BUTCHERS and bakers and independent dressmakers. Florists and tearooms and cake shops and milliners. Ironmongers and fashion stores, toy shops and stationers, hand-printed bag-makers... these are a few of the things which line our city’s streets and make for a thriving economy.
Forget big supermarkets and the out-of-town mass retailers, apparently the best things which add to Edinburgh’s economic life and soul come in small packages, whether that be a store specialising in gifts for dogs or custom-made bespoke cosmetics.
At least that’s the reasoning behind the Small Business Saturday campaign which claims that it’s the small shopkeepers and businesses who are the backbone of the British economy and at the heart of communities.
Black Friday and Cyber-Monday are behind us, but this Saturday small is going big with the second annual event to celebrate independent businesses and to raise their profile at an important time of year in the constantly competitive world of getting people to spend their money.
After last year’s Small Business Saturday, research showed that around 43 per cent of shoppers decided to spend their money locally, with tills in independent stores ringing in an average spend of £33 per person – a total of £468m across Britain.
And of those who shopped in a small business on the day, 19 per cent said they had spent 50 per cent more than they would have done on a typical Saturday.
Of course no Saturday in December is typical given the Christmas rush, but according to Gordon Henderson, senior development manager of the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland (FSBS), having a day set aside – this year it’s December 6 – to celebrate the work of independent businesses is vital if they are to thrive.
“Christmas is an incredibly important trading time for anyone who deals with consumers and anything which can encourage people into shops has got to be good news,” he says. “But the onus is on the businesses themselves to attract the shoppers. While we want people to think small, there’s got to be a reason for them to do that and so businesses will be running promotions on the day to entice people in.
“We have urged all our members to get involved, and we’ve already run a number of retail workshops to help, such as window-dressing display skills. Another initiative, which is not one of ours, is Edinburgh’s Secret Santa which is encouraging people to shop on the high street rather than online which is great. And we know that when people go out to the shops they tend to spend money elsewhere such as in cafes or restaurants, so those small businesses benefit too.”
He adds: “But while this is a great initiative we need people to use their small, local businesses year round whether they live in Portobello or Morningside or Corstorphine or Stockbridge.”
At the recent Edinburgh launch of the nationwide campaign, Mark Roper, vice-president and general manager of UK Merchant Services at American Express told how the concept of Small Business Saturday began in the States.
It began four years ago to mark the first Saturday after Thanksgiving when shoppers are in the mood to spend – around £3.5bn in the US in sales last year. Something for the UK version to aim for.
National campaign director Michelle Ovens says: “We always said we wanted last year’s event to be the start of something amazing; a regular event that shines a light on small businesses in a way which is hugely beneficial to both the local and the national economy. Small Business Saturday reinforces that message and demonstrates the level of diversity, innovation and talent that is active within our small business sector.”
Gordon Henderson agrees and believes it’s a day in which everyone should benefit with shoppers getting a great experience and at the same time keeping the local economy ticking over.
“It’s about getting people to think about changing their behaviour,” he adds. “We tend to think the internet is cheaper and more convenient, but then quite often our goods arrive and they’re not what we thought and quite often we can find better products that are cheaper if we just look.
“Small businesses do a great job, many put on different events, they happily pass on their expertise, they can guide shoppers to things they might not have considered before. It’s all about personal service and expertise.”
Fitness studio welcomes canine customers
IN perhaps one of the most unlikeliest retail experiences set to happen this Small Business Saturday – though it does adhere to the FSBS ethos of businesses doing it for themselves – a pop-up shop will appear in Leith combining Dugs ‘N’ Pubs and the Griffen Fitness Studio.
But according to Tracy Griffen of the eponymous independent fitness business, the combination is an obvious one. “There will be lots of dog-related gifts for dogs or dog lovers and all dugs are welcome too as we’re the first fitness studio in Edinburgh to welcome dogs into our sessions.”
She adds: “I follow their business on Twitter and I like their ethos. I think we’re both more community spirited and less commercially driven, so I got in touch.
