Traders in Dundee, Angus and Fife say customers are turning towards small independent businesses in the teeth of the pandemic even as High Street giants such as Debenhams crumble.
Customer experience, personal service and the role smaller operators have played in their communities this year are said to be among the reasons many are weathering the storm and developing a new, loyal following.
Some say level three Covid-19 travel restrictions have actually worked in their favour, preventing people from travelling between council areas and leading shoppers through the doors of businesses they might otherwise have missed.
Jennifer Gair, 59, runs the gift shop Prima in Forfar. She said business in the run up to Christmas was brisker than this time last year.
“More and more people are shopping locally because they can’t go to Dundee and into the cities,” she said.
“Customers tell me they are supporting their local businesses this year. They are keeping it all in the town.
“It’s hard, hard work. I’ve put everything I have into this place, six days a week,” she added.
“I’m hoping we’ll keep them. A lot them didn’t know I existed, but they’re telling me they’ll definitely be back.”
Small Business Saturday
She was speaking ahead of Small Business Saturday today; an annual profile-raising exercise to encourage shoppers to go local. This year the message is more pertinent than ever.
Karin McQuistan, owner of Charleton Fruit Farm, grows and sells Christmas trees near Montrose and is expecting her busiest weekend of the year. Trees sales are already up, as shoppers reach for an early blast of festive cheer.
“Our customers are telling us that 2020 has been such a trying year that embracing the Christmas spirit earlier than normal is helping to lift spirits,” she said.
“Coming to pick a tree is a fun experience for the whole family and is something to enjoy when many of the normal activities aren’t running.
“We are selling trees faster than ever before,” she added.
Without us the city centre will die
Ian Alexander, 57, opened Birchwood Food Emporium in Dundee and St Andrews only last year. The company runs cafés alongside wholefood supplies and deliveries.
He is one of the few city centre businesses to remain open for the entire pandemic.
Ian said the collapse of high street giants such as Debenhams only reinforced the importance of independent businesses if town centres are to survive, enabling people to shop local in Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire.
“We make a huge contribution to the local economy, the city centre and the whole experience. Especially at this time. If something like Debenhams disappears, or Topshop, we independent businesses are what’s left,” he said.
“We need continued support from customers or the city centre will just die.
“In the first few weeks of lockdown, there was only Birchwood, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Boots still open. That was about it. The community around us supported each other.”
Firms aren’t out of the woods
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said smaller firms have gone” the extra mile for their communities” this year.
“We know that many local businesses had to innovate to get through this crisis – introducing new products and services and doing much more trade online,” he said.
However, he also struck a note of caution, warning many small businesses remain in a fragile position.
“Many firm aren’t out of the woods yet. That’s why we’ve got to see people support their local traders over the festive period as they grapple with restrictions and try to make up for lost time.
“That means buying vouchers in advance, seeking out local businesses online, and using firms on their high street whenever people can,” he added.