Guest blog: it's time to back independent shops

Independent retailers, shops, cafés, salons and boutiques make our towns unique. Without them they would be clones, with all the same shop fronts - dull and bland. Independents add vibrancy, diversity and often provide a route to market for smaller brands, makers and designers who might otherwise never get their products in front of shoppers. Often leading on service, offering a more attentive, personal approach, it's no wonder smaller, independent retailers are often described "friendly, local and independent".

It's no secret that times are tough; shoppers have drifted away, attracted by free parking, protection from the elements, discounts, and the apparent convenience of out of town shopping centres. They need reminding of what's on their doorstep and that's what Independent retailer month is all about - encouraging the retailers in local communities to work together to create engaging activities, promotions and events that will engage and attract the local shoppers throughout July. The purpose is to showcase the best of what they've got to offer, reminding local shoppers about what they're missing out on by not taking the time out to visit their local retailers.

There are over 169,000 independent retail businesses in the UK, equating to 92% of all retail businesses and on average 60% of all town centre shops are occupied by independent businesses. These retailers form a vital, valuable and treasured part of many communities. They are also an integral part of local economies and contribute greatly to local employment. It is quoted that for every £1 spent with a local business 50-70p makes its way back into the local economy; compared to just 5p of the £1 spent out of town. So if shoppers really care about the community and don't want to lose their independent retailers, they need to make the effort to visit them a little more often and buy from them when they can.

However, we're not seeking charity and the effort works both ways. We know that most consumers are tightening their belts and really thinking twice about spending their hard-earned cash. Retailers have a duty to provide relevant, appropriate and interesting products and services, aimed at their local consumers, and aligned to their needs and wants. When they get it right consumers will find things they want to buy and prices that they consider to represent good value for money.

Through Independent Retailer Month shop owners have the opportunity to prove themselves to consumers, re-engaging their interest and earning their loyalty. Our plea to shoppers is to make an effort to go and explore what their local communities retailers have to offer - spend some time in their stores, understand more about their products and their expertise. After all, if you are spending your hard earned cash it's better to be spent with someone you can get to know and trust than with a business where you're just another sales stat.

If you are a retailer and want to get involved visit http://www.independentretailermonth.co.uk.

Smarta readers who want to attend the kick-start conference on Sunday 1 July at Cranmore Park near Solihull can benefit from a 20% discount on the ticket price - simply use this link to register.

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