By Catherine Strawbridge, published in Real Cambridge, February 2017 edition
This isn’t going to be your typical February Valentines column and I make no apology for that.
We’re just not that big on it in my house. However, if you are a man or woman prepping for present shopping – or just going about your everyday shopping life, I recommend you keep reading.
It’s simple really, one main piece of advice and that is – drumroll if you will – talk to the people working in the shops. That’s it. If you read no further, make sure you take that in (but don’t leave now, pretty please).
As small business owners, or part of a very select team that work in each independent store, they have insurmountable passion for, and knowledge of, the items instore. They are the people who are going to help you find exactly what it is you are looking for. Admittedly sometimes they find you something you didn’t know you were looking for – but you’ll only leave with it if you really want it, they won’t force you to buy it. The reason for that is it’s not in their interest to have you leave feeling dissatisfied with your experience. They want you to enjoy yourself in their store, to buy what you want, or at least enjoy looking through what they have. If you have a good time, you will go back, often time and time again.
In addition, the thing that sets them apart from the chains is that the ladies and gentlemen that work in our independents are the people who work face to face with the brands to select their stock personally. Because they have taken the time to build up these relationships with their suppliers, they can pick up the phone to order a one off piece for you because what you’re describing isn’t in store but they know how to get hold of it. They know the stories behind the brands, where the items originate, the fit, form and fabric specifics of each and every item they are selling. When you’re out shopping, they really can be the difference between success and failure.
Having worked in independent stores and both on the shop floor and in buying offices of high street chains, I really have seen it from all aspects. My own experience tells me that the independents know their stuff. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that you won’t find a fabulous shop manager/assistant in a high street chain, they are there. However, they would be hard pressed to match the tenacity, passion and product knowledge to satisfy your shopping needs like those working in an independent.
I read something last year during the publicity for small business Saturday and it really made me smile: When you buy from a small business an actual person does a little happy dance! It’s true – although admittedly they might wait until you leave the store.
So back to the (non) Valentines vibe. Make the most of your independent shop owners, like Sinéad at Elegant Atelier or Della of Della Kaur, and their lovely staff. They want you to enjoy being in their store. They want you to find what you’re looking for and to come back again.
Most importantly, next time you’re shopping, go and give someone a reason to have a little dance.