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Opinion: Small businesses are in this crisis too

Publication: Forres Local

Forres High Street
Forres High Street. Photo by Richard Slessor | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

Recently, a local business in Forres displayed a poster explaining why their prices had increased.

It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was forced by suppliers’ price rises and energy. It’s perfectly normal for businesses to increase their prices, but with the current crisis, increases are happening when consumers are being hit by the same problem.

The poster asked for some level of understanding, and when I spoke to the owners, they received some complaints about costs going up. The message was there to point out the reality that prices have increased for small businesses too.

So how can we shop locally if shops keep putting up their prices?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that supermarkets, big chains, and online stores are also putting up their prices, perhaps even more so. Prices of some supermarket items have rocketed. So small businesses are just trying to keep up with the spiralling costs of supply.

Buying locally isn’t always about saving a few pence but more about supporting the local economy and convenience. That doesn’t mean you have to blindly spend over the odds; most of the time, you’ll find local businesses offer reasonable prices, even if a few pence more, and you’d be surprised how often you can shop local and actually save!

People say they use supermarkets for convenience, but what could be more convenient than a string of shops offering good value, fresh, locally-sourced goods on your doorstep… with free parking.

Start on your local High Street

If you get in your car to go shopping, why not start on your local High Street, park free and get what you can there, then go to the supermarket to get the rest. Make that your routine. Meet someone for a coffee, and share your shopping experiences.

It’s also about sustainability. Use it or lose it is a tired old phrase, but it’s true. And you could argue that you shouldn’t be coerced into shopping locally if it costs you more. We’re probably only talking about pennies here, and I can tell you that in Forres, at every business, you can get something you can’t get elsewhere.

Small businesses change their stock regularly, and chains repeatedly buy the same stuff.

Don’t expect small businesses to discount the same way as large corporations. I know of one shop which sells gifts locally cheaper than people can get them online, but they’re constantly being asked to reduce the price of items on the shelf.

Don’t discount; offer more value

Small businesses that constantly discount, risk discounting themselves out of business. It’s a bit like the Facebook competitions you see that attract 100s of entries from people that disappear back into the woodwork when they don’t win. A flurry of customers but no profit. And perhaps even the wrong type of customers… my friend calls them ‘cheapos’ for obvious reasons.

Big stores can afford to cut prices on special offers because once you’re in, they know you’ll usually walk out with more than you came in for.

It’s a known marketing tactic, and it’s called a loss leader. They make a loss on a product to lead you to spend more. At scale, this works but rarely does so in a small business. They also have the power to demand bulk discounts from suppliers. This is what pulls people away from local shops, and they end up spending more. You could argue that shopping locally saves you money in this respect.

We all love a discount but remember that when a small business prices a product, it’s probably already at its lowest margin. There is little room for wiggle.

If you want to create an offer, give the incentive to spend more, not less.

If there’s one thing I hear most, it’s that people didn’t realise what they could get locally, or they didn’t realise how many choices there were to be had. So for those that walk the high street regularly with a destination in mind, go off the trail and visit a shop you’ve never been in, and for those who avoid the high street altogether, park up and go for a walk, you’ll be surprised.