Woman in Business: can independent shops compete with national chains?

Following my recent column on the importance of buying locally and the difference it makes to the wider local community, I came across a brilliant “David and Goliath” story unfolding in Goring Road, West Worthing.

Two independent greetings cards shops, Best Wishes and Cardus, had co-existed quite happily for 11 years, despite being a stone’s throw away from each other in a small parade. Although what they offered was very similar, Best Wishes owner Gary James told me that they had adopted a way of making sure they respected each other’s boundaries and developed different specialities. Last summer, Gary learned Card Factory was interested in a shop on the Goring Road stretch. Discovering that Cardus was up for sale, Gary and his wife, Heather, decided to make a stand for West Worthing and for the independent retailer. They bought Cardus and are now giving the retail giant a run for its money. As multi-nationals seem to be adopting the policy of opening up in smaller, secondary sites and hoovering up the trade, it seems that beleaguered independent traders are under pressure. But the Jameses believe that independent shops are about much more than retail. Without a huge staff turnover, customers get to know staff in smaller shops, who act as a backbone for the community. Gary said: “People regularly pop in to have a chat, and Heather often helps elderly customers by reading the cards to them and taking time to help them make their choice.” Card Factory opened in November and has made an impact, but Gary and Heather are putting up a great fight. They are determined to maintain high quality with good value and great personal service in both their shops. Cardus will continue to stock its popular range of toys, stationery and wool, Best Wishes will retain its chocolates, and both will, of course, carry on selling greetings cards. Card Factory may offer bargain basement prices, but the Jameses believe that quality, service and community spirit will be what people will come back for. What do you value about your local independent shops? Get in touch: www.facebook.com/womaninbusiness. www.straightforwardcoaching.com