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Support Local Business? Why Should I?

shopping

A village circular dropped through the door this morning saying ‘Save Our Shop.’ It is not news. The shop has been under pressure for some time to keep going. The owner recently lost his Post Office income when the Royal Mail, in a ludicrous manner, changed the service from one which was based in his shop to one which is an ‘outreach service’ based in his shop for which he just receives a commission on postal work. He has campaigned tirelessly to keep his Post Office income without success. 

Now, according to the circular from the ‘Friends’ of the Post Office, his income has halved over the last six months which has affected his ability to stock the shelves of the shop. Once this happens in a shop, it is a difficult spiral of descent to reverse. Customers enter the village shop to buy a ‘basic’ product but find that it is not there so they go somewhere else to buy it. If this happens on several occasions, then customers don’t bother to come back because they assume their village shop does not stock it anymore.

I don’t like to kick a man when he’s down. Running a business is tough. You can see that he is not a happy man whenever you go into his shop. He looks drawn and tired. But, he does not help himself. When you enter the shop he is usually listening to his MP3 player. The children get short shrift when they buy sweets. It is not a nice atmosphere to be in when you enter the shop. As the circular said, the shop “is the centre of village life.” But that’s the problem. It is not the centre of village life at all and here lies the problem.

The cliche ‘Retail is Detail’ is true. If you run a pub or a shop, the landlord or landlady or shopkeeper are equally as important as the products and environment in the shop or pub. If the landlord lacks ‘people skills’ then people don’t feel welcome. They can put up with the products being slightly more expensive or not quite the right brand if they enjoy the overall experience of going into the pub.

Several years ago in Oxfordshire, our village shop was going through exactly the same descent into closure as the village shop here. The shopkeeper tried to bring more business by offering a pizza service to the village but he shut his shop at 5-30 which was no good for people who wanted a pizza for supper who were just getting back from work. He complained every time you went in there about how bad business was so you felt as though your small purchase of bread, milk and a newspaper was unappreciated. 

However, a mile down the road was a village shop which was more expensive than our village shop and the supermarkets but the owner was so jolly and always asked how your family was that you did not mind paying a bit more for the goods.

But the worst thing about the desperate pleas for business in the parish newsletter and the circular are that people will only respond to them for a short time and only if they see a change for the better in the place. In the long run, the shop needs to market itself more effectively than just appealing for charity. If it is the ‘centre of village’ then it has to feel like a place in which you would like to spend a little time. The shop needs to use the parish newsletter to send out positive news such as special offers to attract customers to the shop and not as a ‘begging bowl.’ But above all, the owner needs to make you feel good about visiting the establishment. 

Nobody is owed a living. People will buy from people they want to buy from. And these days, shoppers are very sophisticated and they have choice. For a business which faces massive competition from national stores, whether it is a shop or a pub, then their main selling point is the people that own and run them. And if customers don’t feel as though they are getting a good service from their local businesses then they will just buy the cheaper option from a faceless national business.

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