20th December 2022
Trudy Morris, Chief Executive, Caithness Chamber of Commerce highlights the value of shopping local this Christmas and beyond
The trees are up, the lights are on, and a warm welcome is in place along the high street. The excitement in the air may just weave a spell of nostalgia as we recall fondly the festive frivolities of years gone by. However, town centres – including our own in the North Highlands – have struggled for many years due to lack of footfall and increase in online shopping. Independent businesses are the backbone of our local communities and economies and it’s important they too aren’t swept away to memory.
Throughout the challenges faced in the last few years, our local businesses have demonstrated extraordinary resilience, drive and adaptability. Going above and beyond to put customers’ needs first and delivering innovative services and solutions for our community. This festive season, the stark reality is that faced by rising inflation, increasing energy costs and an immediate cost of living crisis, many of our local retailers and hospitality businesses will be feeling the chill in what should be their busiest time of the year.
For consumers, shopping locally and supporting local businesses where possible, is more important than ever. Caught up in the Christmas rush, it’s easy to forget that behind each cosy café window, twinkling shop front and carefully curated menu are the dreams and labours of real people. For them building relationships between local businesses and customers is so much more than just a transaction. With intimate knowledge of their communities, local businesses personally respond to their own customers’ demands rather than using central management that is led by national trends. With a focus on quality, independently owned businesses are leading the way with originality, personality and unbeatable customer service.
There is a tendency to consider “thinking locally” as a lifestyle choice, but in fact it is a vital investment in our whole community’s welfare and future. Thinking locally can help cut journeys and emissions, improve health and wellbeing, protect employment and build a sustainable economy. In simplest terms this means more jobs, better facilities and a nicer place for us all to live and work. Ultimately, we are stronger together and for rural communities’ independent businesses are at the heart of rural resilience.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce continues to work closely with its 225 members to be the voice of business in the North Highlands. Ongoing support past the festive season and beyond is needed to help keep businesses going into next year and beyond. For us this means advocacy and galvanising support and action. The Chamber’s strapline is ‘Stronger Together’ and time and time again we have seen the outworking of this spirit of ‘togetherness’ in our community.
We are all being impacted by the cost of living and energy crisis, some undoubtedly more than others, however this Christmas and into 2023 and beyond, where we can, let’s think about shopping local and supporting our community. We are after all, in it together.
The View from the Board – Andrew Mackay, Owner, The Caithness Collection – The Norseman Hotel, Wick, The Pentland Hotel, Thurso & The Castletown Hotel.
The lists have been written and an intriguing challenge set. The young folk of the Mackay household have spoken – this year a more sustainable Christmas is on top of their agenda. Like most shoppers our personal spending habits have changed over years in-line with the growth and convenience of online shopping. Inevitably and regrettably, contributing to decline in trade of our local high streets and independently owned businesses. Encouraged to gift locally, a pro-active approach is required and it’s heartening to see the younger generation becoming a driving force for a shift in habits.
Research commissioned by Visa UK with the Centre of Economics of Business found that for every £10 spent with a local business more than a third stays within the local area as a result of local-concentrated employee based and supply chain composition. Flourishing local businesses have a meaningful and sustainable impact on making rural communities a vibrant place to live and work.
From a tourism perspective, this is also true. Our own hotels rely not only on our network of local suppliers and service providers, but also on the unique culture, heritage and local identity of our beautiful county. Our independent hotel business plays a huge role in attracting tourism to the North Highlands. With visitors valuing authentic experiences, individuality and diversity of our local independent businesses far outweigh the homogenised offer of the mass market.
Buying local isn’t just buying exclusively from the high street, it is about every pound spent in a local business employing local people, whether that’s fish merchants, DIY, furniture, kitchens and bathroom, using local tradesmen, a gardener, a cleaning firm, a local restaurant, café, craft businesses; the list goes on.
Sometimes there can be a misconception that buying local is more expensive. This year our independent filling stations have demonstrated it can be far cheaper to purchase fuel locally from an independent than from major supermarket or oil-company-owned stations. So it pays to do some research before making that purchase.
Looking forward into the new year and with the cost-of-living crisis affecting both businesses and households; rising costs from insurance and energy to core products mean we are all tightening our belts and being savvy where we can.
Inevitably online shopping is here to stay, but a balanced and mindful approach to our consumer spending habits will help secure a future for our local economy and community. As independent business owners continue to blend their online and offline offering as a way to reach their customers, ongoing support from their local communities will help to keep the business going into next year and beyond.