I was giving directions to a lost tourist last week and used the local, 100+ year old pub on the corner as a landmark. A look of confusion crossed his face as he asked “do you mean the Tesco store?” Sure enough, the pub has become a “Tesco Express” in the last few weeks and reference to the Horse and Groom meant nothing to him.
How do you feel when you walk down your local high street?
As I left him I took a walk down my local high street and felt a sense of loss; loss of the local grocers and bakers, loss of the sense of community outside the local chip-shop (now closed); loss of the local shop-keeper who knew our names and favourite brand of chocolate (and kept some behind the counter on a Saturday morning for me).
Now, as I walk the short parade, I don’t recognise the empty shops as part of my community. I feel threatened by the boarded-up windows and piles of free papers that spill through the doorways. I have a sense of a de-valued neighbourhood that is out of my control. I am in a place I no longer recognise.
Local retailers can take back their high-streets and re-create centres of their communities
Yet there are examples of local retailers taking back their high-streets and re-creating centres of their communities. Hampton in Middlesex is a perfect example. I was pleasantly surprised last month to find a new butcher, run by a young entrepreneurial couple, was heaving on a Saturday morning – just yards from a local supermarket. I stood and watched for almost 20 minutes as they engaged with their clients, taking time to talk about their products and to give tips for the b-b-q.
I have always believed the saying “people buy from people” but the High Street (and internet) would seem to be proving me wrong at the moment. I see now that “people buy from people they like”. Whenever possible we would like to see our hard-earned cash benefiting people we actually want to succeed. And never is this more the case than when we are being squeezed financially.
Make friends with your customers and they will come back
The opportunity this presents to the local, independent retailer is simple – make friends with your customers and they will come back. Make time to engage with them, listen to them and what they want, and you will have the edge. The “personal touch” may not be a Unique Selling Point, but it is a crucial one.
Taking action to create change in this cycle requires engagement with the local community on a new level. Social media is a powerful tool which, when used to good effect, can start revolutions. A revolution on the high-street can take place through Twitter or Facebook once the right people are engaged . We are in danger of talking to our children about local high-streets as a thing from the past if we don’t engage communities to keep local products, local services and local businesses thriving.
As we drive to the hyper-markets and super-stores, passing the independent local stores on the way, we should consider the impact we are having on the landscape – of the economy and of the community.
This blog was written by business mentor and successful entrepreneur Dinah Liversidge. Dinah’s total belief that “there is no box” allows people to look at their goals in a new way and to be accountable for their results. Her own experiences, and ability to overcome life’s challenges, inspire others to take action and her practical, doable approach will leave them with the tools to take action towards real change.
Dinah lives in West London with her husband, John and their daughter Hannah. She is passionate about people, business, fast cars and chocolate.