The Wicked Witch Has Gone, So Which Way Should You Turn?
I felt a pang of genuine sadness today when I heard the news that the ‘Wicked Witch’ in Ryhall has extinguished the flames beneath its cauldron. This award winning eatery, held in high esteem across the region, seemed to be a flourishing and resilient business that would be around for years to come. Evidently the owners foresaw a dark future.
Whilst the reason behind the closure of this business is yet unknown, there has been a great deal of speculation that the recent addition of a ‘JD Weatherspoon’ pub in Stamford is the root of the Wicked Witches’ demise. This of course is unfounded, and merely the gossip of ‘local folk’, but maybe there is some truth in what they are saying? Have huge chains cast a hex over the independents?
Despite average earnings finally rising faster than inflation for the first time in 4 years, people are still feeling the pinch. Disposable incomes have continued to fall and with that has come an insatiable thirst for a bargain. Gone are the days when you would not be seen dead in ‘that cheap shop’, instead you gloat about sniffing out a great deal. The stigma of discounted goods and services is slowly evaporating, and this could be bad news for independent businesses.
So what can small businesses do to take on the giants of industry? Well, actually, lots! Let me share some cunning tricks with you.
Firstly you need to ask, “why have people shifted from using small, independent businesses to using large, global corporations?” I would be willing to wager that the majority of people would tell you that it all boils down to ‘value for money’. Note here that there is a huge difference between ‘low cost’ and ‘value for money’. I am not suggesting that you slash your prices and make a loss! I am however recommending that you review the services and products you offer and make sure that they are providing excellent value to your customers and clients. If you are unsure whether they are, ask your clientele.
Large chains seem to be everywhere, and that is what the ‘business brains’ want you to think. Having services and facilities on every street, every website and in every magazine conjures up an illusion that this brand provides locality and convenience; two qualities we all appreciate. So how can you do this? Well the first element, locality, is already in the bag; you are local, so make yourself heard in the local community through your marketing and, most effectively, through the word of mouth of your customers.
The second elusive trait, convenience, can come in many forms. If you are not physically convenient, i.e. on every high street in the area, make sure your services are. Provide a product or service that takes the hassle out of your customer’s life. For example, I live much closer to the supermarket than I do the butchers, but I will always use the latter. My butcher, aside from being an exceedingly friendly expert, will bone my meat, recommend cooking times and even give me some ‘insider tips’ about what is coming into season and will make a delicious addition to my Sunday dinner table. I do not get this at the supermarket. My butcher, although further in distance, is more convenient for me.
This leads me on nicely to the final weapon in your arsenal; personalisation. And this is your coup de grâce. I do not mean this as an insult to the actual people who work for huge companies, as I am sure the majority are wonderful individuals, but colossal corporations lack personality. As a small business owner this is where you can trump them. You can add in small, but incredibly personal, touches for your customers, which make them loyal to you and keep them coming back time and time again. Imagine if you went into a local bakers and they had not only baked your favourite cake, but remembered that it was your favourite and gave you a free sample, simply to say ‘thank you’? It would definitely brighten your day and make you incredibly loyal to that business. Definitely food for thought (no ‘bun’ intended).
There are of course thousands of ideas you can implement in order to make your business succeed. Adding value for money, being local and convenient and adding a personal touch are merely a few. The main ethos small, local businesses need to employ, is the sense of collaboration. If we come together, embody and embed the idea of ‘keeping it local’ and support each other, we can and will survive. It is incredibly sad to wave goodbye to the Wicked Witch, but we should use this news to motivate us to support and boost local, independent businesses.
 John Humphries, YouGov, 4th April 2014