Tuesday, 15 November 2011

On Indies

Every morning on my way to my job as a bookseller, I have a strange encounter. Pasted on the wall of my local corner shop there is a huge Ebay poster which reads:

Buy Now! Buy Ebay! Bye Retail!

Now this is where I stop almost every day to pick up last minute items, sign local petitions, inadvertenly get the celebrity goss and to stop and talk and get ribbed about my chocolate sultanas addiction with the shopkeeper, Ramses.  Whilst I realise you wouldn't technically call Ramses' family business a retail outlet, it is still a fairly odd statement for a shop to have residing next to its front door and I can't help but see the irony.

Now I don't have a problem with Ebay itself, but I do take issue with the idea that retail is an institution to be avoided.  To be navigated for sure, as let's face it, there are retailers who have done nothing but a disservice to the service industry with their profiteering, cost-cutting, public-hating initiatives. I also take umbrage with the general feeling that retail is a the last resort for time-poor shoppers, that it is a shopping experience that lacks inspiration and that people who work in these industries are all unskilled and uncaring.

Am I a lonely voice in the wilderness on this? It feels like it. Recently I have read so many vitriolic articles about retail and some very gloomy ones naysaying my industry in particular. But all I can see are the positives that small retailers or indies bring to a community. So if your opinion is low, let me change your mind and give you some advice about where you should be shopping to make the most of your hard-earned dollars.

I've worked in retail since I was 18. I won't tell you exactly how long that's been, but I will say it's a very long time. I've seen the ins, the outs, the behind the scenes, the good, the bad and the ugly of major retailers and independents (indies) alike, and without embarrassment I can say that I still love it.

Independent retailers are a breed apart. Many are extremely passionate and not just about what they are selling. They generally spend a lot of time and resources ensuring that their customers and their community are one and the same and genuinely feel that way. They also do something extremely wonderful - they provide jobs, they pay taxes and rates and they're so busy working that generally they spend all their money in your communities because they don't have time to go away.

They also do things differently so as to set themselves apart, which means range and choice are always a priority. You always find the coolest stuff in indie retailers and even though their prices are seen to be higher than buying online or through major discounters, they are always the first to offer their regulars a discount or throw in a freebie. Just last week, Ramses threw in a free avocado with my irregular vegetable purchases - can't see that happening at the local Coles. And my boss is tremendously generous even though bookselling is a business subsisting on very low profit margins. I can't remember the last time I shopped online or in a major discounter that anyone offered me complimentary giftwrap, a cheery salutation, a freebie that complemented my purchases, advice about what I should buy my brother's new girlfriend for Christmas, directions to the post office or even a short segue from my purchase to the state of the country.

And whilst that may seem a little too much conversation for some, it's exactly why most indies are the backbones of our communities. We love shoppers, but we also kinda like people as well and even though there are eccentrics and socially-challenged members amongst us, our passion for our product is always paramount.

There are also some tremendous figures that support spending your money locally. Something like 60 cents out of every dollar you spend locally goes back into your community directly. Supporting local independent businesses mean that dollars, jobs, diversity and choices stay local, therefore creating strong, unique communities. Small retailers can usually also answer your questions about the providence of the items you buy through them, which means you can feel confident about your purchases.

Have I convinced you yet?

Tomorrow when I go to work and walk past that sign telling me to farewell retail, again I'll shake my head and genuinely feel sorry for those people who are missing out on the riches that retailers inadvertently give us everyday. I just hope that they realise what they're missing before it's too late.  After that, Ramses and I will swap commentary on the newspaper headlines and off I'll go to work with a smile on my face, a guarantee from a quality "indie" that's an example to all of us.

So give small retailers and indies another go and rediscover your "local".

Written by Megan

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