Local loyalty may be a lifeline for independent retailers, says JULENA DRUMI
We keep hearing that retail is in trouble. It is. But not all retailers are suffering. Emma Parton, founder of the Fort William-based Highland Soap Company is preparing to add to her small chain of shops, and she’s not alone. High street and neighbourhood butchers and dog biscuit suppliers are seeing a surge in demand. The pandemic has forced a change in consumer habits and much has been said about supporting local shops, and evidence is growing that shoppers have responded.
Highland Soap, a family-run business with more than 50 employees at the foot of Ben Nevis, has reported a 25% increase in sales, a fourfold increase on 2017. It has also boosted its workforce by nearly 30%.
It will expand its portfolio of standalone retail stores in Scotland to seven by opening a shop in Aviemore in May. The company has also struck an agreement for export of products to a third continent after concluding negotiations with a supplier to retailers in Hong Kong. This is in addition to the 350 retail stockists already established across Europe and North America.
Ms Parton, who founded the company in her kitchen in 2001, said: “During the past year, shopping habits have changed with many customers favouring local, sustainable businesses and products made by hand by skilled craftspeople.
Butcher John M Munro, another family-run firm, has announced expansion of its premises in Dingwall after seeing an upsurge in customers who have turned to home cooking and are seeking out special cuts of meat.
Charlie Munro, managing director of the century-old firm, said: ”Throughout COVID, we have seen high street butchers begin to win back some of the customers originally lost to the big supermarkets.
“With people obeying lockdown rules at home, many have discovered a love for cooking and buying the freshest and best ingredients.”
The phenomenon is spreading from traditional food and household stores to crafts and artisanal outlets. Consumers are seeking out speciality and ethically-sourced products.
‘Community involvement is pivotal in building loyalty and awareness. In fact, positive community involvement directly correlates with likelihood to recommend a store’
A zero waste shopping ‘experience’ has just opened in Leith’s Biscuit Factory, appealing to those who are turning away from supermarkets and processed food.
Beautiful Planet is the brainchild of Pawel Ferguson who will stock a large range of foods that can be weighed and packed in customers’ own containers alongside drinks, oils and infused oils, detergents, laundry products and dog products that are not readily available elsewhere.
Mr Ferguson is determined to offer a focused and ethical approach by working with local and independent suppliers and producers.
Lumina Intelligence’s recent Future of Convenience Report 2021 shows that 42% of respondents will continue to shop locally in the future and 78% say it’s either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to support local suppliers and retailers.
In addition, 74% of respondents say it’s either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to support businesses that give back to the community.
Alice Dolling, senior insight manager at Lumina Intelligence, said: “Convenience store retailers are perfectly positioned to capitalise on the demand for shopping locally. Community involvement is pivotal in building loyalty and awareness. In fact, positive community involvement directly correlates with likelihood to recommend a store.
“In April 2020, 37% of consumers said they were visiting their local convenience store more often, driven by government advice to ‘stay local’. The big challenge for retailers in 2021 will be to retain these shoppers.”