Four companies benefitting from the growth of ‘buy local’

Covid-19 devastated many businesses but also created opportunities. Craig Johnson on four firms profiting from the ‘buy local’ phenomenon.

As he looks out the window of The Gate, his bar in Glasgow’s East End, Andy Gemmell can see what one of the city’s most famous venues the Barrowland Ballroom.
As he looks out the window of The Gate, his bar in Glasgow’s East End, Andy Gemmell can see what one of the city’s most famous venues the Barrowland Ballroom.

One of the few bright spots during the initial national lockdown in the spring was that it allowed many people to reconnect with their local communities. Commuters who would normally race past shops on their way to the bus or train made the most of the five-mile travel limit and once-a-day exercise routine to explore their surroundings.

Shops and other essential businesses that were able to stay open benefited from the (socially-distanced) footfall, while those companies that had or could create an online presence received a boost from people who wanted to “buy local”. Research by Deloitte found that 59 per cent of consumers used more local stores and services during the lockdown.

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This article formed part of The Scotsman’s Talking Money magazine. You can view the 2020 emag here >>

Is that trend likely to continue once the pandemic ends? Early indications suggest that it could.

A survey of nearly 1,500 people in Dumfries & Galloway in June by local group Savour the Flavours found 81 per cent said they would prioritise “local” in their shopping as lockdown eased. That finding appears to be reflected nationally – eight out of ten consumers who shopped locally during the lockdown intend to continue their new habit once the crisis is over, according to a poll by industry body Co-operatives UK.

Businesses around Scotland have benefited from the rise of “mindful spending”, as customers carefully choose which companies to support during the crisis. Here, we hear from four of the firms who have built up quite a following.

The Gate

As he looks out the window of The Gate, his bar in Glasgow’s East End, Andy Gemmell can see what one of the city’s most famous venues the Barrowland Ballroom. Being at the heart of the community has been especially important to Gemmell and his team during lockdown.

“We opened last year and I sat there one day, seeing locals at the bar enjoying a pint and hipsters at the tables with their cocktails, and it brought a wee tear to my eye,” he admits. “I always wanted the bar to be somewhere people from any walk of life could come and enjoy themselves.”

Just a couple of weeks after the lockdown began, Gemmell launched Create My Cocktail. Customers answered five simple questions online about the flavours they liked and then one of the bartenders at The Gate would create a bespoke cocktail, which was then delivered to the customer’s house.

“I’m not very good at sitting still and doing nothing,” Gemmell says. “I spoke to my team and we saw that other people had started cocktail delivery services, but we wanted to offer something unique, so we came up with a way to make bespoke cocktails.”

The service continued after the initial national lockdown ended, with customers either collecting their cocktails from the bar or continuing to have them delivered. Amid the autumn “circuit breaker”, the service meant The Gate retained its strong connection with its loyal local customers.

The Thriving Box Co.

When lockdown hit in March, online marketing consultant Robbie Allen, pictured, lost 95 per cent of his regular clients within a fortnight. Personal tragedy struck too, with the death of his brother.

Allen took stock and decided he wanted to do something that would help local businesses, and his “Keep Edinburgh Thriving” gift box was born – a collection of products from local suppliers to be ordered online. “I recall walking down to get the first 50 cardboard boxes to fill, and I just hoped people would buy them,”Allen says.

Within a fortnight, a Glasgow box was added to the roster and then Bristol and Manchester followed soon after, adding strength to The Thriving Box Co.

The now eight-strong firm is now on course to hit £1 million in sales by the end of the year, not only generating trade for local businesses up and down the UK but also creating jobs in Edinburgh and London.

Around 80 per cent of its business is through firms buying boxes as care packages for staff who are working from home, with clients including Baillie Gifford, Standard Life, and the People’s Postcode Lottery.

The firm has also introduced its Momentum box, using products from 25 businesses owned by black people, following a review of its suppliers in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Allen’s efforts so far have been recognised by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, which named him as the “pivot entrepreneur of the year for Scotland and Northern Ireland”.

Graham’s the Family Dairy

For Robert Graham, managing director of his family’s dairy business, the popularity of home deliveries during lockdown felt a bit like history repeating itself.

“One of my first jobs when I started working for the company was doing the doorstep run,” he remembers.

Graham’s saw a ten-fold surge in doorstep orders during the initial national lockdown and now delivers to around 5,000 homes.

It’s proved particularly popular in the north of Scotland, with Graham’s on hand to deliver milk to the locale from its dairy in Nairn.

“During lockdown, doorstep deliveries were really popular with people who couldn’t, or didn’t feel safe enough, to leave their homes,” says Graham. “Now, the feedback we’re getting from customers is that they like the provenance story – they know they’re getting local milk from a local dairy.

“Having milk delivered in glass bottles instead of plastic is also proving to be very popular. The environmental benefits appeal to a lot of customers.”

As well as delivering milk, the dairy is selling butter, free-range eggs, and its Protein 22 and Skyr yoghurts.

The company has also built its own website portal, so customers can order goods online and find out about new products.

“The other big advantage of the portal is that customers can pay for their orders through it,” adds Graham.

“Back when I was doing doorstep deliveries, it took longer to go round and collect the cash payments than it did to deliver the milk.”

The Bootleggers’ Bothy

“When we went into lockdown, I was worried we wouldn’t survive,” says Ruth Scott, who runs The Bothy Bistro at Burghead, Moray, with husband Barry.

“We’ve got a big team and we wanted to ensure they didn’t end up unemployed.”

With their bistro closed, Ruth and Barry opened The Bootleggers’ Bothy, an outdoor kitchen built from two shipping containers, overlooking the Moray Firth.

Bootleggers proved to be an instant hit. The outdoor kitchen closed on 25 October, with The Bothy Bistro reopening three days later.

“We were really lucky to be able to open Bootleggers,” says Ruth. “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.”

Ruth and Barry bought seafood directly from local fishing boats, meat from local butchers and real ale from a local brewery.

“Over the four months Bootleggers was open, our average spend with suppliers was over £10,000 per week,” says Barry.

Ruth adds: “It was such a positive feeling watching supplies arriving, and knowing that not only were we OK, but we were also helping ensure so many local livelihoods.”

This article is taken from the November 2020 special report Talking Money which first appeared in The Scotsman newspaper. To receive your free delivered copy please email [email protected]. UK addresses only. Subject to availability.

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