Retail and Consumer
Independent and united: The businesses helping lead a market town’s economy out of lockdown
A lot has been said about businesses adapting through lockdown and strategies for whole towns to emerge and thrive, but one Gloucestershire market town seems to already have good momentum.
Building communities, championing your differences and independent businesses, embracing on-line, using social media to raise your profile, forging new routes to your customers, having faith - it is all so much easier to say than do.
In the Gloucestershire market town of Stroud no one is saying it is easy, but it appears to be managing all of the above and drawing people into the town through playing to its strengths.
InStroud (@in_stroud_glos), the Twitter account that works with the town’s chamber of trade to champion the businesses within its precincts has even released a series of Twitter videos – part tribute part reminder – of the town’s array of independents.
The focused, united voice emerging will chime with the 'Think Gloucestershire’ message from GFirst LEP, the local enterprise partnership leading the county-wide economic recovery strategy – a campaign aimed at encouraging us all to support our county’s businesses.
Ry Gerbrands, who works for the iconic Made in Stroud shop, said the business fought to stay open in the early days of lockdown, but closure was eventually inevitable and “heart breaking”.
“We threw ourselves into taking product pictures, working on the website and local deliveries. You have to carry on, focus on the things you can do, and work hard and be positive,” said Mr Gerbrands.
In the case of Made in Stroud all that preparation in readiness is now paying off.
“Trade is up 10 per cent this month on last July and we were shut for the first three days too. People in Stroud have been amazing, really supportive – especially since we re-opened.
“But there has also been a lot of tourism with people coming to the town from all over.”
Peter Elms, who owns two businesses in the town – party supplies shop Party on Up on London Road, and Confection Affection in Threadneedle Street, said those businesses which had worked hard through lockdown had put themselves in a best position.
Be that working on their on-line offering, redecorating their shops ready for re-opening or promoting themselves on social media.
“What we are finding is the people who come into town come in to buy. You are not getting the browsers like before,” he said.
“We are still only on about 40 per cent of our numbers at Party on Up – but that is only to be expected with fewer gatherings and parties taking place at the moment.
“But in Confection Affection we are on par with last year.”
Already having a good on-line presence and website shop had helped, but some clever footwork (not least transferring his entire Easter egg stock onto the website pre the big day) had paid off.
He had even introduced home delivers, with the most orders in one day being 31. But the biggest win being keeping the business top of mind for customers.
We have your fave Stroud mugs stocked back up. Always the best way to start the day! We’re open 9-5 today with beautiful British grown flowers by @thistlebynature set up outside our shop from 10.30. Don’t forget we’ll also be open tomorrow 10-4. Quieter shopping & free parking! pic.twitter.com/sirEPtWKbB— Cornflower & Calico (@cornflowerandc) August 8, 2020
Tony Davey, the chairman of Stroud Chamber of Trade, said 110 businesses through the town centre now sported the ‘shop local’ (#Shoplocal) posters in their windows – an initiative in partnership with the district council.
And the town’s famous farmers’ market was back in force, helping re-establish a sense of occasion to a trip into the capital of the Five Valleys.
“We have made a point of working together with everyone, not just members. We are here for our members, but no one is going to really success unless we all work together, and I think that has bene the general spirit,” said Mr Davey, who added that many of the national chains in the town had also embraced the orange poster campaign sending out a united message which had helped visitors feel comfortable.
Liam Griffin, the manager of K ‘n’ G Convenience (Threadneedle Street), said the business had managed to stay open throughout, but on vastly reduced hours. Pre-lockdown it was open from 6.30am to 8pm.
Those hours had now crept back up to 8am to 6pm Monday to Thursday, until 7pm on Friday and a 9am to 4pm on Saturday as footfall started to return.
“People are coming back into town now. It is gradual, but it is there. It is definitely picking up.”
Julie Brown, who has run Loose, the packaging-free food market in Lansdown Since April 2018, said lockdown has overall worked out well for her business.
A retailer of beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coffee, teas, herbs, spices, snacks, chocolate, grains, pastas, plus cleaning and home skin care ingredients as well as household and personal care items, trade on-line had gone well.
“Since lockdown finished trade has dropped off. We re-opened three weeks ago. Footfall is definitely down on pre-lockdown.,” she said, adding that the business was still on reduced opening hours (10am to 2pm) as it felt its way forward.
“I am not worried or concerned,” she said, adding that recent investment in the Five Valleys Shopping Centre was also a good omen. “Stroud has a strong community. There is a good community vibe. Tony Davey has been very supportive, there is a lively WhatsApp group. Stroud is definitely open for business.”