“They have done a number of pop-up shops and were looking for a location, so I offered my studio. It will be a fun day and people can buy gifts for their dogs and
come and pat a few too, including Coco my fitness pug.”
As a member of the FSBS Edinburgh branch Tracy is a big supporter of Small Business Saturday.
“Last year we did a 100 business countdown to it and I was 56, as a result I was invited to Downing Street with other small businesses.
“There’s been much more awareness this year and a lot of businesses in Leith are getting involved, which is great given the hard time they’ve had in recent years.
“So it will be great to get people down here on foot to see what’s on offer, maybe have some lunch or coffee. It’s not about how much you spend but where you spend it.”
• The Dugs ‘N’ Pubs/Griffen Fitness event will be at 3 Balfour Street from 11am to 6pm on Saturday.
Windows of opportunity for the high street
EIGHT years ago Marie Munday’s daughter Maisie was born – and with her the idea for a new business.
The nursery owner decided to branch out into retail when she found she couldn’t source the kind of kids’ clothes she wanted Maisie to wear.
And so Maisie’s Boutique was born, and what was originally a designer children’s clothes and gift shop has gone from strength to strength, moving into bigger premises in South Queensferry High Street and into a different market, now supplying jewellery, gifts and home interior goodies.
She is backing Small Business Saturday – so much so her manager Janice Robertson attended the window dressing workshop at Harvey Nichols run by the FSBS and today will be presented with a magnum of champagne for her efforts in transforming Maisie’s windows.
“I opened the store because there was a gap in the market, and things have gone well,” says Mairie. “Of course they could always go better and I do think that, while we have great regulars, many people in South Queensferry live here but don’t shop here and they’re missing out. So I would support anything which encourages people to shop more locally - in fact more than half of our business is probably from visitors.”
However Marie says that while people talk of wanting a traditional high street there’s no going back to those days because of the dominance of large supermarkets. As a result small shops need to constantly look to offer something different and give customers a great shopping experience.
A good window is part of that. “We are always complimented on how beautiful our windows are. Janice used to work at John Lewis and did some window dressing there. We change it regularly, really make a big effort to attract people in. It’s great she’s won the competition.”
Gordon Drummond from Harvey Nichols whose window dressing staff judged the competition, said: “We particularly liked the traditional festive design.
“One window is nicely framed with Christmas bunting, parcels, berries and stockings, whilst the other has a more contemporary feel with a stylish wreath and simple props.
“They are both stuffed full of Christmas goodies which provide ideas for gifts for all the family. The windows are effective in drawing potential customers to explore within.”
‘I would encourage everyone to support local shops’
THE city’s economic convener, Councillor Frank Ross, says why he’s backing Small Business Saturday.
“I would encourage everyone to go out and support their local shops and businesses this Saturday. There is plenty of variety as Edinburgh’s town centres are crammed with vibrant boutiques and other independent shops, cafes, restaurants and many other businesses.
“With Christmas just around the corner, Small Business Saturday is the perfect opportunity to discover the many great gift ideas you have right on your doorstep.
“Everyone enjoys a busy town centre and by shopping locally you can help to stimulate your local economy and attract new businesses.
“Town centres are struggling nationally due to the economic downturn, online shopping, supermarkets and out of town shopping centres.
“In Edinburgh, our vacancy rates are very low compared to the UK and Scottish averages. At the last count this summer, the city average was just under six per cent, while the Scottish average was just over nine per cent and just over ten per cent for the UK.
“But we need to keep this momentum going as town centres are crucial to the success of the city’s economy.
“Around 200,000 people live within an 800 metre catchment of our town centres and over 25,000 people are employed within their immediate area and that is why the council is playing its part through a commitment to continuing our Building Stronger Town Centres programme.
“The programme provides dedicated people on the ground to help local areas increase their footfall and create a buzz about their high streets. Our programme supports town centres in Bruntsfield, Corstorphine, Gorgie/Dalry, Leith, Morningside, Portobello, Southside, Stockbridge and Tollcross.
“Small Business Saturday keeps the preservation of our town centres high on the national agenda and we are committed to continuing our activities to support the vibrancy and rich mix of our local shopping