It was a great pleasure to be asked to support our own village version of the global #SupportLocal campaign. This is a movement that seeks to influence the way we all shop and consume services. As well as to remind us about the diversity of products available just around the corner. Some of these businesses have proven to be absolute stars during the height of the pandemic, supplying us all with goods and services whilst in lockdown.
The vast marketing budgets of the multi-nationals enable them to be omnipresent in our lives. On our TV’s in our magazines and increasingly in our social media accounts and inbox thanks to some nifty and no doubt expensive SEO activity. As we all suffer from very short memories, we are already seeing a tendency to drift back to the bigger outlets as the lockdown eases.
The baton of #SupportLocalStBriavels was taken up by Jo Thompson of Wye Valley Flowers and sought to keep this business within the community not just now but as a long-term behaviour. The Forest of Dean economy has always been dominated and driven by SME’s with only a few large employers, relative to other areas. Even so, it was a surprise that in the first few hours alone 20 odd individual small businesses expressed interest from just one small rural backwater of 1500 people!
So over the course of a hectic long weekend we set out to document, in stills, all of those local business owners so that we could put faces to names, create dynamic marketing content and begin the vital first step in the process – telling those immediately around you that you exist. I think that we did that and more. In mini photo shoots lasting ten minutes we tried to create a collection of images that, although essentially marketing in nature, we also engaging, interesting, informative and amusing.
So how do you approach a collection of quick time shoots to a deadline. The key is to get your subjects to relax as quickly as possible. Relaxed and the results can be natural and warm. The alternative if relaxation looks like a challenge is to be fast! I mean really fast, and tell lies. This is only the test for lighting and composition and whilst your subject thinks you are still getting ready – you are actually getting the shots. For this latter group success looks like total amazement that it’s over already – a sure sign that your believed you were in the warm up phase. As a photographer, you can only be fast if you are prepared and ready to go and ready forever is thrown at you. I always burst the first few because that way the sound of the shutter is more familiar more quickly. But you also have to think of the project as a body of work. How will these images look when they are all brought together. Dynamism won’t be served well by a group of pictures that all look too samey – and so in my mind I mix it up a little as we go along. This is a social media campaign and so I want the pictures to have some sense of immediacy and on the hoof while also creating the idea that the subject is approachable, friendly and good to do business with. Last and by no means least I always want my subjects to feel that their loved ones would think that I had caught their character. We all have a mental self-image of ourselves and reflecting reality can be really uncomfortable for some. Take me for example. I have a very body positive self-image and so avoid mirrors and fleeting reflections in shop windows whenever possible! We all have our hang-ups and self-consciousness to deal with in front of the camera and so I always think that the “loved ones” value is more achievable measure of success.
SME business owners are so adaptable, positive and up for the challenge that right here within this group is the enthusiasm required to regenerate our local economies.
Of course, it isn’t sufficient to just be “local”, proximity is only a small part of the equation. Great customer service and a fair price are also major parts of the equation. And the battle is harsh. Urban myth would have the future online and indeed the online expansion is, in part, decimating Britain’s High Streets. I say in part because we’ve all experienced poor customer service in proximate businesses. I don’t think that price is as sensitive as some think either. As long as the customer sees value for money in the whole package, they are prepared to pay a fair price for goods and services.
For traders is about being entrepreneurial, positive, customer and service focussed and making it very easy and enjoyable for customers to do business with you. There is a potential to fill the ever-growing high-street void with local.
As the conversation grinds on and councils and landlords’ step into the ring for what promises to be a brutal match -up about what our High Streets will look like and what function they will perform in the future, the high street dies one shop at a time. Are the high business rates, planning or the landlords sitting on capital value to blame? Who cares who is to blame when you’re only focus is fighting the infection. Blame is a thing for later.
Maybe local hasn’t been seen as a viable option for the local regeneration process but what #SupportLocalStBriavels has shown is that this sector, although small, are mighty together. They can, given enthusiastic individuals willing support and a fair wind organise, promote and market like any other business. Their route to market can be much less complicated, their service quicker and more personal than lots of the competition. But they do need a fair crack of the whip when it comes to marketing support and getting the message out there. So, government maybe missing a trick by seeing all of these SME’s as too fragmented, too geographically diverse and difficult to deal with because - organised – they are more akin to a sector wide approach. The good news for government on a national and local level as well as trade bodies is that we are self-employed. We do what the self-employed do really well - offered an opportunity, we innovate, we motivate, we are quick to react and above all else we do stuff!
Business Images: Made by Mo - Mo Parker, Cinderhill Farm - Debs Flint, Parry's Haulage and Feeds, Darren Wasley Autos, The Pantry, Karen Biddle - online tutor, St Briavels Congregational Church - Matt Rees, Emma Nelson - White Feather Property Management, Stuart Skinner - beekeeper and pest control, Wye Valley Flowers, Wye Valley Campsite - Jess and Jo, WyeMade Jewellery - Ann Skehel, WyeMade Outdoors Mike Skehel - Mountain Leader and Navigation Trainer, ARH Electrical Contractor - Alan Herbert, George's Secret Supper Club, Youth Hostel Association - Linda Harrison, Barnby Fencing, St Mary's Church - Minister David Rees, Cowshill Farm Shop, Frank & Minnies Interiors - Jo Davies, Wye Valley Zumba - Jo & Harriet, yours truly.
Paul Scully MP Minister for Small Business https://twitter.com/scullyp