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Shop Smart, Shop Local – The Cheshire Ladders Mantra

Shopping locally is a great way to keep variety on the high street and support independent businesses trying to make a living. There are small business owners providing a vast array of services from baked goods to home improvements, gift ware to coffee shops throughout the towns, villages and cities of the UK.

We spoke to Amanda May from Cheshire Ladders, and the more recently launched group Staffordshire Ladders, about why shopping local is so important. Passionate about helping small businesses to spread the #shopsmartshoplocal ethos, to network and to collaborate, Amanda works tirelessly to bring small businesses together online and offline in Cheshire and Staffordshire.

Cheshire Ladders Networking Party Photo CollageWhat are Cheshire and Staffordshire Ladders all about?

Cheshire Ladders and Staffordshire Ladders are networking groups for local businesses. We help each other out with advice, support, ideas, and also collaborate with and shop from each other.

It has a real family feel even though thousands of businesses use it! We also have local area groups to enable people to network in their own town.

Cheshire Ladders UK logoWhat made you start Cheshire and Staffordshire Ladders?

Being a single mum, I always had both a full time and part time job. I lost my weekend job when they lost their business after 17 years. I felt that the business owner panicked, made mistakes and had there been a support network behind him, he may have stayed in business. I also became more and more frustrated with larger companies appearing on our high streets, making it more difficult than ever for SME’s to compete. We needed to fight back!

Is shopping local and supporting local businesses important to you?

Absolutely! We have to support these small businesses or we will all become robots working for big national companies. Small business owners have talent, initiative and pride in what they do, we should be supportive.

Cheshire Ladders Small Business Networking in the Congleton ChronicleIs it only individuals whose choice of suppliers matter, or do fellow businesses supporting each other also help?

Businesses can also support each other by choosing their suppliers carefully. Get your stock from small local firms, build relationships with the other businesses around them and benefit from referrals. Loyalty to each other creates a community spirit.

Can one person changing the way they shop can really make a difference?

A big fat YES. If we all choose to be that one person and spend just £5 a week in a local independent business, we can help them keep our towns and traditions alive. It doesn’t take much. Visit the back streets of your town centre, you will be pleasantly surprised and find some real gems. There’s nothing nicer than meeting the OWNER of a business; friendlier, more knowledgeable and they have the customers’ best interests at heart because YOU are their business.

green grocerAs the cost of living rises, prices are important to people. Isn’t it more expensive to choose an independent retailer?

Products are only more expensive because more time and effort has gone into something than a similar mass produced product. You are also paying for the quality, the taste, the attention to detail and the pride that has gone into each product. By shopping with local independently run businesses you end up spending the same or less because you don’t have to get in your petrol filled car to visit a large chain store!

Is there a knock-on effect when a business benefits from customers choosing their products and services?

Customers begin to tell their friends and family about the product or service they received because invariably it is of a better quality than a chain. If a small business has a great customer base with repeat custom, they can keep their prices competitive too.

Reading High StreetMany people like the convenience that shopping centres and supermarkets offer. Why should they change their shopping habits?

They need to change their way of thinking for many reasons. To keep their high streets and communities alive requires making bonds and relationships with business owners who have the town’s future at heart and have a say in what happens.

If we didn’t have independent shops fighting for their right to stay on the high street, the quality of products and services and prices offered by the larger chains would ultimately suffer as people would have no choice about where to shop. There would be no need for them to compete any more and complacency would set in.

Vintage ShopDo you think the high street has a future in the local economy or do you see more businesses switching to cottage economies and online?

Local businesses have already been pushed off the high street due to increasing landlord rents and rates. Some can however still be found on the back streets and people need to go looking for them and use them. Businesses may be forced to trade online if not supported which is a shame and for some it would not be appropriate at all.

Many cottage industries are still going strong because they do not have the same overheads but I speak to a lot of these who wish they could afford premises. They have stayed a cottage industry through economics, not choice.

The Old Townhouse High Street PooleDo you think there are enough opportunities and support for small businesses and those who want to set up a business in the UK?

There are a lot of schemes but it can be a bit of a minefield finding the exact help you need. The government have recently started the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme to enable those out of work to begin their own business. Working alongside Blue Orchid, people are given free advice, courses, mentoring etc to get them started in business. The good thing about this is there’s no age limit. This is accessed via the Job Centre Plus.

Many other avenues are available once in business to join countless networking organisations for referrals and advice. There are too many to list here but every area has something to suit you and your pocket. It does take effort to attend, network and build useful relationships though; nobody is going to come knocking on your door to tell you about it.


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