15 things to love about local businesses

Michael Crosby in Business news and opinion

19 September 2019

With bigger brands competing for your customers’ attention and with online shopping showing no sign of slowing down, being a successful small, independent business in the UK is a challenge.

But we know that small businesses are never likely to back down from a fight. In fact, despite the challenges facing them, there’s now more small businesses in the UK than ever before – with a massive 82% rise in the number of businesses in the UK with zero employees between 2000 and 2019.

Small is mighty, and at AXA we want to celebrate small businesses and the vital role they play in our communities, our economy and our daily lives.

So here’s 15 reasons why we love small businesses.

1. They’re great for the economy

99.9% of the UK’s businesses are small to medium-sized. So by shopping small, you’re actually making a big difference to a huge number of small business owners across the country.

Research has shown that for every £1 spent with an independent business, up to 70p goes back into that local economy, compared to just 5p if your shop online or with a big corporation. By shopping local, you’re not only supporting a local small business owner, you’re having a positive impact in the area you live, too.

2. They offer unrivalled customer service

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, but the chances of that happening at a big department store or chain restaurant are pretty slim.

Small businesses can offer the personal touch. They know your name as well as your ‘usual’. And whether it’s letting you try before you buy or letting you off when you’re 20p short (they know you’re good for it, after all), small businesses are always willing to go above and beyond to make sure you have a nice day.

3. They’re traditional

According to the Oxford Economics, 86% of all UK businesses are family owned, while Startups.co.uk reports that 57% of the UK’s independent small businesses are family-run.

Small businesses that keep it in the family are allowing skills and knowledge to pass down through generation to generation. They’re fostering strong values, and family members take great pride in their work and their business knowing the legacy that came before them and the legacy they’ll pass on to their kids one day.

Far from being another cog in a big business machine, family business owners are often part of the very fabric of the local community.

4. They let you be unique

Let’s face it: it’s difficult to let your unique personality shine through if you’re wearing the same high street must-haves as everyone else. Some items, like That Dress From Zara, are so popular they’ve got their own Instagram accounts. So if you want to reduce the chances of you turning up to the office Christmas party in the same dress as everyone else, your best bet is to shop local.

From books by authors that live just up the road to handcrafted, one-of-a-kind jewellery or pottery, local businesses are a treasure trove of unique and original items that you just can’t find at their big chain equivalents.

5. They’re better for the environment

Local businesses can proudly parade their eco-credentials for all to see. For example, carrots bought from a local farm store had a much shorter distance to travel from field to fork than if you bought them at a big chain supermarket. And since they’re guaranteed to be fresh, chances are they won’t be packed in plastic to prevent spoilage on the journey either.

And their impact on the environment goes further than that. Local stores mean less distance for the customer to travel, meaning more walking to the local shop and less driving to an out-of-town superstore, reducing pollution and traffic while improving the look of the local high street.

6. They’re the heart of the community

It’s probably a little cliché to say, but in today’s online world it’s worth bearing in mind that the local high street really is at the heart of small communities.

Small businesses often host coffee mornings, community cleaning events, book groups and knitting clubs. They’ll usually let you put up your flyer for guitar lessons, lost dog posters or ‘help wanted’ signs. And many support local causes and charities too – from salons offering free haircuts for the homeless, or dry cleaners offering free suit cleaning for people on their way to a job interview.

7. They give great advice

Local businesses know you, the area, and the ins and outs of the local community (as well as the latest gossip). And since they know you so well, they’re in a good position to recommend a product or service that’s actually right for you (or be honest about what you don’t need to waste money on too).

Whether it’s great recipes to try with the herbs you just bought and which wine to pair with which cheese, or whether or not the added extras really add all that much, you can usually count on a local business to tell it like it is and give you genuine help and advice, not a sales pitch.

8. They value loyalty

Small businesses rely on repeat business, meaning they’ll always go above and beyond to build up the loyalty of their customer base.

The tradition of small businesses throwing in a little bit extra to keep the customer satisfied became so common it gave rise to the so-called ‘baker’s dozen’. And if you’re looking for the best price, you’re much more likely to be able to haggle with a small business owner than with a cashier at a big chain superstore.

9. They’re full of personality

Small businesses are run by people, not a board of directors. They’re real and authentic, bringing life and personality to the local area.

Small businesses aren’t cookie-cutter, one-size fits all operations. While a McDonalds in Glasgow might look and feel exactly the same as one in Washington DC, no two small businesses are alike. They might be a little rougher around the edges than a slicker big brand, but their charm and personality will win out, every time.

10. They’re innovative

New ideas and products come from entrepreneurs, not board rooms. Small, independent businesses are where innovation happens, not at a corporate level.

Small businesses are much better at thinking fast, adapting to the changing market and being agile enough to change a process, introduce an offer or create a product before their corporate counterpart has even finished their first brainstorm or thought shower.

Consider the recent boom in the craft beer market – small, local microbreweries are now leading the way in developing new beer varieties and flavours, leaving bigger brands creating their own ‘craft’ alternatives in an attempt to catch up.

11. They create jobs

While the majority of the UK’s SMEs are sole traders or ‘one-man bands’, and so don’t employ anyone directly, small businesses still employ over 16.3 million people in the UK – 60% of all private sector employment.

If you don’t own or work for a small business yourself, chances are you have a friend or family member who is. So when you shop local you’re not just supporting that business, you’re safeguarding the livelihoods of those friends and family members too.

12. They help you find what you never knew you needed

Ever been browsing in a small bookstore and picked up a ‘staff pick’ that went on to become a favourite read? Or gone into a local homeware store and come away with the perfect rug to really tie the room together? These are the types of experience you only get at small, independent shops.

When you shop online, it’s much more transactional, much less human and emotive. You enter a search term, sort by price, browse the results, and add to basket. It’s only when you shop in store that you benefit from the years of experience of the knowledgeable staff and find that one item you never even knew you really needed.

13. They’re happier places to work

The facts are in: small businesses have more fun.

According to a recent study, less than a third of workers at corporations say they’re happy in their work, while nearly half of those owning or working at a small business said they were happy in their jobs.

And the highest job satisfaction of any worker in the UK? Small, independent retailers.

14. They create healthy competition

Small businesses are great at keeping big brands on their toes. Recent years have seen the rise of the ‘Challenger Brand’ – a small business changing the game and nipping at the toes of the established big hitters.

Consider challenger banks like Monzo and Revolut, which are using technology to create the new normal for banking, or ‘positive energy’ company Bulb, whose eco-friendly credentials led to a 4000% increase in customers between 2017 and 2018.

This type of healthy competition shakes up the established market, causes big brands to have a look at themselves and change their tactics and, typically, results in better service or a decent saving for the end customer. Win win!

15. They make dreams come true

It takes passion and dedication to run a small business. It’s long hours and late nights. It’s not just a day job – it’s the realisation of a dream.

When you buy from a small business you’re not just adding another number to a balance sheet – you’re really making a difference to the person behind the counter, to the future of their business and to their families too. Every sale they make can be, quite literally, a dream come true for the small business owner.

Running a small business isn’t easy. Protecting it is.

Running a business is hard work. That’s why we’re doing all we can to make your insurance a bit simpler. From working to pay claims more quickly to taking the guesswork out of getting business insurance, find out what we’re doing to help.