Clare Rayner on Local Business Schemes

managing customer relationships

This month I wanted to focus on how smaller retailers can get involved with, and benefit from, the many and various local business schemes and high street regeneration activities on offer. However, before you can get involved you first need to identify what is on offer and who to approach to find out more.

There are potentially a number of different groups who could be the organisers of activities and events for the benefit of local business in high streets across UK towns, villages and city centres. Depending on your area these could include:

Parish / town / city council
District / borough / county council
Business Improvement District
Town team / town centre partnership / regeneration group / traders association
Federation of small businesses / chamber of commerce etc

To name a few! You’ll need to work out who does what in your area.

Then, once you’ve got more of a handle as to what’s going on and who to approach you can start to assess what you want to get involved with. Obviously depending on your objectives you will need to determine what you can invest in, in terms of time and effort, and to assess what would be most beneficial to you.

Typically, there are several different types of  local business schemes, including:

Schemes that collaborate with local business to create activities and events that drive greater levels of community engagement, increasing footfall and sales.
Schemes that connect local businesses, encouraging networking between traders and others, which could then lead to beneficial referrals, partnerships, or, of course, collaborations to boost trade.
Schemes that are typically led by a local authority or BID, focused on gathering the input and ideas from local businesses in order to develop plans for the area that support economic development.

So depending on what you want to get out of a local business scheme, or indeed what you want to put in to one (in terms of ideas and feedback for instance), some may appeal to you and others may not.

In general, the schemes with the most immediate positive impact on local traders are those that focus on having an immediate impact on community engagement – usually through planned events or other marketing activities.  Research from Springboard has proven that there is a direct correlation between footfall and economic performance, so it stands to reason that anything which is designed to bring more people into a high street or town centre should have a positive knock-on effect on those who trade there.

I’m a firm believer that one of the most powerful ways to get people to re-engage with their local high streets, town or village centres is to produce a full calendar of events and activities. Using events to draw people into the town or village is a great way to ensure that local residents can have regular and repeated exposure to the businesses and service providers that are literally “on their doorstep”. Not only do they get to enjoy the experience of the event itself, but bringing them into the centre of the town or village will additionally remind them of what’s on offer and how great their place can be (in case they’ve forgotten in the monotony of their daily routine!)

So my advice to any independent retailer that wants to get more involved in activities to boost trade would be to focus on events – and if a scheme doesn’t already exist that produces the necessary engagement there is nothing to stop you, and your neighbouring retailers, from getting together and starting something yourselves.

It’s relatively easy to get something up and running for your area. You could create a calendar of events that could be themed to tie in to local, regional, national and international events such as religious holidays (Christmas, Easter, Divali, Eid), sporting occasions (Olympics, World Cup, Tour de France) or any other good reason (Queen’s 90th Birthday, a local centenary, St George’s day etc). They can also include speciality markets or be linked to arts, culture and local history – such as music festivals and heritage weekends.

However, it is worth remembering that whoever is organising the activities that it will take time to build up a “buzz” around the community. Over that time, through word of mouth, news spreads about the great days out that people can enjoy in a place and so the visitor numbers will build up. Eventually you’ll discover that people are eagerly anticipating the next event and you should also see a positive impact on the general footfall to the high street at other times. It won’t happen overnight.

There is no “golden bullet”, but investing your efforts in schemes to help boost trade in the community is certainly one way of taking part in shaping the future for your high street, and, for the businesses (like yours) who trade there.