How to build strong relationships with your local community

Beyond providing customers with products and services, convenience retailers should look to be pillars of their community.

This can start with simply having better customer service and products than local competition and drawing shoppers to your door, but there are other ways of standing out. “We advertise local organisations’ events for them on Facebook so it gives them more presence,” says Gary Batten, who runs two Nisa stores near St Austell in Cornwall.

“We have noticeboards in the stores for local events. When the pantomime is on, we have tickets at the shop for people to buy from us.”

Batten also stresses the importance of advertising in local media. “It will only encourage a few people who don’t already shop with us, but it’s about reminding people of our presence. It doesn’t generate extra income as such, but it keeps your name in their minds,” he says.

Retailers should also think about the local institutions they can work with directly, such as charity organisations and schools used by their own shoppers. “We work with quite a few charities in the local area,” says Enya McAteer, of Mulkerns Spar Jonesborough in County Armagh. “They’re all within about 10 miles of us. We sponsor leaving jumpers for kids about to leave primary schools, and there’s also a local Irish-speaking nursery who we raise money for because they’re self-funded.”

While charity collection boxes are a common sight at retailers’ tills across the UK, decreased cash use means retailers are turning to specific events to drive shopper engagement with local causes, such as an upcoming raffle stand for a local hospice at McAteer’s store.

They can also tie these in with seasonal occasions such as Christmas and the recent Platinum Jubilee.

Work with symbols

Nisa store owner Gary Batten

As a Nisa store owner, Cornwall retailer Gary Batten works with the symbol’s Making a Difference Locally charity initiative, allowing him to put proceeds from certain products in a fund which he can then donate to local organisations or causes. “Every time someone buys a Heritage or Co-op product, 1p goes in a pot, as well as proceeds from carrier bag sales. We can build quite a substantial fund for a local village shop,” he says.

Rather than having an official charity partnership like other symbols, Making a Difference Locally allows Batten to champion causes that his shoppers recognise. “We only go within a mile of the shop, no further than that. Any major organisations like Cancer Research we will leave to the big boys.

“If we give £200 to Cancer Research, it wouldn’t have much impact, but £200 to the local volleyball team is massive for them,” he says.

Staff concerns

Enya McAteer of Mulkerns Spar Jonesborough in County Armagh

As your staff are likely members of the community they serve, it’s worth consulting them about any organisations they’d like to see your store work with, as Enya McAteer, of Mulkerns Spar Jonesborough in County Armagh, discovered.

“We raise money for Southern Area Hospice Services. We have collection buckets about the shop and we do Christmas jumper days for them. A few members of staff have had family in there, so it’s close to home for them,” she says.

“We decided to start raising money for it after one of their family members died after staying there.

“I also used to volunteer there, so they know me quite well, and contacted them.”

This has the two-pronged effect of giving McAteer’s staff an extra incentive to raise money, and her customers a reason to donate to a visible local cause. “People come in and see we’re raising for charities which have helped them directly,” she says.

Work with youth

Middlesbrough Go Local retailer Bay Bashir

Middlesbrough Go Local retailer Bay Bashir does a lot of work with the local primary school he once attended. “We try and do as much as we can with them. We give selection boxes out, provide water for sports day and do Easter raffle prizes,” he says.

For Bashir, such work is about fostering a long-term relationship with the young people growing up in his community. “I’ve seen generations of adults who have put kids through that school, you see them growing up in your community. It’s important to educate the kids to be respectful of the shop and then you get better support from them as they grow up,” he explains.

Bashir extended this youth-oriented focus to a recently formed football team, sponsoring its kit and presenting at its awards. “I do as much as I can so those kids all become young adults, give back to the community and have respect for the generation that helped them,” he adds.

Collaborate with suppliers

Anand Cheema of Costcutter – Fresh in Falkirk

Anand Cheema, of Costcutter – Fresh in Falkirk, has worked with suppliers to enhance his store’s reputation in the community, through both charity fundraising and product giveaways.

“We did some online whiskey tasting which we hosted alongside distillers and we raised more than £1,000 for Strathcarron Hospice. We’ve also worked with suppliers, such as Barr Soft Drinks, to give away free products to the community,” he says.

Cheema recognises that these sorts of initiatives have a commercial benefit to his store alongside their altruistic nature. “The whiskey tasting showed the range we have in store, but it also gave back to the community,” he adds.

“Meanwhile, product giveaways – with Barr it was the first 100 customers to come in got a free can of Rubicon Raw – promote new products and our store profile at the same time.”

Explore our comprehensive archive of advice and insight for independent retailers