Chris Fox is the founder of giftshophub.co.uk, a friendly online marketing resource for independent shops, small businesses and artists. A digital content manager for greeting card shop Wishes of Cudworth in Barnsley, Chris believes in the power of small retailers joining forces to engage and connect with their local community.
I’m often asked how many ‘likes’ our Facebook page has. Business owners can be distracted trying to gain more social media followers while ignoring their Facebook pages’ daily interactions from its current ones. Would it not be better to judge the success of our digital marketing by daily comments, shares and enquires?
We may aim for thousands of Facebook followers, but is it the correct philosophy for a small independent shop? If you don’t sell online then surely the goal is to connect with your local area? That it’s more about quality than quantity of digital interactions?
As the digital content manager of greeting card shop Wishes of Cudworth [which is own and run by Chris’ love partner Julia Keeling], I’ve always had one simple goal: To get people in to the shop.
We currently have just under 5,000 Facebook followers, with 4,711 based in the UK, which is good news. However, we do have followers in the US, India, China, Tunisia and Iraq. When we dig deeper, just over half our followers live in Barnsley where our shop is located. Sure, there is a good mix of followers in the surrounding areas like Sheffield, Rotherham plus Doncaster, but there’s plenty in London and further afield too.
OK, some people may have family in Cudworth, so could visit the shop, but when we dig deeper we can see Italian, Arabic, ‘Pirate’ and Russian listed under language (there’s no Yorkshire, which is a language of its own). Is it a surprise that 87% of our followers are women? Maybe that’s a conversation for another time.
The outcome is that, if anything, our shop’s digital reach is too big. That sometimes we are failing to connect with our local community. We know our customers and it’s not the ‘Pirate’ speaking fella who lives in China! He’s a good chap but he’s not popping into Wishes anytime soon.
To combat this digital disparity we’ve recently started a new community association called Cudworth Businesses & Community Together (the CBCT to use our much trendier acronym). Run by local retailers, our aim is to build a better Cudworth by putting on events, combating anti-social behaviour and yes, engaging with the people who live in our area.
Go with the flow
A wise Irish man once sang “Life is a rollercoaster”, and a few months into running our new community association I have to agree. There have been ups and downs. Twist and turns. Screams and joyous whoops. It’s been a giddy mix of triumphant highs and stomach churning lows. I’ve written lots of articles about the various promotions we’ve run for our shop and I’ve always had two principles: be positive and be truthful in what I say, which, to be honest, is not always easy when writing about our new association.
The sad reality is, when you try and work with other retailers you’ll be just as likely to be met with negativity than other businesses willing to stand beside you. I’ve left many a shop feeling disheartened. The local shopkeeper who said, “You’re wasting your time” and worse. While I don’t want praise, I equally don’t want insults.
Another word of warning: as well as a thick skin, you’ll also have to put a lot of work into the association. Time is always the shopkeeper’s sworn enemy. For myself, it’s taken me off many of my own projects and my ‘sitting on the sofa watching Netflix’ hobby is now severely limited. Still, your hard work will pay off, and the small god of shopkeepers will reward you if you stick with it.
Let’s get to the good stuff, ban the rants and concentrate on the positives. Working with other local businesses just makes sense. You can keep it simple and work with a select few businesses to expand your customer base. It’s common for coffee shops to display local artists’ work or sell craft items. Why not do some real world networking and drop off leaflets at each other’s shops? There are also opportunities to link up at seasonal times producing combined giveaways, offers or gift vouchers. As a greeting card shop, it can only help to team up with the cake baker, the wedding dress designer and the jewellery store owner, as the products we sell are often interlinked.
Santa is coming to town
I’m currently on the phone to Santa working on our Cudworth Christmas Fair, an event that should draw in customers into the village. It’s a health and safety headache, and public liability insurance doesn’t come cheap, but with local authorities often not able to put on their own events, brave businesses have to step up.
The CBCT is also swapping tips about repeat crime offenders and building links with the local police and council. There are a few delightful individuals in our village that engage in regular anti-social behaviour, so the association can provide support, information and encourage the reporting of low-level crime to the correct authorities. In our meetings we can exchange tips on how to make our shops more secure and look into preventative measures like the creation of a shop watch scheme, campaign for more CCTV and introduce public hangings (a suggestion I think was a joke!).
The bottom line is that the CBCT is building a solid base for our future projects. If we can pull off our Christmas Fair with style then we can use it as an example and marker for the next event. A community association can open doors to new contacts and introduce businesses to the wider community, connecting with the local papers, schools, clubs, council and everyday people who really care about where they live.
The best independents are driven by ideas and the desire to improve, and run and staffed by people who give it their all. There are some good eggs in Cudworth, and at each meeting, as we sit around the table, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride – thankful that Cudworth does care and Wishes is supporting its local area and working with other high street heroes to make sure ‘Cudworth is Cool’ – and that thanks to us all, Santa is coming to town!
Read more about the event on my blog Gift Shop Hub (https://giftshophub.co.uk/wishes-of-cudworth)