High Streets Initiative · 27 June 2017

Small Business Saturday’s Michelle Ovens reveals what’s holding back the UK high street

Small Business Saturday Campaign
Michelle Ovens has directed the Small Business Saturday UK campaign since 2012

The Business Advice High Streets Initiative caught up with Michelle Ovens, campaign director for Small Business Saturday, to find out how her community-oriented campaign has revealed many of the struggles faced by local high street retailers.

As the director behind one of the country’s most successful small business campaigns, championing independent firms and encouraging consumers to shop local, Michelle Ovens has a unique view of the landscape for Britain’s high street retailers and traders.

Small Business Saturday has created a network of hundreds of thousands of participating independent small and micro companies, which have recognised the value of collaborating and engaging with one another for the benefit of town and city centres up and down the UK.

Since the campaign launched in 2012, the amount consumers have spent at small independent shops on Small Business Saturday, which usually falls on the first weekend in December each year, has risen by 53 per cent.

Last year’s campaign surpassed all expectations, prompting £717m to be spent with small and micro UK firms in one day, and it is expected that 2017’s Small Business Saturday will see these same businesses experience even greater levels of sale again.

As it reaches its fifth birthday, the campaign’s organisers have the chance to reflect on its progress. Ovens told our High Streets Initiative that, during this year’s Small Business Saturday, she’d be asking participating business owners to share their views and stories about their difficulties and struggles throughout the year, as well as just their achievements on Small Business Saturday itself.

buying local
Community-led campaigns can give local retailers a voice

She said that community-oriented campaigns that provided a platform for knowledge sharing and collaboration between independent business owners at a grassroots level could provide the lifeline struggling high streets and town centres needed.

“We work with small businesses of all types, across all sectors, but the majority of those we meet are shops or traders – retail businesses in town and city centres,” explained Ovens.

“These businesses are at the very heart of local communities, sometimes providing vital community support as well as commerce to the local area.”

Last year, Britain’s high streets saw five small shops close every day – a record rate of closures – and in Ovens’ view, for local high street retailers to have a better chance of survival its becoming increasingly important to think outside the box and collectively offer shoppers something they don’t get from larger competitor stores.

She added that the popularity of unique experiences, special offers and imaginative giveaways that local high street retailers have provided on Small Business Saturday each year demonstrated how many people are willing to spend with independent businesses that think creatively, rather than with large stores which may appear to be more convenient, or cheaper.

How do you think the UK high street can future-proof itself? Have your say by taking our quick two-minute survey.

Another benefit of campaigns such as Small Business Saturday, Ovens claimed, has been that the idea of larger supermarkets or department stores inherently offering better value for money than local independent shops is slowly being eradicated, reminding many shoppers that independent retail may still be the best place to find what they’re looking for, at the best value.

“It’s about changing people’s shopping habits over time,” Ovens explained. “For high street retailers, Small Business Saturday is often about reminding customers that you’re there. Shoppers might not buy anything from you on the day, but by encouraging people to visit high streets or town centres, people discover shops and businesses to revisit later.”

SBS 2
Small Business Saturday encourages shoppers to revisit their high street

Small Business Saturday relies heavily on Twitter and Facebook to keep people talking about the campaign all-year round, and Ovens admitted there was a need for an attitude change amongst smaller high street retailers in terms of using social media and other forms of online marketing.

She said: “While there is much consumers can do to give independent retailers a boost, local business owners also have a responsibility to promote themselves, especially online, where British business is nowhere near the ‘front of the queue’.

“We’re not meeting customers where they are – online in their living rooms. Some 50 per cent of small UK businesses still don’t have a website, so how can they hope to compete?

“When it comes to engaging customers online, when you’re small you have the advantage of being able to personalize your content – you can develop a personality online which larger retailers can’t match.”

Looking to the future, Ovens assured small independent business owners across Britain that it would never be too late to invest in a digital presence, and that the fusion of retail and ecommerce didn’t have to pass them by.

Click and collect services are, according to Ovens, a particularly exciting way small local retailers can remain competitive, particularly because they’re increasingly quick and easy for shop owners to set up. Above all, customers are likely to always want a real-world element to the shopping experience.

“There a lots of ways small businesses on the high street can remain competitive, and it really is about thinking outside the box to grab people’s attention,” Ovens clarified. “It’s about trying different methods out, and continuing to try things when some methods fail.”

Discover more from the Business Advice High Streets Initiative

This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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