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Small Business Saturday – here again to save our high streets

In this digital age, the inevitable rise of internet shopping and the pulling power of corporate giants has dramatically changed the way in which we shop. As consumers, we have evolved to place increasing value on convenience and instant gratification.

With chain stores rapidly dominating our high streets, creating a promenade of shop fronts indistinguishable from any other, the future of independent businesses is hanging in the balance.

In 2011 ‘Queen of Shops’, Mary Portas delivered The Portas Review: An Independent Review into the Future of our High Streets, in which she addressed the demise of privately owned businesses. Portas stated that the British high street had reached a ‘crisis point’ resulting in the irretrievable loss of ‘something fundamental’ to British society.

The review pushed for government to consider business rates in support of the small and independent retailers throughout the country, and Portas spoke plainly, claiming that ‘the days of a high street populated simply by independent butchers, bakers and candle stick makers are, except in the most exceptional circumstances over’.

However, despite Portas’ rather gloomy outlook, Small Business Saturday is a celebration, showcasing local and independent businesses and encouraging the public to ‘think small’ rather than ‘think big’.

Rapidly approaching its 5th year, the initiative was born in the USA, sponsored by American Express and last year created $5.7 billion revenue for the country’s small business community.

Brought to Britain by MP Chuka Umunna in 2013, Small Business Saturday UK falls on the 6th December this year and looks set to build substantially on last year’s launch.

Michelle Ovens - Small Business Saturday’s national campaign director for the UK - emphasises the importance of a “positive ethos” adding “we want to lead from the front… make people feel enthusiastic about small businesses, and make small businesses feel enthusiastic about themselves”.

She is also keen to point out that the idea is “universally positive” – and that they “never say anything negative about big business”, maintaining the standpoint that “the world needs both”.

Ovens is equally rhapsodic about the overwhelming interest in their Small Biz 100, a handpicked selection of 100 small businesses from across the UK who are promoted in the 100 days leading up to the 6th December.

Ovens states that the number, selected to represent Britain, is inclusive “not only of your corner shops or your coffee shops – as brilliant as they are” – as Small Business Saturday also aims to throw a light on the more unusual small enterprises out there.

With the slogan ‘one sip for man, one giant leap from mankind’, a great example of that uniqueness is Two Fingers Brewery (one of the chosen few) - a business specialising in independent craft beer who donate all of their profits to prostate cancer research.

Small Business Saturday’s current marketing campaign run by American Express, urges the public to support their ‘high street heroes’ commissioning ambassadors Peter Blake, Heidi Greensmith and Daisy Lowe from the worlds of art, fashion and film to garner support.

This year the Small Business Saturday team have expanded their bus tour to 13 UK destinations, starting in Leeds on November 17th with its final stop in Camden on the 3rd December.

After last year’s success in generating over £460 million in trade for small businesses, the grassroots initiative has now gained a long list of supporters including central and local government, The Federation of Small Businesses, Association of City and Town Management, Ingenious Britain, a network of corporations such as Lloyds, NatWest, and O2 and influential entrepreneurs Theo Paphitis, Charlie Mullins and Karen Brady.

Through encouraging people to ‘shop small’ Small Business Saturday aims to raise awareness, inspiring people to reimagine their local high street and change the nations shopping habits from the 6th December and beyond.

And while many homogenised high-streets will be in dire need of this drive, some pockets of the UK have been waving the flag for freedom for some time now.

In a town where an amazing 8 out of 10 businesses are independent retailers, Devon’s Totnes made headlines last year with their aptly named ‘No to Costa’ campaign which gained 5,750 signatures and prompted the chain to pull out of plan to move in.

Protesters created their own mock-up of the Trainspotting poster dubbed ‘Clonestoping’ which urged local residents to ‘choose local, choose independent, or choose COSTA?’ in a witty play on the film’s infamous catchphrase.

The town even have their own currency, a scheme that has also been embraced in Lewes, Stroud and Bristol.

The currency acts as a creative and practical way to keep money circulating within the town and locality, creating higher demand for local produce, supporting local traders, strengthening the relationships within the community and minimising the carbon footprint that comes with purchasing produce flown in from abroad.

In Whitstable, Kent, the message is clear on arrival – with a street art mural featuring the words ‘shop local’.

A town that openly claims to not need Mary Portas, it boasts three independent butchers, two bakers and three greengrocers amongst its array of independent cafes, boutiques and art galleries. The association ‘SWS’ - Save Whitstable’s Shops, formed by local traders has played an influential part in preserving Whitstable’s unique ‘anti chain’ economy.

Other UK towns well known for their well-preserved array of small, independent businesses are Marlborough, Hungerford, and Yarm.

Despite the widespread proclamations of the ‘death of the high street’, a recent article in The Independent reported that more independent stores have opened in the past year than have closed.

Furthermore, in conjunction with their support for Small Business Saturday, a recent study by American Express - ‘High Streets Ahead’­ - reveals that high streets that boast unique shops add significant value to the price of property in the surrounding locality.

Looking at that correlation they forecast an increase in house prices from 40k to 70k in the next decade and a growth of 35.2%, stating that through supporting your local shops, you are investing not only in the high street, but also in the value of your own home.

In a bid to harness some of that integrity, homeowners and business-people alike are currently battling plans to bulldoze Sheffield’s much-loved Devonshire Quarter in favour of flats and chain restaurants. Established in the ‘70’s and renowned for its independent emporiums, vintage stores and quirky shops, the area stands for everything Small Business Saturday seeks to promote.

Within three days the petition gained more than 11,000 signatures and generated over 650 comments online.

It is clear that an ‘independent’ high street is something most of us desire, but we’ll have to be prepared to fight for it. And with the help of initiatives like Small Business Saturday – we might just stand a chance.

Small Business Saturday takes place on Saturday 6th December – get involved! (

By Melanie Luff, staff writer for, the market-leading directory of business opportunities from Dynamis. Melanie writes for all titles in the Dynamis Stable as well as other industry publications.

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