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What Small Business Saturday means for Bury St Edmunds

Supporting independent shops is something that came naturally to previous generations. You shopped at your local greengrocer, butcher, post office and newsagent because it was the only way you would be able to get by.

But with the rise of first, large chain retailers, and more recently, the internet, independent high street shops are now at risk. This year the Bury Free Press has drawn attention to the importance of supporting the town centre with its Love Local campaign. Over a series of features, it has been uncovered that it is no longer enough to just assume the independent retailers that give Bury St Edmunds such character will always be around. Their survival depends on conscious decisions of shoppers. But, fighting the corner of independents are organisers of a number of schemes aimed at getting shoppers into town.

The Small Business Saturday bus pulls into Llandudno in Wales
The Small Business Saturday bus pulls into Llandudno in Wales

Small Business Saturday is now in its seventh year and has grown to the point where an estimated
£812 million was spent in the 2018 edition across the United Kingdom.

Jo Bevilacqua owns a hairdresser in Peterborough called Serenity Loves and is raising awareness of Small Business Saturday in her role as an ‘SBS Hero’.

“My role as a ‘hero’ means I will be doing as much as I can to support small business owners by raising awareness of Small Business Saturday,” she explains.

Now always held on the first weekend of December, Small Business Saturday has grown as a movement and a brand.

Previous editions have seen #SmallBizSatUK trending on Twitter, with former Prime Minister Theresa May and current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan among those tweeting as an estimated 115 million people were exposed to the campaign.

But despite the high profile backing and American Express sponsorship, it remains an essentially grassroots operation put on by individuals with a passion for supporting local retail. There are several events set to be held in the lead up, including a nationwide bus tour, and a social media countdown of the country’s top 100 independent businesses.

Jo said this year’s event, set to take place on Saturday, December 7, could be the biggest yet. “The scheme can highlight a number of benefits from shopping locally. It gives more back to the community, it allows shops to take on more staff and provide more products.

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK, 06 November 2018..Small Business Saturday bus in the Cornhill of Bury St Edmunds pictured are local business owners and volunteers of the Business Bus..Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography. (22208604)
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK, 06 November 2018..Small Business Saturday bus in the Cornhill of Bury St Edmunds pictured are local business owners and volunteers of the Business Bus..Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography. (22208604)

“I opened my salon in 2012 and there was a promotion from the sponsors American Express, who were giving all of their cardholders £5 to spend in an independent business. A number of people were coming in because of this. Three or four people came in who had never walked through the doors before. That really stuck with me. And as the years have gone by, people have become more and more aware of the scheme.”

She adds: “I believe small businesses are the backbone of the economy and can make such a difference in communities. And I think that needs to be at the front of peoples’ minds, especially as people are spending money to buy Christmas presents.

“It could extend to thinking about what you want to ask for Christmas and pushing your children to shop in these places. The conversations you have now can establish a new generation.”

A feature of Small Business Saturday is a nationwide bus tour which precedes the event. Last year the bus stopped in Bury.

Jo says: “The bus provides mentoring sessions and access to networking. There are also advisers on hand to speak to small business owners and answer questions.”

For traders in Bury, Small Business Saturday is often taken as an opportunity to offer discounts and promotions in the run up to Christmas.

Tim Farnsworth, co-owner of Just Our Stall, in St John’s Street, says: “People are beginning to realise that the more online shopping is done then the more likely it is that shops will go out of business. Schemes like this are the key to keep things going.

“Retail is very difficult these days, even the big ones are finding it hard, and the more help we can get, the more people are aware that small business success can benefit all in the town.”

Liza Elliott, who shares ownership at Just Our Stall, adds: “If everybody was to pay just £5 in independent shops it can bring so many benefits to a town centre.

“I think the first weekend of December is probably a good time to have it when everybody is in Christmas mood.”

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, is not one to endorse Small Business Saturday. His organisation already stages an Independents Week – which also looks to promote the smaller firms in Bury – in early July.

“Our position has tended to be with Small Business Saturday that Independent Businesses are not just for Christmas” he says.

“Indie businesses need the support of the public throughout the year and are a key selling point for the offer we have in our town. It is the use it or lose it maxim really.”

Small Business Saturday follows on from the Christmas Fayre in Bury and adds to what is an already busy time of year. But Jo feels that holding the event in peak Christmas shopping season will boost independents by encouraging shoppers to move away from chain brands.

“There is more awareness now about Small Business Saturday; more awareness of what it is, and more being done to encourage people to shop small. It is easy to go to a big chain, but this can see more shops closing. There have been some massive businesses close so it is about making sure we are actively promoting and shouting about small businesses.

“Shoppers need to be spending their money wisely.

“The social media of Small Business Saturday also plays a role as it exposes them to thousands of people in a way they would not normally be able to afford to do. The campaign can go out to more than 2,000 people.

“From year to year more is going into it. More is being invested in it and it can leave a positive impression.

“I think it is important to keep pushing the message of supporting small businesses, we really cannot go on about it enough.

“This could be the biggest year yet.”