Today is Independent Traders Day. Let's look at the importance of their role.
Small businesses and sole traders occupy an important place in the UK business economy. Whilst many people are aware of the high-profile brand names associated with big business and conglomerates, independent traders are able to provide an invaluable service to their customers. They are often able to fill a niche that big businesses are unwilling or unable to sustain. And because independent traders often live and work in the area, rely on personal recommendations and care about maintaining their reputation the quality of their goods and services is often exceptional.
So, whilst big business is important in providing recognisable brand names, guarantees of quality, economies of scale, we also need to reflect on the important role of independent traders.
Small local businesses are good at identifying a niche, an area that they can make a living from, that works well on a small-scale and is valued and relevant to its customers and clients. Some goods and services are especially sought after in certain locations but not in others; farriers, thatchers, wrought ironmongers for example may do a thriving business in some areas but receive virtually no interest in others. Supply and demand can be tailored by independent traders to suit what is sustainable.
Independent traders bring a unique flavour to an area. Farmers markets support their local community by selling locally produced foods. Local farmers join together to establish a market where they can trade their separate wares and make a living. They may sell meats, sausages, hams, locally grown seasonal fruit and vegetables, home-made pies, cheeses, preserves, all produced and sold fresh within their community. Some farmers markets may sell plants, pottery, jewellery, items made by local craftsmen. The farmers are able to sell their produce regularly without having to compromise their standards or travel miles and the local people are happy because they have access to fresh, locally produced foods and goods, all available at an economical price and very different from mass-produced fare.
Most independent traders are involved in retail. These small independent shops are often highly prized because customers are able to find interesting and varied items, completely different from the ranges available in the main high street. Original new or vintage clothes, interesting handbags, unique individual jewellery are often sold by independent traders.
Independent craftsmen; joiners, electricians, carpenters, are able to turn their hands to one-off, individual pieces of work. For example, independent kitchen-fitters have greater opportunity to offer something unique and tailored to each individual client’s specifications. They can liaise with other local traders selling complementary products, like tiling, flooring, white goods. This provides better service and ability to negotiate on design, price, timing as everyone tries to work together to co-ordinate what is needed.
Independent traders often offer flexibility on their opening hours, they are able to provide a service relevant to their individual customers, being prepared to adjust and adapt wherever they can. Customer care is often at the forefront of their mind, being prepared to deliver items, going out of their way to source something that’s needed, being mindful of something that would suit a particular customer, remembering to send greetings cards to support their personal relationships with customers and clients.
Some traders may operate within a franchise structure but are still able to personalise certain aspects of their business and retain an independent feel to what they do.
Operating on a smaller scale can afford certain economies, reduced overheads, the potential to maybe work from home or rent office space as and when required. If involved in retail, it may be viable to share premises with a similar complementary business in order to reduce costs and provide a wider range of goods or services. At times it may be appropriate to run events and launches together, share advertising, liaise over aspects of a job.
Small traders often have to fight for survival and work hard to establish a successful business. They are often keen to prove their competency and demonstrate the quality of their work. Professional associations like Business groups, The Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses are keen to support small independent traders and provide a seal of approval. By joining a trading association or professional body independent traders are able to provide proof of their competency, their professional insurances and their ongoing commitment to continuous professional development, if relevant.
Susan Leigh is a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist who works with stressed individuals to promote confidence and self belief, with couples in crisis to improve communications and understanding and with with business clients to support the health and motivation levels of individuals and teams.
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