As Tánaiste Mary Coughlan warns shoppers that they face a choice between supporting local businesses and jobs or “her majesty’s government
11 December 2009 | 0
Politicians exhorting consumers to ignore the lure of bargains across the border has become “as much a part of the festive season as Fairytale of New York or a jolly man in a red suit climbing down your chimney on 25 December,” claims The Irish Times’ Paul Cullen. But while our politicians’ latest protectionist streak may have originated in a need to strike back against the shopper-snatching North, in the past few months, what started out as north versus south has become a much more localised battle.
It’s not just border towns such as Dundalk that have commenced ‘shop local’ campaigns in the run-up to Christmas. Across the country, local councillors, retailing groups and Chambers of Commerce alike, have called on shoppers to support jobs in their area, by “stopping and thinking” about the value available at home before going elsewhere.
An emphasis on local is not just restricted to hard-up southern retailers either. The Irish independent recently reported that Co Fermanagh butcher Mark McCaffrey attempted to boost the region’s beleaguered meat industry by offering 3,000 home-reared fillet steaks as part of a buy-one-get-one-free deal. According to McCaffrey: “It is highly important that shoppers remember the importance of their local butcher and local food provider, who work hard to source and deliver quality local produce…Realistically we all know that supermarkets offer today’s consumers massive benefits, but so does your local independent food provider.”
These are sentiments shared by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in the US, which supports Shop Local movements across 200 American cities. According to its researcher, Stacy Mitchell, while large multi-national corporations provide jobs within areas, they also direct funds back to head office. “Money is not reinvested in the community from which it came…Within five years of a large corporation setting a branch up within a location, poverty has increased by 5%, as other smaller local businesses within the same market are squeezed out.”
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) effectively made the same argument back in February, when it advised the Oireachtas Enterprise, Trade and Employments Committee, not to change the Republic’s retail planning policy to allow for more out-of-town developments. According to chief executive Glyn Roberts, independent retailers in Northern Ireland have actually seen little benefit from the influx of southern shoppers, as people have mostly visited UK multiples. “In point of fact very little real benefit goes to the Northern Ireland economy as [multiples] have a poor track record of supporting local suppliers and farmers,” he said.
Meanwhile, the first Irish branch of the international Shop Local movement, established by over 40 retailers in Galway city, has used the argument that supporting local businesses will help protect the city’s unique character and diversity. The group has therefore appealed to Galway shoppers to divert 10% of their spend to local shops. As well as being able to quote the impressive statistic that three times more money stays within a local community when consumers favour independent retailers, the group has also pointed to a variety of advantages, including that small local businesses are more environmentally sustainable, more generous supporters of charities, and also help improve the wellbeing of the community.
It is perhaps not surprising that such initiatives become particularly relevant during a downturn. After all, independents are not able to rely on profits generated throughout national and international chains. Spokesperson for the Galway movement, potter Judy Greene, therefore appealed to shoppers to give the local shops they enjoy visiting their business when possible, “as we cannot expect them to be there when we need them otherwise.”
That being said, the focus on shopping at home is not without its detractors. According to Dermott Jewell of the Consumers Association of Ireland, the businesses who now appeal to shoppers to support the local economy are the same ones who “bled consumers dry for too long.”
However, Peter Dwan, owner of Spar in Ranelagh village, Dublin, has a pertinent answer to this point of view. All retailers in Ireland, he believes, do not in fact deserve local custom, only those who continuously strive to deliver “genuine and excellent variety.” It was this belief that inspired him to launch an ‘I love Ranelagh’ campaign. This involved asking retailers based in the suburban village to contribute towards a website and brochures highlighting its retailing attractions, and then sending this to over 20,000 homes in the immediate vicinity. Businesses also contributed to a free draw for consumers to enter in any participating outlet, with a prize fund of €15,000 in goods and services within Ranelagh to be won. Generous prizes include €400 to €500 of restaurant vouchers, a personalised cake worth €100, a free haircut every month, cooking lessons, fashion vouchers for Ranelagh’s designer boutiques, a bicycle and even €500 worth of free legal services.
Dwan decided to launch the campaign after taking a walk through the village and viewing it through the eyes of a newcomer. He himself has become very familiar with the area as his father first opened their store there nearly 20 years ago, and he has lived and worked in Ranelagh for eight years. During this exploration however, he even managed to discover a curtains shop he never knew existed, off one of the village’s side streets. In point of fact, the diversity of the retail offering, which he believes could rival Dublin city centre as a Christmas shopping destination, surprised even himself, despite the fact he’d been working right in the heart of Ranelagh everyday. Considering this, he quickly reflected that the local custom base should be reminded of the multiple benefits this compact retailing hub has to offer.
Ingenuity such as Dwan’s shows the lengths retailers have gone to in order to entice shoppers to keep their spend at home. Further innovative ideas have appeared across the country, including a headline-grabbing initiative in Fermoy, Co Cork to print a local “currency.” After looking at several possible measures, a group of retailers and Fermoy Credit Union decided to print Fermoy Shopping Vouchers, which can be used at over 40 shops in the town.
And just as the Love Irish Foods campaign harnessed many brands to get across its key message, retailers must work together for such campaigns to prove effective. It is for this reason that Dwan invited his rivals, chiefly Superquinn and Centra, to become involved. As he points out: “We don’t want places to close down, because it’s one less incentive for people to come to the area.” Subsequently while the closure of Ranelagh’s Starbucks chain in October may have been welcomed by the village’s numerous independent cafes, in his view, the building could nevertheless be occupied by another more beneficial attraction.
Such schemes also require considerable amounts of drive and energy. Genuine passion for an area is required to deliver the requisite enthusiasm, and as Dwan gives me a tour of Ranelagh’s retailing attractions, it quickly becomes apparent this is something he possesses in abundance. Despite being located little more than five minutes from Dublin city centre via the Luas, he maintains that the area retains a “true village feel.” A fact borne out by the many passers-by he knows by name.
Fran Walsh of the village’s award-winning Bistro Bianconi is similarly optimistic about the new initiative, noting the generous prizes involved will guarantee customers tell other people about their experience. And another award-winner, Jimmy Redmond of Redmonds, recipient of a NOffLA Excellence Award, also reels off the many points in Ranelagh’s favour, including that it has a “good-mix”, is “close to all amenities,” and yet still “family-orientated.”
Dwan has even managed to secure a deal with a local taxi firm, whereby fares from Dundrum, Terrynure and Sandymount to Ranelagh cost a fixed, reduced rate of E10. The only fly in the ointment in fact, appears to be parking. On the plus side, a new car park recently opened, yet Ranelagh traders had also appealed to Dublin City Council to allow free festive parking in the village for 20 minutes. Unfortunately this proposal was rejected, but the businesses are is still persevering to find a solution.
Ultimately, the allure of the various shop local movements, may well be that while Ireland’s problems on a national scale seem insurmountable, the situation is easier to remedy on a local level. For example, the Mayor of Navan, Councillor Joe Reilly, has broken down what the Government’s abolition of Christmas bonus payments for 36,000 social welfare recipients, will mean for Co Meath. By highlighting a subsequent loss of up to €9 million in shopping power in the run-up to Christmas, the problem becomes much more tangible. A focus on local can also bring good results. In Drogheda, a shop local competition, organised by Drogheda and District Chamber of Commerce and the Drogheda Independent, has so far seen winners spend over €15,000 in the town. So while it’s said that all politics is local, it would appear all retailing increasingly is too.