Independent Retailer Month returns in July this year, and organiser Clare Rayner has ensured there is even more material on offer to help retailers get involved …

For those who may not have heard of it, Independent Retailer Month is a global shop-local campaign that runs throughout July. It aims to: positively impact the independent retail sector by encouraging retailers, groups of retailers and even whole towns to create activities that celebrate independent retail throughout July; connect consumers and communities with local retailers, reminding them of both the social and economic benefits of shopping local; engage more of the independent retail community with the support of business organisations, associations and networks; and to engage consumers to divert more of their spending to local businesses by explaining the impact of independent retailers on the local economies they trade within and the communities they serve.

It achieves these aims through various strands of activity, promoted nationally through the campaign team – but implemented locally by retailers, supporting partners, town teams, local councils and various other organisations who are passionate about reconnecting local people with local businesses to create sustainable, thriving local economies.

2013 is the third year for Independent Retailer Month, and we intend it to be the best yet. We’ve grown so much from where we began in 2011. I still remember the call from the founders of the campaign in the USA, which was towards the end of May 2011: “Would you consider launching it in the UK?” I said “yes” without hesitation.

After the call I suddenly realised I’d agreed to run a UK-wide campaign, which should launch to consumers in less than six weeks, with no support, no budget and no awareness! Ah well … within 13 days we had a website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter account – we were up and running!

For 2011 we ran a ‘blog-a-day for indie retail’ with 31 guest blogs prepared and published. We ran a weekly webinar offering support and advice for independent retailers, and we made our branding available for anyone who wanted to support the campaign. About 800 retailers were aware/involved – a small number, but not a bad start considering the timescales.

“Only when consumers know the impact they can have will they be able to make informed choices about how and where they shop”

2012 was a whole different story. I started speaking to supporters and potential sponsors as early as January, and through these networks we managed to significantly increase our reach. We also managed to raise some much-needed funding through our sponsors.

We tried a one-day conference instead of the webinars – but it’s fair to say that in challenging economic times retailers don’t want to be taking a day away from their business to attend an event, so attendance was quite low, at just over 100 on the day. We’ve reverted to webinars again in 2013 – but as they say, if you don’t try things out you never learn what works!

In 2012 we also created the Independent Shops Directory, a free online advertising platform for all independent retailers – that’s proven to be a great success. The blog-a-day was repeated in 2012, and we also created some lovely window posters which retailers were able to download and use to attract attention from passers-by.

Far more retailers – and also a number of entire towns – got behind the 2012 campaign. Through their activities we learned a great deal. Inspired by some of their success stories we created two new campaign events – Celebrate an Independent Christmas, which encourages communities to create Christmas Shopping Crawls, and Enjoy an Independent Easter, which is in full swing right now, and engages family footfall by inviting them to take part in an Indie Easter Egg Hunt.

To give all the activities a home, as it were, we launched the overarching Support for Independent Retail campaign in 2013 – this provides year-round support, advice, ideas and inspiration to help independent retailers, and consumer-facing businesses, to help them get, and stay, open for business. This now incorporates these three annual campaign events.

Looking ahead to Independent Retailer Month 2013, there are a wealth of opportunities that proactive business owners can pursue. Unlike the Christmas and Easter activities, the month is different – it’s open to all, including individual retailers, groups and whole towns. Any customer-facing promotion, activity or local event can be associated with the campaign.

It gives you the excuse to do something different, and, if quizzed by a customer as to what it’s all about, you can simply say “we’re celebrating being an independent retailer as part of independent retailer month” – a great way to justify having activities that might otherwise seem purely commercial and therefore less engaging!

July may seem a long way off, but it’s just three months. That’s not long when it comes to planning these things. If you want to get something happening in your town you should approach the local council – typically someone in economic development or a town manager – as soon as possible to see if you can get them involved. They may have a budget that they can use to support the marketing of the town, and the campaign events, to local people. They may have resources that can help you to create a real celebration of the local independent businesses in the town throughout July.

