Yesterday was Small Business Saturday 2016 and we had already made a conscious decision to support our local traders (including locally-based online traders) during the run-up to Christmas rather than heading to our nearest city, which tends to tempt footfall away from Forfar, most especially at weekends.
Our first stop on Small Biz Saturday was Zoe Duthie Jewellery Design, a two-minute stroll from home. As well as stocking the most beautiful pieces, Zoe holds jewellery-making workshops and also carries out repairs from her tiny shop in the town centre. The chief frocker's first mission of the day was to have a minor repair done on some very precious earrings gifted to her 30 years ago by the late Johnny Frocker and of great sentimental value. Thanks to Zoe, they'll be ready to collect next week in plenty of time for Christmas!
"Z.D Jewellery is an emerging jewellery brand based in Scotland and was created in 2009 by design graduate Zoe Duthie. The brand specialises in creating handmade precious metal jewellery collections as well as privately commissioned designs."
We also visited R. Anderson's, one of our local carpet and vinyl specialists, despite not being in the market for new floor coverings at the moment. The shop also happens to offer a seamstress service, so we dropped off some vintage frockery whcih was in need of professional alteration.
"We are a local business for local people. R.Anderson Carpets is focused on providing high-quality service and customer satisfaction, from start to finish, throughout the whole of Angus. We will do everything we can to meet your expectations."
The chief frocker then focused on finding Christmas and birthday gifts for family and friends. Since some of our gift recipients may well be reading this, we won't be giving away too much, but we dropped by, in no particular order...
Ti'Amo, which stocks beautiful bags, jewellery, hats, scarves and accessories.
Prima, which recently won 'Best Angus Gift Shop' category in the Angus Business Awards, "based on their nomination by the public, votes, mystery shopper test and positive feedback received from customers".
Perfect Presents, stockists of the delightful Charlie Bears, Beswick and beautiful bone china figurines.
Aunty Jaqui's, which sells Scottish made goods - ice cream, sweets, baking (including dairy, soya, gluten free), cards, jewellery, bags and small gifts.
Naturally, we also made time to hit our favourite charity shops.
We made a beeline for the Red Cross shop which was holding a 20% discount day for its loyalty card holders and quickly put ours to good use, picking up two practical presents for the men we always struggle to buy for. They always have a good selection of clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as vinyl, bric-a-brac and even furniture in their two East High Street shops and we were not disappointed.
A rummage through the Salvation Army shop's rails later produced a Marion Donaldson wool dress in the chief frocker's size - perfect for the winter/spring wardrobe - and a selection of stocking fillers for our our minor frockers (the youngest of whom is 27!) It has to be said that the Castle Street shop staff and volunteers are so friendly and welcoming that we feel guilty on the rare occasions we leave empty handed!
Second-hand shopping in Forfar doesn't get much better than the Pend Emporium, which is a Tardis-like unit sandwiched between the Osnaburg bar and the Pend chip shop (purveyors of deep fried Mars bars). Owned and run by the inimitable Neil Mackay, who is also a regular at vintage and collectables fairs, the shop is a veritable treasure trove with that all-important rummageability factor that we all love.
Although not strictly a Small Biz Saturday experience, Colin Smith's of Forfar is also deserving of a mention in frockers' dispatches. When our washing machine received a terminal diagnosis the other week, we headed straight to our popular local electrical retailer, whose prices are just as competitive as the multi-nationals, with exceptional customer service to boot. By 9.30am the following day, our new machine was delivered and installed, and the old one removed for disposal, which helped ease the pain of our unscheduled expenditure.
More than four years ago we wrote an article about the loss of our local cobbler's shop due to his bank moving its small business overdraft goalposts at short notice, effectively doubling his outgoings overnight. It is disappointing to see that shop still lying empty, and too many others have also since closed their doors, so any initiative that supports small businesses is to be welcomed.
The Barclay Review, expected to report next summer, is currently considering how business rates impact on local economic growth, while also looking at wider economic conditions, the changing nature of high streets and evolution of multifarious market places fuelled by new technology.
The FSB's fulsome response to the review on behalf of its members has argued strongly for the retention of the Small Busines Bonus Scheme (rates relief), revealing that many firms would relocate or downsize if it were to be abolished. Meanwhile, SCVO has made a robust case for supporting charity shops, which have often - unfairly, in our view - come in for criticism of their alleged trading advantage due to their entitlement to 80% mandatory rates relief that may even be topped up to 100% at the council's discretion.
Contrary to claims from some quarters that charity shops have a negative effect on the local ecomomy, research by think tank Demos has found charity retailers help high streets by maintaining footfall and occupying units that would otherwise lie empty. According to SCVO, charity shops and commercial interests are "partners in building vibrant, successful communities and high streets, rather than competitors."
The rise of ecommerce, which brings significant challenges to bear on small independent online shops like ours (but that's a post for another day!); the peer-to-peer / shared economy (such as Uber and Airbnb); the expansion of supermarkets into non-food sectors; and the dominance of out-of-town shopping centres with cut-throat pricing and free parking have all impacted on - and will continue to affect - small businesses of all types. These effects are felt disproportionately on the high streets of smaller towns where shops stand empty for long periods and the casualties continue to pile up.
To conclude on a positive note, it is encouraging to see Small Business Saturday being embraced so enthusiastically, alongside the growing 'shop local' movement. While we were out supporting the locals yesterday, the Frockery also enjoyed a good day's trading online and received no less than three thank you emails from satisfed customers, one of whom has been shopping with us since our humble beginnings in 2007.
When it comes to solving the intractable macro-economic problems faced by small businesses, we must confess to being sold clean out of magic wands. However, what we do have in plentiful supply, in common with most small independent traders, is good old fashioned customer care with a commitment to going that extra mile. Why not drop by one or more of your local businesses - online or on the high street - and check out the quality of our goods and services for yourselves?