The independent mindset can be both blessing and curse

Having left a large institution and set about making my own way, I enjoy my new found freedom. Of course, I am busier than ever, but working for myself and following my passion for local shops, small enterprises and real places, makes it never feel quite like ‘Work’.

I meet lots of independent businesses who feel the same. It is great to be independent, able to make your own decisions with no corporate structures around you. Many I meet, in particular shopkeepers and café owners all made their ‘escape’ (their words not mine) to set up on their own. There is nothing quite like leading your own path. BUT I am finding as I speak to businesses that independent mindset is not always a blessing.

there is some insular thinking on our High Streets that could well be hampering growth.

There are two sides to the independent mindset. One mindset is independent but networked. The other mindset is independent but insular. In any business, insularity is never a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t help grow businesses. But there is some insular thinking on our High Streets that could well be hampering growth.

An insular mindset closes the door on collaboration. Sees neighbours as competitors. Thinks other things should change before it does. It is a threat to the vibrancy and resilience of place. It hampers the development of towns and the sustainability of our high streets. Insular thinking changes “can do” to “why should I?”

Just a while back I was at a gathering of many businesses sharing ideas and trying to help each other. These of the kinds of events that help towns and cities. This was a room of networked independents. But there were insular independents in the town too who were not at the meeting. They had seen it all before, were too busy, and had decided to “wait and see what happens”. Watching from the side-lines never changed futures or fortunes in my experience – so the task for place managers is to get all businesses to move off the side-lines and to start engaging. It is no easy task.

Thankfully we are encountering insularity less and less over the passing months. There are fewer businesses who are so focused on their own shop window that they never bother to look out of it. Thank goodness for that.

Customers are beginning to realise the cost of quick convenience to our local economies, indie businesses and the character of places (not to mention our planet).

In the last year, this is what I have seen outside – businesses closing down to become purely online sellers as they don’t have a local and sustainable customer base. A town with 14 shops closed down in quick succession and staying empty, a dying town centre with a parade of charity shops replacing the shops at fast pace. A market town where plans are well underway to convert the shops into houses leaving residents in need of a car to get to services and left with two supermarkets as their only shopping choice. I see increasing numbers of supermarkets surrounding towns battling it out in vicious price wars that lure people out of town. All that battling has meant that small businesses caught in-between have experienced more challenging times than ever. I have also seen suppliers losing out because every bargain comes at a price… In all of these towns, there have been businesses wanting to collaborate and fight back together but sadly more businesses choosing to carry on as they have done for years, not engaging, not collaborating, not future thinking. Lack of networked thinking on top of already challenging conditions means whole towns and districts can start to fail.

Thankfully in the same period, I have met independent traders moving to new premises and excited about the new opportunities ahead. New styles of businesses using co-sharing spaces, maker spaces and events to engage customers. Associations lobbying Government for the future of our high streets bringing together property owners, big brands, big cities, big businesses, small towns and small businesses. Councils investing in market town initiatives to support their businesses, markets and high streets to digitise. BIDs working with their businesses to create better places to live, work and visit. Retailers working together to create packages of products and experiences to sell together offline and online.

Most importantly for businesses, I have seen customers who love their local shops, markets and services and want them to stay near them. Customers who are busy or just very used to getting ‘convenience’ are beginning to realise the cost of quick convenience to our local economies, indie businesses and the character of places (not to mention our planet). Online shoppers we have spoken to are often excited at the prospect of being able to see their own localities online and being able to divert some of that spend with online giants and warehouses to their own smaller local businesses instead.

Shops and businesses need to work together to help customers support local businesses and to resolve the tremendous challenges facing our towns. Customers need help knowing what businesses sell so they can plan their time, and time-pressed customers want convenience with a local conscience. Insular thinking cannot help our high streets and it is time to challenge it. Times like this, call for us all to step outside, to work together and to get into big picture and collaborative thinking. There is customer resistance to a future of home deliveries, and it is growing. Networked independents can change things. Working together, promoting together and offering a shop local solution together is a good place to start which is what we do with ShopAppy. But ShopAppy.com is just one of many ways businesses can collaborate to help our high streets, markets and towns to thrive. We know ShopAppy can start businesses on a positive journey to more collaboration, better promotion and sustainable futures which can only be a good move for the places we love and live. If you think ShopAppy can help your area- just get in touch with me at Jackie@shopappy.com – In the meantime here’s one of my favourite video links showcasing a fantastic independent shop in Tickhill.

 

Jackie Mulligan – Shopappy Founder.

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