“With 2013 getting off to a bad start, with some 28 chain store outlets closing daily due to a spate of businesses entering administration, we really need to act quickly to prevent independent businesses going the same way”

The campaign team can help you by providing artwork to ensure a consistent presentation of the campaign that consumers will begin to recognise – we will be supplying artwork for window posters, window stickers, and thank-you cards that you can give to your customers. The thank-you cards were particularly well received at Christmas – customers were delighted with what is essentially quite a small thing, so we’ll make those available for anyone who wants to use them.

It doesn’t matter if your council don’t want to get involved, or can’t support, as you can speak to all the local business groups – the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Chamber of Commerce, etc – or, if you have one, you could approach your town team. If you are part of a trade association, buying group, or work with a major brand supplier, you could also approach them and see if they are willing to support.

Last year the brand owners for Dulux offered all of their independent colour and advice centres access to free Dulux dog toys to give as gifts to all customers who spent more than a certain amount during the month. It’s these small things that can make a difference, boosting basket size and giving customers a small thank-you for making the choice to spend with you.

It helps to get others involved, it helps to create more of a buzz locally, and it gives you a bigger story for local marketing and PR. However, if you’re alone in your desire to do something, then that’s fine too – in 2012 we had a number of retailers who were standalone in their efforts, and they still found it was a great success as it helped them to engage customers in conversations about what it means to be an independent retailer, why they were different from chains, how important their customers were to their survival, etc

If you get customers talking about these topics you can explain to them how the choices they make when it comes to their shopping can really make a big difference. Only when consumers know the impact they can have will they be able to make informed choices about how and where they shop.

You can mention the stat from FSB that explains how, for every £1 spent with a local, independent business, around 50p makes its way back into the local economy. It goes on to explain that for the same £1 spent out of town, or with an online giant, just 5p filters back. They may be surprised to know that their £1 has 10 times more benefit to their community when they spend it locally. Knowing this may even influence them to shop local more often!

For more ideas about how to get involved with independent retailer month you can download our guide from the website, or refer there to the recording of a webinar from 18th March which talked about all the different ways in which retailers and groups of retailers can support the campaign, working individually or together, to increase consumer engagement, footfall and sales throughout July.

So, if you are interested in getting involved, it’s certainly not too soon to be planning ahead! Take a look at the website information to get some ideas, make use of the free advertising on the independent shops directory, speak to others in the community and see if they are interested. If you need any further materials, support or advice, then simply call or email the campaign team to find out more.

Independent retailers are struggling, and need to grab every opportunity to secure their futures. A survey by the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) showed that 16% of independent retailers are worried about making it through 2013.

In the second half of 2012, and for the first time in over two years, more independent shops closed than opened. In the prior two years, independents had been opening faster than closing, creating a net gain, boosting their mix from 66% of all retail to 69% – this growth stabilised the high street vacancy rates and offset the impact of some 20 chain store outlets that were closing every day throughout 2012.

With 2013 getting off to a bad start, with some 28 chain store outlets closing daily due to a spate of businesses entering administration, we really need to act quickly to prevent independent businesses going the same way. The stats from the second half of 2012 show a worrying decline, and if that continues it could push average vacancy rates up to as high as 17% from the current 14% (figures sourced from the Local Data Company).

The real purpose of this campaign activity, and all the other activities under the Support for Independent Retail banner, is to create regular, repeated actions to re-engage people with their communities, to reconnect them with their local traders, and to remind them of the positive impact they can have when they take the decision to divert some of what they spend away from the major chains and into the local economy.

I hope you will help me, and thousands of others, to celebrate independent retail throughout July, and to have a positive social and economic impact in your community for the long term.

Clare Rayner, also known as The Retail Champion, is one of the UK’s most respected retail consultants. This article was published in Furniture News issue 289.