6 ways to support small businesses right now, according to the women who run them

Sally Newall
Photo credit: Getty

From Red Online

At Red, we've been supporting small businesses throughout lockdown, and we've been so impressed with how they've navigated the challenges posed during the pandemic, with many changing business models and finding new revenue streams in a matter of days.

They've been the places we've turned to for pick-me-up outfits (ready for when those bubbles finally get bigger), or homeware to make our kitchen-table offices that bit comfier. And when it was safe, they kept the delicious food and 'proper' coffee coming. We want them here to stay, so we asked two business owners to let us know how we can best lend our support now the doors are beginning to reopen.

Roo Cross runs Roo’s Beach, a fashion and lifestyle boutique and coffee shop in north Cornwall.

Like many, we furloughed most of our team, apart from digital staff who worked on the website and social media. We got a £10,000 small business grant, which helped. I posted out deliveries and answered enquiries from the shop, with my daughters helping out, and locals were able to pick up parcels from outside. Previously, the shop made up 70% of sales; we have a loyal local customer base and repeat holidaymakers. They come to us for their ‘Cornwall wardrobe’ – nobody needs smart clothes here.

Before, we would spend a lot on expensive shoots for the website, but they never really converted. We’ve changed our interaction with customers, being more reactive, relaxed and personal online, bringing the shop experience to people's homes. We’ve been posting selfies and styling videos on Instagram of us in the clothes.

We’re down overall on takings but online sales are up eightfold, and 35% of those are from new customers. We’ve given the store and coffee shop a lick of paint and now as we reopen for appointments and take-aways, we need to keep up the positivity.

How you can support us

Book an appointment

Locals have told us they’re desperate to come in, and we're looking forward to holiday-makers too, when they can. We now have an appointment system, with a maximum of two people at a time. We’ve been working hard to sort all the safety measures, as nothing beats the in-store experience.

See our point of difference

We stock around 70 brands, including many like American Vintage, Levi’s, L.F. Markey and Veja that you don’t typically see in Cornwall. We champion slow fashion and sustainable homewares that will last. People don’t want too much choice and we sell clothes that are timeless. Mothers and daughters come in and both find things they love.

Tell us what you want

I’ve loved reacting to what our customer base tells us they want. Levi’s denim shorts have been our best seller in lockdown. Lots of women have said that they would never have tried them, but when they’ve seen our posts, with someone like them wearing the pieces, they've been inspired.

Naomi Morris and her brother James run Morridge, a Birmingham-based cafe specialising in oats and coffee. They opened in May.

We couldn’t have chosen a worse time to open! The builders began the fit-out a week before lockdown, but it took 11 weeks rather than the planned five and things went over budget. We had our base-line outgoings – electricity bills, services charges, rent, business levies – and we weren’t eligible for the government support. We opened a few weeks ago for a soft launch just doing take-away coffees. The builders hadn’t finished and the city centre was deserted but we went for it.

The support has been amazing. We’re now doing a small breakfast takeaway menu, with porridge, overnight oats and yoghurt and granola. We’ve added cookies to up-sell with coffee, too. We’re doing 25% of what we projected; our upstairs room is shut and we’d planned to sell lunches and products like granola to take home, but I’ve accepted that will take time.

Talk with your feet and keep coming back

The support’s been heartwarming, as local people have been seeking out independent businesses. Some have discovered us through our A-board and through the pop-up breakfast stand I had last year. We’ve launched loyalty cards and that’s working – we already have a posse of police from the local station regularly showing up.

Buy our merchandise

When we had no money coming in, we designed organic cotton tote bags and T-shirts to sell. They worked with our sustainable ethos and we tried to make shopping as convenient as possible – it helps that quick payment methods like PayPal were already automatically integrated with our website.

Spread the word

Social media posts and word-of-mouth recommendations are so important. People have been posting wonderful reviews and photos, I think they’ve felt sorry for us! We’re one of only two places in Birmingham that sell Monmouth coffee, so we’ve had a lot of posts from people loving ‘proper coffee’ after lockdown.

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