Hub of the community

New research has revealed that the average independent retailer works more than 13 hours day – and crucially they personally know seven out of ten of their customers.

They have helped out at least one customer who had some bad luck or personal difficulty in the past year – and many of their customers come in for conversation and local news as much as for groceries.

This emerged from a study initiated by the MSYS campaign in the run-up to NID. Professor Alan Hallsworth, of the University of Surrey School of Management, in his commentary on the survey, says it proves local independent retailers are irreplaceable.

He says: “The combined social links with the community, and the service they provide, cannot be replaced by giant multiple corporate organisations.”

The study was conducted by Opinion Matters, with responses from 1,100 independents in nine regions of the UK. It was the first study to be designed to reveal the human side of independent retailers’ attitudes to their local community and personal aspirations.

It reveals that independents are intertwined with their local communities in a way in which national multiples, with distant headquarters and corporate agendas, can never be. “The often intangible contribution towards local communities goes beyond what can be crudely measured in pounds and pence. If this is ever lost it will be hard to get back,” says Hallsworth.

Fifty five per cent of independents said many of their customers “come in as much for local news and conversation as for groceries”.

Most retailers said their store was very important to the elderly. The report says the loss of local stores will do much to accelerate the general disenfranchisement and sense of isolation among the elderly community.

No fewer than 86% of independents said that they recognised at least half of their customers. The average shopkeeper, the report states, knows seven out of every 10 people who cross their threshold.

And to add to the social value of the local sole trader and family Features > Business, 76% said they could recall at least one instance where they had been able to help one of their customers who had some bad luck or personal difficulty.

On average independents clock up more than 13 hours a day behind the counter – with 25% working a 15- to 18-hour day.

Overall, 63% of shopkeepers were very concerned about the future of their local communities considering the expansion of large corporate businesses and the encroachment of multiples into local areas.

But responses reveal that independents shrug off competition from the Big Four with more than three quarters of independents saying their basic motivation is to build the business as an investment for later life.

And to reinforce the point that multiple competition is not a discouraging factor, 64% of respondents said their daily motivation was gained from offering a “genuine service to my local community.”

But small shopkeepers are anxious. They see the huge marketing budgets available to the Big Four as a major competitive pressure. Increasing red tape is also a concern for family businesses with 62% saying it is a burden which is hampering their business progress.

Alan Toft, MSYS chairman, commented: “This research, in addition to other surveys, provides more overwhelming evidence of the value of the sole trader and family business to the local community.

“Let the giants fight among themselves for market share. They can never replace the local linkage and connection, which this historic research reveals as an irreplaceable independent retailer community value.

“The MSYS campaign is a focus on this value. We believe it will encourage independent retailers to re-invigorate their involvement with their local community and encourage consumers to increase the frequency of their visits to independently owned stores.”

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=== response points ===

l 70% of independents said they offered a higher level of personal service than a large supermarket

l 64% said their local community would suffer if their shop was not there

l 55% said many customers came in for conversation and local news as much as for groceries

l 95% said their shops were important to the elderly

l 86% said they recognised at least half of their customers

l The average shopkeeper personally knows seven out of every ten customers

l 54% said they shared the same concerns as their customers because “I live and work in the same community”

l Most independents recall at least one occasion when they were able to help a customer who had some bad luck or a personal difficulty

l Most independents work between 11 and 14 hours a day, with one quarter working between 15 and 18 hours

l 76% are motivated by building their shop as an investment for later life

l 64% said they were motivated by being able to offer a genuine service to their local community

l 64% cited the multi-million pound marketing budgets used by the Big Four as a competitive concern

l 62% said increasing red tape was a block to business progress

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