From Bean Stall in Birmingham putting out a sign that reads “Great fresh coffee from your tax paying local indy” and Dot’s Pantry in Torquay excepting Costa Coffee vouchers, small businesses are playing on the attractive qualities of having a unique offering to win customers.John Doherty, co-owner of Dot’s Pantry, said the main difficulty of competing with larger chains is consumer behaviour and laments these businesses’ lack of investment in their local communities. Doherty previously worked at a major supermarket chain, which had taken a similar approach with competitors’ vouchers, and knew that there wasn’t going to be any repercussions. However, he said a scheme like this requires critical mass and would have really benefitted from a number of the local coffee shops getting involved: “Sadly the British public is focused on big brands. These national chains just open the door and they rely on their flag to get people in. We can challenge on cost, quality and price, on every front really. However, they still cost us a couple of hundred quid a week. They don’t contribute anything to the town; they don’t do anything to drive up the footfall.” Locally sourced food is becoming a favourite as consumers look to reduce environmental impact and improve the quality of the food they’re eating and businesses have been able to take advantage of this trend. Poco is one of a number of restaurants on my local high street in Bristol which promotes the way they source local ingredients, listing the names and locations of the farms and fisheries on the menu board. The Bristol Pound celebrated its second anniversary in September this year and, with more than 650 traders excepting it, the currencies already worth over half a million pounds to the local economy. Having the currency helps promote businesses in the area and encourages people to buy locally, working particularly well for food and drinks retailers. There’s also the Brixton Pound and The Lewes Pound, among others, and Exeter recently announced plans for a local currency. It’s possible that small businesses will receive a boost from the mega-trends of local sourced goods and the disenfranchisement with corporate brands, and the changes in consumer behaviour that this brings. Entrepreneurial businesses like Bean Stall with its tongue-in-cheek billboard are already trying to take advantage. The use of local currencies and promotion of locally sourced foods is likely to have a positive knock on effect in the local supply chains and increase the footfall around the areas where these retail businesses are based. Hopefully these promotions can help businesses reduce the kind of moth-to-flame attraction consumers feel towards major brands that Doherty describes and drive up small business sales.
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