Character is what makes small shops so great

Character is what makes small shops so great

Over a year ago I wrote this blog post about the misunderstanding surrounding supplying supermarkets as a food brand, a much bigger project than many members of the public realise (this lack of understanding makes sense - I wouldn't know the first thing about being a barrister, paramedic or aspiring novelist, so the ignorance is 100% justified)!

The feelings I had then persist now, notwithstanding a slightly different approach I have these days - without the pressures of speaking to investors. But the ongoing re-brand of covid as being simply an illness, akin to the flu, and its lack of penetration in the spring/summer months, has unfortunately not meant that it's been any more straight-forward to meet and greet the many sensational small business owners who supply Nutcessity to their customers, all over the country. Disposable time, the price of fuel and a lack of available data have made it almost impossible to go on one of my journeys in my silver, stubborn 2006 Honda Jazz to visit shop buyers; having a chat, seeing how the products are selling, and supplying some samples. Fuel rose to £1.95 per litre yesterday at our local garage, meaning the rare trip I made to Ben's Farm Shop Staverton would today cost me over £35 (and 3 hours of time). Planning these 'canvassing' visits is not easy either - anything other than just 'popping in' rightly requires a phone-call in advance and an agreement on a meeting time. And we know how daily life can fluster the best laid plans - traffic jams as one example.

A side-note is that we all know the upside of the fuel crisis - much more interest in electric vehicles, not using vehicles at all, or simply reducing the amount of road-trips we embark on, or/and lift-sharing more often than not. I know Dale Vince will be very pleased.

Katerina Pavlakis & Colin Bass (pictured), who run Health & Food in Llanrwst, North Wales, have been supporting Nutcessity for years now, via Essential Trading, my first wholesaler based in Bristol. Katerina & Colin's mission is simple - to offer natural, health-based and wholefood options for locals and tourists (to Snowdonia), whilst also being able to find freedom in running their own business. But since Lucie and I started our small community shop 'The Shop in Ubley' in April last year, we've understood more fully the challenges that arise when trying to run a shop that customers love - but that also turns a tidy profit. Without having to ask them, I'm sure that some of Health & Food's daily challenges are surrounding:
- Remunerating their staff and themselves fairly and amply,
- Having enough stock to keep customers interested & coming back, but not so much that things may go out-of-date,
- Supporting products/brands they love (but that their customers love too),
- Coping with everything increasing in price,
- Looking after their own physical/mental well-being (not working too many hours),
- Dealing with theft, shrinkage and damages/claims,
- Keeping calm when things go wrong (late deliveries, staff illnesses, local roadworks, etc.),
- Customer reviews on Google/Facebook (legitimate or not),
- Cash flow / staying on top of bills.

Of course, there are many perks of the job too! Freedom, personal satisfaction, getting to know loyal customers etc etc. But for the last few years, it's been harder than ever to run a small business. In contrast to, for example, a store manager of a local supermarket, a small shop owner is much less sure about what the next week/month/year holds. In return for freedom and trying to do good (supporting locals, small producers and our planet), their level of risk is skewed; far and above the day-to-day risks taken by the employee of a supermarket giant, with all the structure this offers - electrical contractors, branded paperwork & staff room space as examples. As a small shop owner, you start at square 1.

I think the point I'm trying to make is this - when you next have the chance to choose between shopping at a supermarket or your local health food shop, think of the two as separate personalities - as ultimately, that's exactly what they are. The music, experience, product range and level of personality are all entirely different from one another - leading to different sensations when you'll leave the store. I guarantee you this, even if you can't find all the products you need in a smaller shop; if you stick to your budget and embrace the shopping experience, you may just feel like you've been on a mini holiday. 

At 30, one of the few things I'm fairly sure of is that breaking-up the mundanity of every day life is one of the keys to happiness - whether that be following a new recipe, looking after a neighbour's dog, meeting a famous person, trying a new beer for the first time, or doing your weekly shop at that small health food shop you've passed many times but never entered.