How to Save our Independent Shops
@angela.chick for Just a Card
Would you like to save our independent shops? Most of us would. But are there ways to take back the power of local communities, so that supermarkets don’t have complete domination for the rest of eternity? Yes, there are! And they are all listed below, to help either individually or in tandem with others.
Most of us have to visit a supermarket now and then, often because local shops have closed down. Perhaps you need an ingredient, and the local small shop doesn’t sell it. You may be disabled (or a carer pushing a wheelchair) and find the supermarkets are easier to park and navigate than steps to a small shop. Or similar for a young mother with a pram.
But what we can do is make a few small changes, and together, it can make all the difference.
- Change what you eat. Try to make your own meals from real ingredients. The supermarkets won’t like it if you switch from a ready-made frozen spaghetti bolognese, to making your own with spaghetti, vegetables, a pack of lentils and some fresh herbs. But your health and tastebuds will.
- Ever annoyed by the ‘thumping loud’ music? Wondered if you could ask for them to turn it off? It’s there because (like painting McDonald’s red and yellow’) making you stressed, helps you to buy more. Wear some earmuffs! And shop for the fresh produce, avoiding the junk food in the central aisles.
- Start small, if you like. Try finding a local greengrocer or farm shop. If you can’t afford their swanky organic biscuits, then just try buying your potatoes or a punnet of strawberries from there.
- Find your local indie baker, and buy a loaf of bread from there instead. Have them slice it for you, and keep it in a linen bread bag, where it should last a bit longer. No chemical improvers needed.
- If you are buying a celebration cake, ask the local baker again. Rather than some plastic-wrapped celebration cake from the supermarket.
- If you eat meat or fish or eggs or dairy, try to find local free-range suppliers. If they are too expensive, eat less of them, but still go for them over factory-farmed supermarket foods.
- Think on the special treats you like, and have them instead instead. If you like the homemade cakes at the local baker, treat yourself once a week (like French women do) and have these instead of daily cakes from supermarkets. The rest of the week, eat fresh fruit and drink cups of tea! Go for quality over quantity.
- Find out which local shops you can walk or cycle too. This means a stress-free trip to somewhere local, without the bother of having to drive.
Join the ‘Just a Card’ Campaign
Join the ‘Just a Card‘ campaign (not just for cards, for all indie shops). Indie shops can download free images to display by the cash register or in the shop window, and on your literature and website (be sure to credit the artists, if using). Small shops can also find monthly teaching lessons, to help your small shop thrive.
You can also sign up for digital membership and get immediate access to a supportive community of other small shops, with lots of ideas and helpful advice. Then you will no longer feel ‘an island’ if you are a small indie shop among a sea of chain stores. There are people out there who want to help, you just have to know where they are!
Think outside the box. Offer loyalty cards, rent out the upstairs room to a local book club or yoga class. Band together with others, and have someone create a local blog about indie shops, with special offers.
Local Shops Keep Money Local
@cheerful.geek for Just a Card
Did you know that the Prince’s Trust has roles for some volunteers to ‘champion Tesco’ for the good they do for the community? If you feel there is little hope left, it’s understandable. 10 years ago, Paul Kingsnorth also wrote in Real England of a gigantic multi-year battle between Tesco and the Norfolk town of Sheringham, which did not want a supermarket.
Shortly after the book was published, a local businessman even put up a plan to build a locally-owned supermarket with cooking classes and all kinds of social community activities. It was voted down, and Tesco has just ‘celebrated’ its 7-year anniversary.
Of course it gives lots of money to the community. It has to. But there is a real ‘top-down’ approach here. We will take all your local community, land, green belt, wildlife, traffic-free streets, local farmers, community spirit and kill off all the small shops. But in return – we will give you lots of money to build skateboarding parks. And then we shall put up posters in our supermarkets, saying how we give millions to all of you, and say we ‘support the community’.
Why not just support the community in the first place, and leave the small shops intact? Tesco obviously has customers otherwise it would shut down. But it’s not always the case:
- Tavistock (Devon) became the first ever town where McDonald’s had to shut up shop and leave, as they could not get enough business. This is a real ‘foodie’ town, and one local said ‘We feed our children properly here, so they weren’t needed’.
- In Bourneville (Birmingham), a little town set up by the Quakers became the first to have Tesco Express refused an alcohol license (they were worried about broken glass). Tesco fought the case. But Mr Cadbury (who had made the town ‘dry’ to stop workers drinking gin!) had wrapped the deeds up in knots 100 years ago, so they lost.
When you buy from a small business, an actual person does a little happy dance. Picks & Giggles
Discount Cards for Indie Shops
@angela.chick for Just a Card
Indie shops have to charge more than supermarkets as they can’t sell enough to give the big discounts. So use a discount card that brings the shopping bill down to the same level, with regular purchases.
- The Local Buyers Club (London) is accepted at over 150 shops in the city, and costs just £12 a year
- The Mustcard (South East) also donates £1 to your chosen charity
- Many cities have indie discount cards: Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham & South London.
