National and independent businesses unite to pour £13 million into Scottish towns and cities

Colin Munro is the MD of Miconex

NATIONAL and independent businesses are uniting behind a new Scottish initiative that has the potential to inject £13 million into Scottish towns and cities. Spar is the latest national retailer to sign up to the Scotland Loves Local Gift Card, a local gift card for 32 local authority areas of Scotland, powered by payments provider Miconex and backed by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (PTP) and the Scottish Government.

Paula Middleton, marketing manager for Spar Scotland said: “The Scotland Loves Local Gift Card aligns completely with our values at Spar. Community is at the heart of everything we do in our stores that operate in rural areas and towns from Gretna right up to Kirkwall. Our staff know our customers as neighbours, and we’re big supporters of local charities, donating over £1 million across Scotland since 2013. People have come to appreciate the value of communities even more in the pandemic, and to realise how important local businesses are. For some customers, the only human interaction they had during the pandemic was through visiting their local Spar store or another local business.

“Spar is a national brand with a local approach. 50% of the products on our shelves are either produced or distributed from Scottish production sites. It was a no brainer for us to join the Scotland Loves Local Gift Card. It’s a scheme that supports local businesses and local communities, we absolutely knew we had to get involved. Anything that we can do to encourage people to shop locally, support local businesses through increased footfall, and create positive communities, we have to do, and the Scotland Loves Local Gift Card ticks all of those boxes.”

The Local Data Company on behalf of accountancy firm PWC found that 780 Scottish national retailers with more than 5 locations, closed during the first 6 months of 2021 with 344 opening, a net change of -436. They also note that the rate of store closures has slowed. A key concern stated in the report was the ‘shifting consumer preference to out-of-town shopping’ with the suggestion that ‘investors must consider how to repurpose spaces to attract footfall’, ‘creating a retail and hospitality destination’ and ‘showcasing independent and local operators’.

Businesses across Scotland can register for free to accept the new Scotland Loves Local Gift Card as an additional payment method, as Miconex expands its Town and City Gift Cards concept from 17 areas of Scotland to 32, and to over 100 places in the UK overall. Town and City Gift Cards can be spent with retail, hospitality, leisure and services, in both national and independent businesses.

A Scottish independent business that has seen significant spend through its local Town and City Gift Card scheme is Grooves in Orkney, which recently expanded from one record shop to three shops- a toy shop, a record shop and a café/music venue. Stewart Bain is the manager of Grooves:

“The Kirkwall Gift Card has been a good thing for our business to be a part of. We’ve had loads of Kirkwall Gift Cards redeemed at Grooves. People may not know what they want to buy a friend or family member as a gift, but they do know that they want to give them the greatest choice, and the Kirkwall Gift Card is ideal. The pandemic and lockdown has made people more aware of their local businesses and the struggles they’ve faced over recent months. Orcadians really try to support local and thanks to that, we’ve fared better than most. Orkney doesn’t have the empty shops that some towns have but we still need to compete with online and make Orkney an attractive place for customers to shop.”

In Scotland, the 2021 Town Centre Action Plan Review Group Report noted that Scottish towns continue to fight for their future, considering emerging themes such as 20 minute neighbourhoods, where people can meet their needs within a 20 minute walk from their house.

Leigh Sparks, chair of the Town Centre Action Plan Review Group and professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, commented: “The changes we’ve seen in our town centres and high streets over recent years, such as the emergence of a range of out of town activities, including shopping centres and the rise of internet retailing, often exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic, have produced a focus on the need to make our high streets and town centres more vibrant and interesting.

“Creating vibrant high streets in Scotland requires us to consider how we can differentiate them, create a sense of place and build inviting town centres that meet the needs of a wide range of people. The Scotland Loves Local Card can form part of that, as different sizes and types of businesses can be a part of the card. The idea of national and independent businesses collaborating as part of an emerging local retail ecosystem is a positive step that deserves support and encouragement.”

Colin Munro is the managing director of Miconex and said: “The understanding that national and independent stores can not only co-exist but benefit from the presence of each other is not new, and collaboration is a key tenet of the Town and City Gift Card concept. Both national and independent businesses have their place in our towns and cities, and contribute to the overall attractiveness of the consumer offering; the loss of a national brand or a much loved independent can be devastating for an area. 

“Customers want diversity in their towns and cities, and creating successful, vibrant, inclusive towns and cities is very much on the government agenda. By participating in the Scotland Loves Local scheme, nationals and independents have a tangible means to unite, collaborate and contribute to the evolution of their town or city.”

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