We finally got round to uploading this article! From May this year. better late than never, which it usually is!
The local shops that have won their own store war
Published on Tuesday 24 May 2011 06:00
Forget Mary Portas, the revival of the Great British high street is already under way in Yorkshire. Sarah Freeman reports. Chris Sands doesn’t have much in common with Mary Portas.
For a start, they live at different ends of the country, she in London, he in Sowerby Bridge. Harvey Nichols, the shop Portas helped to rebrand, is not somewhere the trend forecaster spends a lot of time. However, if they should ever chance to meet, their shared passion for reviving the high street means they wouldn’t be stuck for conversation. Last week it was announced that Portas is to carry out a Government-backed review aimed at halting the decline of the small independent businesses which once lined the streets in every town and city in the country. Chris does not have the ear of David Cameron, but he is already one step ahead of the fiery presenter.
Two years ago, with a little help from some friends and a small amount of cash from Calderdale Council, Chris launched Totally Locally. The idea was to help independent traders, not just in Sowerby Bridge, but across the entire borough, survive the recession, but never once has the phrase Save Our Shops knowingly passed his lips. “It’s a huge celebration of the great things we have on our doorstep. It was about showing people that just by making a really small lifestyle change they could make a huge impact to where they live. It wasn’t about making people feel guilty about their shopping habits or being negative about what was already there.” All of which sounds laudable, but not unlike a hundred other schemes which have been launched in a blaze of glory only to fizzle out a few months later.
The difference between those and Totally Locally is that two years on it has not only worked, but it has been so successful the blueprint is about to be exported north of the border. “A lot of schemes were set up or funded by local authorities as a way of ticking boxes,” admits Chris. “There was no momentum and after a while people gave up. Totally Locally is different because from the start we were confident that we had the right formula.” The name was inspired by Incredible Edible – the Todmorden campaign set up to encourage people to grow their own and buy local produce. Chris and his son sat down one afternoon to try out their own rhyming abilities and it wasn’t long before Totally Locally was born.
Once they had a name, the rest came easily. “We worked out that if every adult in Calderdale spent just £5 a week extra in local shops and businesses instead of going online or outside the area it would mean an extra £40m a year for our economy. For Brighouse alone it would mean in the region of £4.7m. That kind of money means more jobs, nicer facilities and a better future. Really it came down to simple maths.”
The group’s back of a beer mat calculations quickly morphed into the Fiver Fest with shops, bars and businesses encouraged to run £5 offers for a fortnight. With a website up and running, which champion’s Calderdale’s local heroes and hidden gems, Totally Locally soon began getting calls from other shopkeepers wanting to be involved.
The campaign is relentlessly positive. While people are encouraged to use the website to recommend their favourite haunts, Totally Locally doesn’t include detrimental reviews. All negative thoughts are reserved for those who managed to convince the public that supermarkets were good value for money. “We’ve been sold a pup,” adds Chris, who now runs Totally Locally with Nigel Goddard, who prior to coming on board ran his own business consultancy. “It’s simply not true that supermarkets are cheaper. However, historically small shops have not been great at marketing.I went into a butcher’s the other day which had a board behind the counter. It simply said, ‘Home Cured Bacon £2.50. Tesco cured bacon £2.75. Every Little Helps’. I told him he should get it in his front window immediately. He was shocked, he honestly thought if he did Tesco would send in the heavies.
“Another thing we have made a big play of in Calderdale is the fact that when you buy something in one shop you are effectively supporting 29 other businesses. If you shop at a big supermarket, most of the money goes straight to the shareholders. If you buy from a local fruit and veg shop, they will probably use a local accountant, they might employ a local window cleaner. It’s what we call the magic tenner because the money keeps going round and round.” Within six months of the launch, Chris worked out Totally Locally and therefore the businesses of Calderdale had attracted press coverage worth £172,000 in equivalent advertising. Sowerby Bridge, where the campaign originated was recently named as the fastest growing town in Calderdale and while Chris says he can’t take the credit, he is convinced Totally Locally is at least in part responsible.
However, it’s not been a completely smooth ride. Convincing Hebden Bridge, a place which already has a reputation for good quality independent shops, is one thing, taking on a large town like Halifax is much more of a challenge. “It has been a little slower to get off the ground there,” admits Chris. “But it is now starting to come together. Once you get the shopkeepers talking to each other, then everything else falls into place.” Pete Green is one of those determined that Halifax won’t emerge as a poor relation to Hebden Bridge. “Now I really believed that a young local business which buys most of its supplies from other local businesses can help change our economy in what is a very tough climate,” says Pete, who set up 816 Coffee and Catering in Halifax four years ago. “By becoming more focused on buying local supplies, I’ve built up a network of contacts I know I can rely on for quality and value for money. The more I talk to them, the more I realise how important Totally Locally is to ensuring that we thrive in the future.”
Chris has already visited two towns in Scotland which are interested in rolling out the project. The blueprint, including the website design, is free and by the end of the year it is hoped the first Totally Locally shop will be up and running. “The opening hours of most local shops don’t suit people who work full-time. The idea is to take a selection of produce and stock from across Calderdale and sell it in one shop which won’t have shut by the time people finish work. “Like everything about Totally Locally, it’s a really simple idea, but one which can have a real impact.” If you’re listening Mary Portas, take note.