I went back to Oxford the other day for a break from BoBelle; sometimes you just need a day off to gather your thoughts and ideas, and I was so saddened on my drive back to my parents' home; the number of small businesses that had shut down was heart-breaking. Gone were the small cafes, art gallery, shoe shop, lingerie specialist and restaurants. Instead the empty shells were boarded up and goodness knows what has happened to the business owners and employees. The atmosphere was bleak; and this is in North Oxford - hardly short of a bob or two.
When you run your own company you know and very much appreciate how difficult and tiring it is for others in the same position. Every lead matters. Every sale is valued. Every contact is treasured. I make a point of supporting fellow entrepreneurs; I buy local the majority of the time, I support other business owners and I encourage people to do the same. The thing is, if we don't do this then we will stifle entrepreneurship and creativity. Gone will be the independent labels and choice, and in its replacement will be the gentrification and clone towns with no variety or choice.
How can we get passed this and what is it that people really want? Is price and brand really everything? Or are people willing to take a gamble with small brands and pay that (often) little bit extra for something individual? Don't get me wrong, a lot of small businesses that fail to move with the times and evolve will lose their customers because of this, but what about those that are forced out prematurely because increase in rents or lack of strategic forward initiative? When the small guys are gone, the sense of community spirit diminishes. I can't think of anything worse than identical Westfield equivalents opening up everywhere; is that really a model that we want for the future? Not only is the product offering mostly dull and overpriced, but quality, individuality and design will fade. And it's not just the shops themselves, but the chain after that; the designers, manufacturers, suppliers...the list goes on. If I stop producing here in England I will risk several jobs at the factory, apprenticeships, loss of orders for my tanneries, hardware suppliers, stationery suppliers and more. It's like a domino effect and one that I hope to prevent from happening. This recession is certainly separating the weak from the strong, but in the meantime, I will certainly do what I can to support fellow businessmen and women and try to make a difference.