You can’t buy happiness – but you can buy local

THIS is Independents Week in many towns across the country – a reminder that we should support our local independent traders and retailers. It is no accident that it started as one day, on the USA’s Independence Day, 4th July, but many chambers of trade and commerce have understood the importance of the message and have extended the campaign to the whole week.

In this region Sherborne and Salisbury both have a week-long promotion, with rewards for regular shoppers and support both from traders and residents.

The Independents’ Day scheme started four years ago as a national campaign to promote and celebrate independent businesses across the UK. It has become a voice for independent retailers to reach the local community, giving them a chance to be heard and get on people’s radar.

The campaign gained celebrity support through Theo Paphitis of Dragons Den and parliamentary support through Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock, and the Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna. Prime Minister David Cameron also tweeted his support on the day.

It is easy to pooh-pooh such campaigns as sentimental and unrealistic. After all, most people shop in supermarkets or online, most people (according to national newspaper reports this week) would prefer to do their banking online and not in a high street branch and customer loyalty only lasts as long as the price is low enough.

But there is more than sentiment behind campaigns to encourage support for local independent retailers and businesses. There is clear evidence that the more money is spent with locally owned businesses, the better it is for the local economy.

And, on the basis that an appeal to self-interest is always a winning argument, there is even evidence that the more independent shops and businesses there are in the high street, the higher the price that nearby householders can expect when they sell their homes.

There are surveys by local authorities and independent organisations in the UK and the USA that show what is called the “local multiplier effect” in action.

Research on spending by English local authorities indicates that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.

Another British survey shows that for every £10 spent in a farm shop, at a farmers market or other locally owned retail business, there is a benefit of £25 to the local economy, compared with a meagre £14 on the same spend in a supermarket or out of town superstore.

Research by American Express shows that house prices close to a prosperous town centre, with thriving independent businesses, have risen by an average of £40,000 more over the past decade than other properties.

Surveys in the USA by organisations including the American Independent Business Alliance and the private research firm Civic Economics show similar win-win results for independents versus what the Americans call “big box retailers.”

Retail studies across 10 communities of all sizes in several states, including Chicago, Illinois, and towns or cities in Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin, showed that on average spending at independent retailers generates 3.7 times more direct local economic benefit than spending at chains.

A specific study in the Texas state capital of Austin showed that an independent book and music seller returned more than three times as much money to the local economy as a proposed Borders outlet would.

If money is what talks to you, these are strong arguments.

But equally compelling are the non-financial benefits of a strong independent high street – the thoughtful familiarity of the newsagent who remembers to keep your paper for you when you don’t come at your usual time, the chatter, gossip and general exchange of news queuing on the pavement outside the town’s popular butcher on Saturday morning, the helpfulness of bank staff who know their customers and understand their needs and their businesses, the willingness of local shop-keepers to display posters for local events and the generosity of locally owned businesses in supporting the town’s events, produce show, carnival, pantomime or family fun day.

We at The Fine Times Recorder support Shop Local and Keep It Local campaigns as much as we can, and we were particularly taken by this slogan on the blackboard behind the tills in the new Gloucester Services on the M5: “You can’t buy happiness – but you can buy local.”

Look out for a feature next week on this new motorway services, which is a joy to visit (unlike the majority of depressing service stations with their identikit layouts and global brand fast-food outlets) and where the majority of the food comes from local farmers and producers.

Support your local independent businesses – you know it makes sense!

Fanny Charles