Supporting local independents is high on my list of values and I try to eat, drink and shop independently where I can. Yet even I’m guilty of sometimes choosing convenience rather than hunting out an independent option. It’s easy to sit on your sofa, scroll through the internet and click “Buy Now” on Amazon. Especially at Christmas time, when venturing out to hunt down that perfect unique present takes a backseat to opening a tin of Roses and breaking into the Advocaat.
When I’m travelling it seems easier to seek out that local restaurant or small family-run gift shop for souvenirs. So it’s time to do the same here at home in Birmingham and celebrate some of our local businesses. Give them your business this Christmas – Amazon won’t go broke without your custom.
Independent businesses are much more likely to procure their produce and materials locally. They are also likely to collaborate with other small local enterprises. By choosing to shop independent, you are often choosing to shop sustainably as goods have less transport distance and therefore reduces carbon footprint. The variety of options available or quantity of stock may be smaller than a larger retailer, but this means less waste, less packaging and more consistency of quality. When you choose to shop independently, you’ll more than likely be shopping in person, meaning no unnecessary delivery journeys. Small brands are also more likely to consider their packaging, using recycled or sustainable materials.
If you wander around any craft market, in any city, you will find unique bits and bobs reflecting the city’s heritage, language or iconic buildings. Here in Birmingham we have local independent businesses who shout loud and proud about their city. My particular favourites are Brumhaus and Punks & Chancers. For iconic local food stuff – Pip’s Hot Sauce and Jam vs Custard. And of course, for beautiful photographs and photoart of Birmingham and beyond, it would be remiss of me not to mention CPF Photography. The products sold by local entrepreneurs are a reflection of the business owner so their quality is absolutely vital.
I live in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, and without independent businesses, this area wouldn’t be the success that it is. After all, many of the jewellery shops and manufacturers that lend the area its name are small, family-owned businesses. And there are independent hair salons and tattoo artists aplenty. Not to mention the food and drink establishments, almost entirely made up of independents. And in the Jewellery Quarter there is a sense of community. It’s an area that also draws visiting shoppers because of its selection of specialist jewellery shops, so it’s great that their eating and drinking options are funnelled into the local businesses. Go into a restaurant, pub or bar and they will recommend others where you can also spend your time. Each year there is a summer festival, and a Christmas lights switch-on, supported by local enterprise. Investing in the area where you live fosters community spirit, and when local businesses thrive, the whole area thrives.
It’s not lining the pockets of some faceless fat cat. And that’s another thing. Independents aren’t faceless. The cashier, the chef, the bartender – they’re just as likely to be the owner as an employee. They’ll be clearing tables, sweeping the floors, disinfecting the loo. And then after hours (or sometimes during hours) the same people will be balancing the books, networking, managing their social media and devising new unique ideas for their business.
Independent business owners will often be more than happy to answer your questions about their goods, chat about their process and make excellent recommendations. So don’t be scared of approaching a local indie – you may well find a hidden gem, discover a new favourite or even make a new friend!
Use them or lose them. Sadly we’ve seen a number of small independents in the city centre close their doors this year. Partly because they are priced out when it comes to rent. Partly because they may be tucked away from the main throng of high street names. And partly because of Brexit uncertainty. But if the customers don’t come through the door, don’t spend money, then a business is not going to survive.
There’s no big corporation to provide financial backing. No “other branches” to boost numbers if footfall is down. It’s us, the customer, that has a responsibility to support these businesses and make sure they not only survive, but thrive.
1) Next time you’re about to pop out for a quick drink, or a bite to eat, or to pick up that last-minute Christmas gift, stop and consider if there is a local, independent option rather than heading for the chains.
2) Engage on social media. Small independents may not have the benefit of a large marketing team or a huge advertising budget. So every time you like, comment or share a post on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or other social network of choice, you’re helping to spread the word.
3) Recommend, recommend, recommend! Found somewhere you love to eat, drink or shop? Tell everyone about it. I love to make suggestions to people who aren’t as familiar with the Birmingham independent scene as I am. If I can steer one person away from Nandos to Bonehead, from Wetherspoons to 1000 Trades, from Starbucks to Faculty or from Five Guys to The Meat Shack, then I’ve done my job as a Brum ambassador.
We have a fab little venture here in Brum called Independent Birmingham. Download the free app or check out their social media pages and website for great ideas of where to eat, drink, play and shop independently. And if you upgrade for a bargain £1.99 a month, you get access to discounts in a range of independent shops, bars and restaurants. Why not find out if your own city has a similar scheme to help you shop independently?
I’d love to hear about your favourite local businesses and independent retailers so please share below! This is not a paid AD for any of these enterprises but I’m passionate about sharing my own favourites with you!