Embedding a store into the fabric of the local community is of critical importance for many retailers, not only those in tight-knit rural villages, but also for those in urban communities or those looking to reach out further afield to attract the attention of new customer bases. While social media is a great way to get the word out, physical interaction can provide far more memorable experiences for customers that can either pique their interest in the store or strengthen feelings of local loyalty that they might have.
“You’ve got to go above and beyond in this day and age to stand out and keep yourself going,” says Andy Miles, from Dike & Son in Stalbridge, Dorset, whose support of community events stretches beyond the boundaries of the town into neighbouring villages as well.
Community events can be centred around the store itself, whether it’s hosting tasting events that allow suppliers to get their products in front of more people or setting up stalls and entertainment in the space outside your store. But there are also things that can be done away from the store, from getting involved in larger community events or fundraising beyond the store’s walls.
In the current climate, it can be difficult for retailers to consider giving products away for free at events, but the return in customer loyalty can be significant. “Everyone is struggling at the moment,” says Nico Ali, from Scotch Estate Premier in Jarrow, Tyneside. “So you’ve got to spend that little bit at first and give things away. Then you get people coming forward.”
Promoting what you’re doing doesn’t just get the word out to people about that event, it also drives further interest and inspiration for future events. Ali approaches local radio stations and other media to tell the world what he’s doing, and also reaches out to the council, hospitals and football clubs for further support, inspiration and promotion.
Lean on your symbol
There is plenty that stores can do on their own, but if there are support structures already in place, either within the community itself or via a symbol group, then retailers should make use of them. Andy Miles, from Dike & Son in Stalbridge, Dorset, does a lot for his local community through Nisa’s Making a Difference Locally charity.
“We’re a force for helping out local people, which is always nice,” he says. “We go above and beyond for anything. Customers support us and we support them.”
On top of what’s done with Nisa, the store’s Facebook page is awash with fundraising schemes and support for local events, whether it’s providing vouchers and hampers for raffles at local events to putting the word out asking for suggestions for what they can raise money for next.
“We recently helped out a beehive firm that is 15 minutes away from us and donated money,” says Miles.
Get the kids involved
Nico Ali, from Scotch Estate Premier in Jarrow, Tyneside, gets heavily involved with his local community with initiatives and events, usually raising money for a good cause like the local hospital or Macmillan Cancer Trust.
“The Macmillan event was fabulous – we got around 50 five-to-six-year-olds, and I gathered sweets and bottles of water for them and we went on a walk. We raised £1,000 for Macmillan,” he says. “If you’ve got the space outside your store, you could get in a bouncy castle so the kids can get involved and then have a raffle outside the store. Additionally, if you can get someone famous involved, that has a big impact. I got a couple of ex-footballers who are known in the community. They came and the kids flocked to us. If they spent £2 or more, they got a free slushie. If you do something outside the store and set up a stall then you can really make some money.”
A chance to showcase what you’ve got
For James Stead, from White’s Calver (Spar) in Hope Valley, Derbyshire, events are a chance to showcase the products his store offers that have unique selling points, whether it’s through their premium or local credentials.
“We did tastings in the store before Covid-19 and we’ve started doing them again,” he says. “We get approached a lot as well to offer free hampers to raffles in the local area. There are about five villages near us and we support all of them.”
Those hampers tend to have the specialist products in them that only White’s offers, showing customers what they have that no one else does, and showing that they support local suppliers as well.
“It’s very important to support the local community and the customers think it’s very important as well. Reach out to your community and people will see it and appreciate it,” he says.
Make the store the focal point
Anand Cheema, of Costcutter – Fresh in Falkirk in Stirlingshire, hasn’t put on a community event for some time due to the work involved in a refit – which, now it has finished, means there’s a good opportunity for him to put his store front and centre.
“We are looking to do a ‘reopen day’ in the future, but are just getting back into the swing of things. We can get the customers involved and show them around the store to look at what we’ve changed,” he says. “I’d try to give back to the community while making the store a focal point. I’d look at ways to get all age groups involved.”
Over lockdown, Cheema did whisky-tasting sessions over Zoom with a local distillery’s launches. “They didn’t have their distillery shop open, so we got them into store,” he says. Money raised from the tasting also went to a local hospice.
Explore our comprehensive archive of advice and insight for independent retailers