- Vegan Card & Vegan Vouchers both offer discounts for retail & online indie shops for food and other items like beauty and fashion
- Vegan Society, Vegetarian Society, Animal Aid and Viva! all give members discount cards
An App to Support Indie Shops
Shopappy is a website already working in over 100 towns. Small indie shops can list their wares on one big site, so customers can search their area, to buy through click-and-collect or home delivery. This is how it works:
A small shop loads up the products and services they offer on their ‘town website’ (within the main website). You then visit and look up your town, to see what’s being offered. You can then pay for your goods online, and choose to collect them or have them delivered. You can also shop from several different small shops, and also use the site to send gifts to other places.
We all want to support small shops, but sometimes the logistics is difficult for many, especially if you live in rural areas. This techy bunch have ticked off all the problems, and made it super-easy to shop online at indie shops. And you still can go ‘have a chat and meet up’, if you prefer the interaction of a ‘real shop’. But say you are rural, disabled or elderly, you get to support them, but get the convenience of home delivery.
All the money you spend (bar bank processing charges) goes to your local shops. Available now in 100 towns and cities, and growing fast. Get in touch if you are interesting in learning to bring Shopappy to where you live.
Order Local Delivery from Local Shops
Click it Local is like Deliveroo, but delivers food from local suppliers. Just order online for your ‘big shop’, then indie shops all individually deliver by foot or bicycle, to your door. Foodstuff offers a similar service (for indie restaurants) in Cambridge and Bristol.
Often the big chains boast of ‘local delivery’, but of course they are not really local. The food often is coming from a central distribution house, often hundreds of miles away. Did you know that some pears and apples sit in fridges, for up to a year after picking? Use companies like these, and you can have ‘farm to fork’ within days, sometimes within hours!
In the US, Postmates is a really successful company, and a great idea we could use here. It employs local people who use their phone apps to say they are free, when local people want home deliveries. The difference is that instead of say a busy mother ordering a food order from a big supermarket, she would type in that she wanted a few items from various local shops.
The Postmate sees the request and says he’s free. Then walks or cycles to the shops, picks up everything, then delivers it locally. This supports indie shops, and the postie earns a good income, and keeps all the tips. Many people earn a full-time income locally in the US doing this job, and it’s a nice job too – lots of exercise, fresh air, visiting and supporting local shops.
Launch a Local Indie Shop Website
Independent Oxford is now 6 years old, and a good example of how to do this well. It lists all quality local indie shops online. Indie Cambridge is also very successful, started by three local people. It has its own extensive online directory and a free magazine that people can pick up in local shops. Why not start something similar in your town or city?
Did you know that Cambridge (it may not be now, thanks to the above) used to be the most cloned town in England? This is surprising, so why? The university is rich, so it’s quite the mystery.
What do you think is the least-cloned town in England? It’s beautiful Whitstable, a nice village by the sea on the Kent coast. Many Londoners visit here, to get away from it all. One local told Coast magazine ‘It’s a bit posh with lots of gifty little galleries, but it’s a bit scruffy too. But still a proper community. Around 90% of the town is independent’.
Launch a Local Living Coupon Book
This is an idea from the US. The Sunrise Guide and Chinook Book are printed locally offering heaps of eco-living information, along with money-off coupons for local green shops and services. These are printed annually and pay for themselves within weeks, so they sell themselves. They also help local schools and non-profits who can sell them to parents, teachers and local people, keeping 50% of the profits.
It’s surprising nobody has come up with this idea over here. Both have been going for well over a decade, and show no signs of slowing down. Chinook Book is now in several cities (sometimes twinned) and has even brought out an app version, to move with the times. This is such a good idea. Local people want to support local shops, they get discounts if they buy this, it supports local shops and charities, and supermarkets are not featured. What’s not to love?
These are also not charities, they are simply sustainable businesses. So with a bit of financial back-up, anyone who fancies launching one could end up making a nice little living from home or a small office, by supporting the community and teaching others about green living too. And you may even save a few small shops from going under.
Start (or save) A Community Shop
A community shop is locally owned, with most staff being volunteers who usually only work a few hours each month on a rota, with usually a paid manager. Because they are owned by the community, they stick around during tough times and tend to have better staying power. Each one does its own thing, but most offer:
- Friendly staff
- Locally produced food and drink
- Some have cafes
- Most sell local arts
- Some have a post office
- Water bowls for dogs
- Reusable bags
- Handmade cards
Hampstead Norreys Community Shop has won an award for being the best community shop in England. it’s even produced a photo book to give to everyone who has contributed to its success. Fans include Penelope Keith. Created in a new building in a beautiful courtyard, it’s only 10 years old, yet 80% of people requested a shop, to replace the old one.
The shop has around 40 volunteers age 14 to 80, and other volunteers from neighbouring villages. Between them, they help with serving customers, creating displays and others help with sourcing local products or doing the books. There is even a local sewing group that uses up recycled fabric.
