It has been a year since I last wrote about Scotland’s far too infrequently celebrated rural businesses and their successes. But Small Business Saturday is back and this year I want to highlight the importance of supporting your local small businesses this festive season.
Last year I was quick to highlight the positive contribution that rural SMEs make to the wider economy and to employment in remote as well as accessible rural areas. There is however, a clear challenge faced by many small rural businesses and that is competing for trade with online shopping.
The decline of our high streets can be chartered alongside the continued rise of the online market. According to the Office for National Statistics, household internet use has risen from 48% in 2006 to 90% in 2017 – the largest increase across the UK.
While connecting remote communities is a good thing in many ways, it does present its own set of challenges for rural businesses vying for customers against larger, more established high street names. Larger businesses with more spending power will be in a better position to diversify operations into the online market leaving SMEs to fight for traditional foot fall. And that is without mentioning the elephant in the room – the lack of access to efficient business broadband in many rural areas for businesses to utilise.
The effect of this shift in shopping trends is demonstrated in the annual study released by the Local Data Company (LDC) and the University of Stirling which found that the number of vacant shops in Scotland’s towns and cities has risen this year to 11.9 per cent.
This stark reality highlights the importance of going back to businesses in our towns and villages across the country and spending our money there rather than online. So many of our local enterprises offer unique in-store experiences that focus on local provenance and make a visit to their venue as much about the destination as it is about the shopping.
Take, for example, Gordon Castle Shop. Here you have a delightful shop in spectacular surroundings selling a series of beautiful and high-quality products all of which are unique to Gordon Castle and all of which contain something from the magnificent Walled Garden, from the Estate, or have unique designs inspired by the Castle and its characters. Together with the renovated Walled Garden, restaurant, and the shop, the site now provides direct employment for 65 people and uses many local suppliers.
Finzean Farm Shop & Tearoom in Royal Deeside is another great example of local businesses providing excellent locally sources produce in friendly and unique environment. The Farm Shop & Tearoom has been repeatedly recognised by TripAdvisor with a Certificate of Excellence and the facility has also won the Evening Express Coffee Shop/Café of the Year award. The shop stocks Finzean wild venison which is butchered in the village, home reared beef, game and rabbit, Finzean ready meals and Finzean honey. The shop and tearoom also employ 26 people, with local youngsters working at weekends throughout the summer season.
From just two examples it is clear to see that local businesses are the torchbearers of keeping food and produce local, benefiting the local economy in terms of employment and supporting local suppliers. There are wider benefits to be gleamed from keeping things local, such as reducing carbon footprint and providing fresh healthy food.
With so much evidence stacking up in favour of going back to your local business this Christmas, why not ditch the internet this year and get back to your local business – put the fun back in your festive shop. You can make a whole day of it and you will not have to stump up for a ‘remote location’ delivery fee.
Gavin Mowat, Policy Officer (Communities & Rural Development)