Key takeaways:

  • Reward programmes can encourage customers to shop locally and become loyal to businesses in their community

  • Small businesses should look to provide a level of personal service that is often beyond the capability of chains

  • Small businesses have adapted brilliantly to the pandemic – they should use this agility to seek new opportunities in the future

  • Business owners should stress that they’re the “environmental choice”, with shorter supply chains and lower carbon emissions

A recent online seminar run by Holly Tucker MBE, founder of Notonthehighstreet and Holly & Co, focused on the steps business owners can take to attract and retain customers based in their local area.

The session – the latest episode in Holly and NatWest’s Mastering Your Money series – looked at the vital role firms can play in helping communities to thrive, and how this can create a virtuous circle that ends up contributing to long-term business success.

Holly spoke to Dan Salanson, Chief Commercial Officer at Tyl, NatWest’s SME payments platform, and Satnam Purewal, owner of the Red Lion pub in West Bromwich, to get their insights.

“Small businesses have such an important part to play in their local communities,” said Holly. “They create jobs, they keep money in the local economy, and they make the area more vibrant – and make people feel good about where they live.”

Small businesses have such an important part to play in their local communities. They create jobs, keep money in the local economy – and make people feel good about where they live

Holly Tucker MBE
Founder, Notonthehighstreet and Holly & Co

Tyl’s payment terminals provide a huge volume of data to business owners, helping you to learn more about your customers and make smarter business decisions as a result. 

“It means you can understand repeat customers a bit more, you can understand what products sell best, and what times of the day or week you are busiest,” said Dan. “All this can help you make informed decisions about how to run your business.”

Shop local and save the planet

With climate change a growing concern among the public, and with Britain set to host the COP26 Climate Change Conference in November, businesses may wish to communicate to customers the environmental benefits of shopping local. Small businesses with short, local supply chains can make a justifiable claim to generating fewer emissions than national chains.

Reward your customers’ loyalty

Another strategy small businesses can employ is to run a loyalty programme or reward scheme, which can encourage customers to opt for your business over a chain. 

A group of local businesses could consider joining forces to run a group loyalty scheme, which could help to revitalise a local high street, for example. People love free things, pointed out Holly, and they love to be recognised as a loyal customer.

Differentiate yourself from the chains

One potential advantage smaller businesses have over their larger rivals is their ability to provide better, more personalised service – as well as less formulaic products and services.

The Red Lion pub – renowned for the freshly cooked Indian food it serves – has had to make a number of changes in response to Covid-19, including the introduction of an American-style ‘meet and greet’ at the entrance. This means a member of staff says hello to new arrivals and shows them to their table – a personal touch that most customers really value.

Satnam spends most evenings in the pub’s restaurant talking to guests, making them feel welcome and even buying drinks for first-time customers. Extra touches like this can make a huge difference when it comes to generating repeat business.

Embrace change – even after the pandemic

The Red Lion has changed more in the past 18 months than in the entire 25 years his family has owned the pub, said Satnam, as it adapts to cope with the restrictions and behavioural changes resulting from the pandemic. 

But many of these changes, even though they were forced, have been beneficial for the business, said Satnam. More customers in their 30s and 40s are coming in, for example, often bringing their families along to eat. And people are tending to go out for dinner earlier, which means the Red Lion is busiest between 5pm and 9pm – and can often close early as a result.

Holly added that it would be crucial for small businesses to continue adapting and innovating even after the pandemic is over. Small companies are far more agile than their larger rivals and could look to exploit this advantage by finding new opportunities and ways of working in the future.

Listen to Holly’s previous Mastering Your Money sessions here and keep an eye out for future episodes on her Instagram

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