The shop stocks over 2000 products, and if you want something special, they try to order in for you – as it’s partly your shop! It is quite progressive, stocking lots of eco brands from local people, and even stocked one local chocolate company months before it appeared on Dragon’s Den.
There are also refillable cleaning stations, plastic-free essentials like toothbrushes and even a shop orchard with volunteers who have planted 65 mixed-heritage fruit trees and an edible ‘fruiting hedge’.
Plunkett Foundation is the place to go, to get help to set up your community Shop. (or pub). It has expert advice and members get lots of benefits, like discounts on insurance and other goods. It has helped to set up or save most of the community shops in England.
The Galleries Shop & Cafe near Bath is a great example of a thriving community shop. Featured on BBC Radio 4, it’s housed in a new eco building and has a nice cafe and a stop for people and dogs to fill up their water bowls. They offer reusable bags and brollies to borrow if you forget, sell everything from local herbs and art, to homemade cake and local charcoal. There is also a post office, and you can pick parcels if you are out.
Books to Save Your Indie Shop
Good Morning, Beautiful Business is a book that you need to read, if you run a small shop or are trying to save a small shop in your community. This is a really lovely story. Judy Wicks was trying to save her row of Victorian brownstone houses in Philadelphia from demolition a couple of decades ago. So she set up in a tiny muffin shop.
It morphed into a 200-seater restaurant, and became one of the first in the neighbourhood to order sustainable and organic food. Of course, nobody could then knock the building down. It continued, with her example being used elsewhere. Quite by accident, Judy set up one of America’s first sustainable local foodie movements.
Today she still helps small shops to thrive, and this is her story, which contains a memoir and top-notch advice. You’ll only find excellent reviews for this interesting and helpful book, about a woman who quite by accident, had her little place blossom into a regional hub for the community, and ended up changing economic policy nationwide.
Specialty Shop Retailing is by a successful indie gift shop owner (since 1975!) The author has been voted a finalist in ‘retailer of the century’, which is quite the accolade. This book was first published years ago, and goes through constant reprints, as it’s so popular in the US.
Constantly updated to reflect growing trends, this covers everything, and is the book you can read from start to finish when days are quiet, or it makes good bedtime reading, if you need to save your small shop. It covers:
- Shop design
- What to stock
- Customer service
- Adding an online shop
- Serving disabled customers
- Preventing theft
What Indies Offer (that supermarkets can’t)
@angela.chick for Just a Card
If you are tiring of trying to promote your small shop but nobody seems to be listening, here is a list of all the things that indie shops can offer, but supermarkets can’t. It’s likely that you can’t promote on price (offer a loyalty card as one way to bring prices down and get more customers). But if you promote what you can offer that supermarkets can’t, this is the best marketing of all, and people will be scared to lose you!
- People can usually walk to you! Or cycle.
- You can order things in specially for them.
- Most allow well-mannered pooches!
- People can leave things in the fridge.
- If financially able, you can set up a tab.
- You know the community and customers.
- You provide more interesting jobs.
- There is no self check-out!
- There is no piped music!
- You can offer free delivery
- You can phone up, when something’s in stock.
- You bring more money into the community.
- You support local farmers and artisans
- Your shop sign is likely locally made.
- You support the local cafe or pub.
- You really do ‘invest in the community!’
- You stick around, when things get tough.
- You don’t wrap everything in plastic.
- You can answer ‘product questions’.
- You can make regular customers cups of tea!
Grow Your Own Grocery is a free downloadable guide from Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery, a successful workers co-op that runs a plant-based indie supermarket. With no plans to expand, it offers its experience and wisdom to help other communities. Unicorn Grocery has often been voted ‘Britain’s best small shop”. It sources food from local growers and suppliers, employs people of all abilities and even planted the country’s first commercial green roof, to support habitat of the endangered black redstart bird.
Most of us are fed up with supermarket domination. But waiting for them to change or for governments to offer better policies means you’ll be waiting a very, very, very long time. Why not buck the trend and think outside the box? Workers co-ops and people-owned supermarkets are now all run by activists in Doc-Marten boots (and even if they are, they likely have better food ethics and will welcome you with open arms).
Even during the pandemic, Kindly of Brighton started up, which a normal shop or supermarket would not have. This is because it has the will of the local community. People want to shop local, it’s just they are not often given the chance. The founder (a former web developer who decided he would like to use his success to do something to help) launched in November 2020 along with a friend, and is aiming to be a ‘sustainable supermarket’ that is not driven by profit, before planet.
You can pick up a product in this supermarket, and know who made it. And it’s not expensive, they are already charging less than many supermarkets for ethical produce. It’s already going well, a positive sign for things to come. It already has its own loyalty scheme for customers. His dream is to open a Kindly next door to every supermarket chain!
Some say this is the funniest comedy sketch ever written. Back in the day, small shops would sell everything they were asked to, so it was not unusual to have (like this) an Aladdin’s Cave, even if it was a hardware shop.