Gordon Henderson: Don’t let high street be lonely

Christmas is a vital trading time for just about any consumer-facing businesses such as retailers, coffee shops, restaurants, pubs and taxis. All of these are ­located in our town centres and all of them rely on your custom in the face of online competition to survive.
See what gems you can find shopping in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian RutherfordSee what gems you can find shopping in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
See what gems you can find shopping in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A couple of great initiatives are adding a bit of fun to this year’s festive shopping season in Edinburgh.

Small Business Saturday, on December 6, encourages businesses to get involved and run their own local promotions and you, their customers, to think small for the day and go and explore a high street near you and see what gems you can find. The organisers reckon that the campaign delivered £460 million of spending with the UK’s small businesses in 2013.

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This year, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is again supporting the campaign and urging its members to get involved.

We started a couple of weeks ago with the help of Harvey Nichols and the city council by running a couple of retail workshops that helped small local retailers learn some merchandising and window display skills.

I’ve seen a few mentions here in the Evening News of local Small Business Saturday initiatives and I know businesses in the Grassmarket and Leith Walk have plans, too.

One of those initiatives I read about was Edinburgh’s Secret Santa, a great looking project that ticks a whole raft of boxes. Anyone can participate (although hurry up because this Sunday is the registration deadline) and buy a £10 gift to be given out 
anonymously to another participant. The bit I really like is that the organisers are encouraging participants to use Edinburgh shops to both buy and drop off their presents rather than shopping online. Hopefully they will stay in town a bit longer for a coffee or a meal whilst they are there. Nice one Secret Santa people, a great project supporting local businesses.

As great as Small Business Saturday is, small businesses are for life, not just Christmas (apologies to the Dogs Trust for that!). We need our local and national governments to be thinking about the future of our town centres and how they can be used all year round. Edinburgh has many town centres such as Stockbridge, Corstorphine, Bruntsfield, and Portobello that need the same kind of attention the city centre gets with its huge infrastructure investment and festivals spending. Unfortunately the council is planning to cut nearly £300,000 from the economic development budget which gives this support in its attempt to save more than £60m by 2018.

In Edinburgh and across the Lothians, town centres are key parts of the economy. In the face of widespread changes to how retail operates and the cost pressures facing businesses, how town centres are managed is becoming more important than ever. Making them accessible for consumers and easier places to do business with less red tape, keeping assets new and old in our towns, making them safe and attractive places where people live – these are all key priorities for local economic development departments so budget cuts are a big concern.

Please get out and support your local high street on Saturday and maybe you’ll decide to do it more often. A combined effort will make a huge difference to local small businesses this year.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses