives, such as Extinction Rebellion and Plastic Free Exeter. “We’re pioneers,” says Sarah, who is also ensuring the business uses the latest technology to get ahead. In the future, she plans to integrate dynamic inventory management with a just-in-time system that will boost efficiency and decrease waste, plus footfall tracking to ensure opening hours are optimised.

2. Partner with other local businesses

Fillfull, a plastic-free shop based in Ottery St Mary, East Devon, which has been shortlisted in the IRC’s competition, has shown its passion for sustainability and the local community by creating a new initiative, In My Back Yard, which acts as a local food hub for East Devon.

“With six collection points throughout East Devon and customers being able to order from multiple shops on one online platform (or by phone), this service offers a convenient and safe alternative to supermarket and high street shopping,” says director Dan Prince.

3. Adapt your offering to new shopping trends

Naked Pantry & Naked Quench in New Milton, is the New Forest’s first and only zero-waste and plastic-free grocery and coffee shop. Over lockdown, the business worked hard to continue serving the community through new takeaway and delivery options. “We are continuing our online services and deliveries and are assisting with starting a local producers’ market,” said owner Kathy Sirl.

Wild Thyme, an independent wholefood shop in Southsea, The Pangbourne Cheese Shop in Pangbourne, near Reading, and Brecon Chocolates were also featured on the IRC’s shortlist thanks to the central role they play in their local communities.

During a particularly challenging year for small independents, it is encouraging to see that fine food shops across the nation are leading the way with innovation in their local communities.

To learn more about how the food sector is driving sustainability, download your free copy of A Sustainable Future 2020.

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