You may have noticed that since starting the Devon A-Z challenge I have become a bit of a sucker for local products and local producers. It would seem that I am not the only one, with the Bishop of Crediton getting in on the act and only shopping locally during this year’s lent, and the followers of the Supporting Local blog written by Sarah Styles-Power of the Shebbear Cheese Company will also be familiar with the challenges and triumphs of trying to avoid the supermarkets.
But why is it important?
The website independentretail.co.uk (a retail campaign set up by Clare Rayner) cites research that shows that:
For every £1 spent locally around 50p – 70p of that money recirculates back into the local economy. For the same £1 spent out of town or online only 5p trickles back to the local community.
I would say that it is certainly hard to argue that money spent locally stands a much better chance of remaining in the local economy. This is a concept that has been taken to its ultimate extension by some towns and cities, with the launch of local “currencies” such as the Totnes Pound or the Bristol Pound. These local currencies have a natural geographical limit (your Bristol pound is not likely to be accepted in Newcastle, for example) meaning that they stay in circulation in the local area and are spent again and again in the local economy. There is not space in this post to consider the pros and cons of these local currencies in more detail (maybe that will be a subject for another day) but there is time for a further statistic, provided by the Bristol Pound website:
For every £1 spent at a chain supermarket, only 10-12p stays in the local economy.
Not everyone agrees with this approach however and there is always the risk of ending up like the League of Gentlemen’s Edward Tattsyrup, with a “local shop for local people” (the rest of Edward’s misdemeanors are probably specific to him). For example, this 2009 article takes a critical look at the promoted benefits of a “buy local” campaign in Portland, Maine, whereas this article considers the risks of locavorism at all costs (no, me neither, I had to look it up).
But if we accept that there are, at least, some benefits to supporting local producers (and I do) then the next question should be, where exactly to go to shop? To be honest, it shouldn’t be hard to find a local, independent shop (big hint: it’s probably just down the road) but, for those in any doubt, there is a website (linked to independentretail.co.uk) that provides an online search engine to do just that. You can find it at independentshops.co.uk but I do have to give a word of warning. I typed “Ashburton” into the search facility and it prompted me to select “Ashburton, Devon, UK”. This is a good start, I thought. Unfortunately, the search results themselves were a bit disappointing:
I have nothing against any of the shops listed here, but I’m not sure how useful a randomly generated list of 20 retailers from around the country is going to be to any user of this site. Although, that Norfolk-Northamptonshire-Yorkshire road trip in search of a frame to hang on the tiled wall of my kitchen just got a whole lot easier.
Also, when I did get the site to display a reasonably local list of shops there is little in the way of information about them. True enough, there is a link to their website and their address, but there is no categorisation, no way of narrowing down your search to find the people selling the thing you’re looking for, other than by scanning through the whole list. The lesson to take away from this is that there is no need to overcomplicate the search for a good local supplier. In the majority of cases, the old fashioned approach of heading to your local high street will probably present you with a great range of options to pick from.
Having said all of that, it is well documented that the face of retail has changed significantly over recent years. Heading to your local high street will not necessarily help those niche suppliers who are perhaps tucked away from the main shopping areas, or those people lovingly creating great products from home or from industrial units and for whom the internet or markets are the main way of reaching their customers.
Savvy retailers are finding new ways to connect with customers, such as the ever-excellent #Devonhour virtual community that comes together every Wednesday to promote all that is good about Devon and, in particular, Devon businesses. If you are on twitter and are wondering if there is a local ‘hour’ for you, or an ‘hour’ that is specific to your interests, then this website lists loads of virtual communities, their hashtag and their weekly time slot. The #Devonhour website explains that:
#DevonHour is NOT a media company. It was set up by Steve and Jeanette who both have full time jobs themselves, as a way of trying to promote all the fantastic small and independent businesses across Devon. Both social media users anyway, it was clear to them that a lot of smaller businesses were missing out by not promoting themselves as well as they could using twitter.
Another idea that has worked well for retailers in Devon is the Food and Drink Devon organisation, a “membership of like minded businesses, dedicated to providing good quality local food & drink. The association is committed to continuously achieving its mission – ‘To make Love the Flavour a nationally recognised brand for outstanding sustainable food and drink.'” By joining the association, the members can benefit from increased promotion (via the website and through the printed brochure available from shops around the county). Whilst there will always be some retailers who choose not to join, I have certainly found the brochure really useful as a good way of finding out about different retailers around Devon as part of the A-Z challenge.
What are your views on shopping locally? It would be great to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of choosing to shop locally and choosing local products so please leave a comment below and let me know your views.