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The Pros and Cons Of Local Outsourcing

Paul Clapham examines the commercial benefi ts of setting up a business selling locally produced goods The Pros and Cons Of Local Outsourcing

The word ‘local’ carries a lot of baggage, some of it good for businesses, some of it not so good. Let’s look through those options, starting with good. Customers increasingly like the virtues of ‘local’. That at least is what they say. Look, for instance, at the work put in by Waitrose and Morrisons.

Both say they’ve researched their customers in depth and the answer comes back consistently: ‘We like and would prefer to buy locally produced goods’.

Is it true?

Easy, then. Buy local. It’s what customers want. There are lots of reasons why it should be true, but is it? I strongly suspect that this is one of those issues where the customer loves the idea in principle, but when they get their wallets out they’re not quite so keen.

I’m not suggesting your customers are a bunch of rogues and liars, rather that ‘local’ is a somewhat woolly virtue that has hardly been sold to consumers for a long time. Little wonder about the wooliness in that case.

So if you’re going to make a commercial benefit of ‘local’, first you need to define it. ‘Made here in Stow-on-the-Wold’, lovely though that Cotswold town may be, is not the basis of a commercial proposition, unless the locality has turned into a hive of entrepreneurship since I was last there.

On the other hand, ‘Made in Gloucestershire’ (where you will find Stow-on-the-Wold) might be a sound business proposition. I come from that county and I’m not so sure.

If your business is based in Yorkshire, by all means go for it, Yorkies being big on their county in respect of much more than cricket, plus it’s got a big population. At the other end of the country, the Cornish know that if they don’t support themselves and local businesses, who will?

Does the customer put on their shopping list ‘Scotch beef’ or ‘Welsh lamb’? They might just put ‘Cornish pasties’ or ‘Cornish ice cream’ (my deceased Cornish mother would be so pleased to think so). But in general have local producers made a big thing about locality and sold it hard? In so many cases the honest answer is no.

Contrast that with the rest of Europe, where local food and drink product names are protected as a tigress does her cubs - champagne being the classic example. We are off the speed and due to get ripped to shreds after Brexit, since we have little time to address this and a lot of more pressing matters at hand.

Strong message

Stressing that you aim to stock local product and defining local clearly is a strong marketing message and a powerful point of difference. ‘Everything is produced in Yorkshire, except 18 items not available in the county’ is the sort of message to aim for.

Is it practicable, however? Some shops have found that focusing on organic product as an example is simply not practical all year round. One woman in Bristol told me she could only source organic chillies from South America at certain times, which would rather ruin the virtue being aimed for.

Clearly, it’s important to do your research carefully. It’s no good finding out halfway through developing an ‘All Yorkshire shop’ that in practice you can’t achieve more than 75 per cent. You might consider starting with an ‘All Yorkshire’ section and working upwards.

Incidentally, you may well be disappointed by how few prospective suppliers beat a path to your door. Personally, I’d be jumping with joy at the prospect of a retail customer just down the road, but apparently a lot of suppliers hide their light under a bushel.

There are plenty of other benefits. If you’re buying local you are supporting local employment. Anyone with children will like the thought that their kids don’t have to move away to get a job. They may well choose to, but that’s quite different.

The negatives

What are the negatives of ‘local’? First, for some people it will mean parochial, not the message you want to convey. It can also mean old fashioned, unimaginative, limited, small and lots more. It is, in essence, the opposite of new, clever, original and creative.

You’ll note that these negatives are all perceptual, rather than practical. That doesn’t make them irrelevant, it just makes them tougher to negate.

Getting support

Get to know your local councillor. He or she knows all the right people in local government and almost certainly finds local politics fascinating, which is a good thing because 95 per cent of the rest us find it dull in the extreme.

Without these enthusiasts, nothing worthwhile would get done.

I hate to refer to party politics, but unfortunately it’s a necessity in this case. Who you vote for is exclusively your own affair, but when choosing where to put your cross consider the views, promises and record of candidates regarding supporting small local businesses.

Needless to say, they’ll all swear blind that they’re your biggest supporters and you can’t trust any of the others. I’d say vote for the most convincing individual regardless of party, somebody you could talk to about business in your town, someone you think would phone you back if you asked for their help.

So who’s on your side when it comes to being a local buyer and seller? Start with your county council. Like many business owners, you probably think that the return on your personal council tax and business rates is pitifully poor. Here is a potential exception.

County councils, rather than local councils, have the responsibility to give active support to businesses in their area. This comes with both good news and bad news: some of them are excellent and some are rubbish at this part of their remit. You’ll have to pick up the phone and talk to them. Better still, go and see them.

My personal experience here in Kent has been good to excellent. They have a service called PinK - produced in Kent. I suggest that’s exactly what you want, so take a look and tell - yes, tell - your county council to copy. Read more like this

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