Boosting rural retail: Lessons from New England

Published: 4 Feb 2014

Author: Angus Robertson
Boosting rural retail: Lessons from New England

Angus Robertson, General Manager with Sleat Community Trust (Isle of Skye), has recently returned from a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to New England in America, where he was researching the best in rural retailing, not-for-profit enterprises and “buy local” projects.

Through engagement with small business owners, village stores operators and retail and community organisations throughout the region, Angus gained a valuable insight into how successful local shops and enterprises in this part of America were surviving against the pressures of the current economic downturn and with increased competition from online retailers, out-of-town malls and large supermarkets.

While local enterprises in New England and Scotland have both suffered in the difficult trading conditions of the last 5 years, Angus found that the American businesses he visited were much better at marketing their wares. Stores stocked a wider choice of goods, including a range of local items, and staff were able and willing to spend time explaining the provenance and quality of products. In several areas, effective ‘Buy Local’ schemes were in place to educate the local population, and store owners engaged with social media to promote items and gain customer feedback.

Back in Sleat, Angus oversees a number of community owned retail businesses, including a petrol station, shop and post office. He hopes to use the knowledge gained from his Fellowship for some fresh ideas for Sleat Community Trust’s Trading business and to aid other community groups, social enterprises and businesses throughout the Highland region. Plans are also in place for Angus to engage with a variety of public, private and charity sector organisations regarding potential rural retail initiatives.

“Americans are very supportive of entrepreneurs having a go and no stigma is placed on them if they fail. ‘It is better to have tried and failed, than failed to try’ was a refreshing mantra which we could all well remember before dismissing the latest venture in our own communities!” says Angus.

For more information:

Angus Robertson: [email protected]

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