I WAS INTERVIEWD BY STEVE MACKENZIE FOR THE BIG ISSUE on
HIGH STREET SPIRIT -Why you should feel hopeful about the high street
Here is an excerpt:
Independent businesses offer a glimpse of green shoots. In 2019, large retailers with 10 or more outlets closed 5,901 shops – an increase of 79 per cent on the previous year. But independent store closures reduced from 11,280 to 10,172 in 2019. While that is still a lot of shops going out of business, small retailers are actively reversing this haemorrhaging on the high street.
THE FIGHTBACK HAS BEGUN
This week, towns from Addingham to Worcester are in the midst of FiverFest, where retailers band together to promote themselves and each other. It is a campaign pioneered by Chris Sands and his organisation Totally Locally. “If you’ve got a little shop and you put on a special offer, I’m not really going to come in. But if 50 shops in your town all work together, that’s worth a visit,” Sands says.
Based in Hebden Bridge, Sands is a branding and marketing expert. Ten years ago Calderdale Council commissioned him to mastermind a shop local campaign. “I think they were just expecting a ‘shop local’ sticker,” he says. “I’ve worked with some big corporates in the past. I know the strategy they use to get people away from the small guys so I just applied that to small businesses.”
Totally Locally had an immediate impact and Sands was inundated by so many requests from other towns he made his Totally Locally kits downloadable for free. “It’s a marketing strategy and campaign about independents working together,” Sands explains. “[There are] designs and posters but it is also about how to work together, how to arrange meetings. Instead of a town hall, you’ve got to meet in the pub and have a few pints. That’s when things get done.”
While savethehighstreet.org calls for local champions to represent and take responsibility for their area, Sands doesn’t believe in self-appointed leaders. “Anybody who wants to be a chairman needs to be kicked out straight away,” he declares. “We’re basically breaking all the rules that have made these things fail before. It frustrates me that all the doom and gloom news is around big chain stores, never about small businesses that are growing,” Sands says, citing that last year saw the highest number of new bookshops opening in over a decade.
Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.
Over 50 towns across the UK are using Totally Locally’s campaign with around 100 taking part in FiverFest – although some, including Hebden Bridge, have postponed because of flooding. “Leek in Staffordshire, they used to call it Bleak Leek but, with our kit, shop vacancies went from 17 per cent to three per cent.”
Sands also came up with The Magic Tenner, which highlights the fact that £10 spent in a local shop is worth £50 to the local economy.
Totally Locally is a success, Sands believes, because it gives retailers the tools to help themselves. And they are best placed to do that because they care about making their business work.
“The average shop has got 16 local suppliers. There’s people in this area who’ve got 72 local suppliers. The economics of that is huge for a town where all these businesses are linked together. And if one starts to fall it affects everybody.”
When people rally around, ties are established that strengthen the whole area. That’s what was emphasised when The Big Issue convened the UK’s first social trading conference in Nottingham in 2018. Dubbed How to Create a Social Echo: Strengthening Communities Through Local Trading, it demonstrated how every organisation carries a social echo that reverberates around the area. Empowering community revival is the speciality of Power to Change. Using an endowment from the Big Lottery Fund, it works with community businesses to create change “driven from the bottom up” and trading for the benefit of the local area.