With the UK currently under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses need our support now more than ever.
Whilst the government has extended its furlough scheme to help small businesses during this time, there are many other ways you can support independent brands now and always.
As non-essential shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and gyms shut their doors, here are seven ways you can help small businesses stay afloat and continue to support them beyond the UK restrictions.
This year, small businesses across the nation set up online shops to continue to serve customers throughout the UK’s first lockdown.
For Manchester-based couple Ben and Jamie, setting up a small online business has been their lifeline. The couple both lost work during the first UK lockdown in March, and decided to turn their love of affordable homeware into a business called Benji's.
What started as a hobby just months ago is now the pair’s only source of income and they stress just how important it is to seek out items from independent businesses.
"If a shopper has a particular product in mind, just take the time to look into where sells it," Jamie said.
He added: "We've actually got a lot of people messaging us directly and comparing products that we sell with those listed on other retailers for a more expensive price. Now that they might have more time, consumers should take the time to see where else is stocking the products they're after, and see if they can support a small business."
The stock at Benji's wouldn’t look out of place in popular homeware stores and profit helps support the life and dream of a couple in Manchester who have lost work during the pandemic.
When shopping online, do your research and see if you can get the item you’re looking for from a small or local business.
Reach out to your local stores
If your local small business doesn’t have a website, call them and ask if they're still able to sell via click & collect or delivery while restrictions are in place.
Charlotte, owner of lifestyle and gift shop Raffia based in Clitheroe, is one of the many local business owners around the country without an online store. During the first lockdown, Charlotte turned to Instagram to share pictures of her stock in an effort to drum up business.
She also received calls from local people hoping to purchase gifts and she was then able to send them images of what she had in stock and organise delivery of their purchases.
"The benefit of shopping small is the business owner is likely to get to know you, to know what you like and they can tailor what they suggest to match what they think you're looking for," Charlotte said.
"Sometimes bigger retailers are great, but the key is to try small first," Charlotte added: "If you genuinely can’t get it, which sometimes you can’t because at the end of the day we are small businesses and we can’t stock everything, then go to bigger retailers. As long as you’ve exhausted the small business element first."
Buy gift cards
An immediate way to support your favourite shop, your go-to nail salon or your local restaurant is to buy a gift card to use in the future. If you’re not in the market for any new products right now or are unable to use the business's service during lockdown, gift cards are a brilliant way to remain loyal to your local favourites, support a new small business you’ve recently discovered or purchase as a gift for a loved to use when business resumes as normal.
Use takeaway services
For Heath, owner of the award-winning pub Red Lion & Sun in North London, a takeaway service during the first UK lockdown helped keep his family-owned business in Highgate up and running.
Following the sudden announcement that pubs and restaurants would close in March, Heath and his team set about organising takeaway services. At the entrance of the pub, they set up a wooden table (which has now evolved into a takeaway shed), and began selling bottles of wine, beer and takeaway food.
"By the end of lockdown, we were selling 285 takeaway roast dinners on a Sunday," Heath said.
"Buy food and drink from your local and if you're looking for a bottle of wine for an evening at home, try your local first," Heath encouraged.
Spread the word
"When you support a small business, you're supporting someone's dream," said Frances, owner of candle company Flickerwick Limited.
Frances, who hand pours soy wax candles from her kitchen, believes even if you’re not in the position to shop with small businesses right now or use their service, you can still show your support by spreading the word.
"Follow small businesses on social media and comment on their posts with encouraging words. Share the business with your friends and followers, and if you see posts on social media asking for recommendations of places to shop, tag the small businesses you know,” Frances said.
"Any 'like', share or message on social media is all positive and it makes me feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile… it just motivates you to keep going," added Charlotte, owner of gift shop Raffia.
Shop virtual markets
If you are missing shopping trips and the thrill of discovering a bargain, then why not seek out virtual markets? Many markets went online in 2020, and we can expect to see the same happen in 2021. Shopping from a virtual market will allow you to purchase from a wide selection of small businesses in one go.
Take online classes
Your local gym might be closed or the pottery class you signed up for might be cancelled, but if the businesses are offering online alternatives to their services, take them up on that and show your support.
Many gyms and yoga studios now offer online classes, with some even renting gym equipment to members in the local area for their at-home workouts.
Not only does it help support the businesses facing closures or restrictions this year, it will also add some fun into your day at home and can be a great gift for family or friends during these uncertain times.
Why should I shop small?
Shopping from small businesses in your area can help keep the local economy healthy and support someone’s livelihood, but it can also provide a much more personalised shopping experience at a super affordable price.
"Last month, I had a discount on the site and with every order I added a complimentary wax melt of another scent that complimented what the customer purchased," Flickerwick Limited founder, Frances told us: "You don’t always get this when you buy from bigger retailers, it's that extra, personalised touch."
Many small businesses are also keen to hear suggestions from customers about what they’d like to see, and can often source goods for you.
"From the start, we've always said we want an open dialogue with our customers," said Ben from Benji's. "People getting in touch about what products they'd like us to stock really helps us in the long run."
"We're just two guys that will do anything we can to make people happy and want them to have a fun and accessible experience when shopping from our online store," Jamie added.
"With small businesses, they will always be at the end of the phone or at the end of the website, they're there for people if they've got any questions and that's the most important thing."
If you're buying gifts for loved ones this year as they celebrate lockdown birthdays, do some research and see if a small or local business stocks what you're looking for. And remember, there are real people behind small businesses and they can sometimes face delivery delays, especially with the current restrictions in the UK. Give things a day or two longer than you normally would to arrive, it's sure to be worth the wait.
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