Shop Local? Absolutely! Probably

Shop local? Definitely! There’s a lot of twitter traffic these days about ‘shop local’. There have been a few comments on this site too. It’s a good thing, right? Probably. Mostly.

Of course what most of the shop local brigade mean is ‘shop at independent local stores’. Tesco, bad. Independent local grocer, good. It’s a laudable sentiment. Or rather, most people think it’s a great idea until it gets to 7.00pm and you need a crisp lettuce, a loaf of bread that’s still within its sell-by date or something easy to stick in the oven. And then the convenience, the opening hours and range of products at the UK’s ‘favourite’ grocer comes into its own. And of course it’s not just Tesco versus the people. Twickenham now has a local version of Sainsbury’s, will soon have a Morrisons and, if the rumours are true, an Aldi. Why are these ‘locals’ here? Money, obviously. The internet has put paid to the rise and rise of the edge of town hypermarket. Why wander round an aircraft hangar of a supermarket enduring an experience that’s about as entertaining as a domestic argument in Ikea (and yes, we do mean the Croydon one not the Wembley one) when you could have your weekly shop delivered right to your door? Why go to Big Tesco to buy a television or a microwave when you can get it cheaper from Luxembourg’s very own internet giant, Amazon?

Oh, alright then.

Oh, alright then.

The internet is adversely affecting out of town shopping as much as it’s damaging the high street. The result? The mega-grocers are encroaching into the local environment to try to clean up by selling us the things we forget to buy, or can’t buy, online. These big boys recognise that there’s still money to be made from selling locally which perhaps says something positive about their appearance in our midst. Let’s assume that we all want convenience, choice, good service and competitive prices. The Tesco locals can provide convenience and choice. Do they provide good service? It depends on whether you like to be told that you’ve an ‘unidentified item in the bagging area’. To be honest, we thought that was what embarrassed middle-aged men went to their GPs about. And what about price? A rule of thumb is that any ‘special offer’ price is about the ‘right’ price and that many other items are overpriced. As of last weekend, Sandy’s fishmonger was selling six free range eggs for £1.30. Poor old Tesco Express can only manage to sell theirs at £2.10. Those eggs must sure as hell carry a hefty overhead! In fact, more than 2 years ago we featured a guest post on price of eggs (yes, really). At the time free range eggs were a snip at £1.76 for six in Tesco Express…. but £1.39 in the convenience store nearby. Need another example? South west London based wine writer Jamie Goode tweeted last week that he’d spotted his Sainsbury’s Local selling a particular bottle at £15.99 before pointing out, “this is regularly on sale at £7.49”. “Rip off” he said. He’s not wrong. It may be a way to make money but this kind of price manipulation is surely no way to build a trusted brand. Be warned.

But let’s get back to lettuce for a moment. National ‘locals’ have the infrastructure to enable them to sell (mostly) good quality fresh produce all year round. Most independents can’t compete and in many cases it’s probably not worth the effort trying to do so. If you want a lettuce at 8.00pm then who’s to say you shouldn’t go to Tesco to get one? Where the independents can compete is on price, service or by providing the things you can’t buy online or in your Tesco Express. Add to that some local knowledge, customer service or innovation and there’s hope yet. Want some proper wine advice when you need a nice bottle? Why not go to somewhere like Last Try Wines who also run a range of local wine and beer tasting events? Need some decent bread? You’ll be off to Ruben’s Bakehouse then, of course. In fact, the high street is full of places that offer what Tesco or Sainsbury’s can’t. Coffee, cake, curry, beauty treatments, hair cuts, quirky gifts, pet food, prescriptions, dry cleaning to name but nine. We need to be careful about totally demonising the role of the chains on our high streets. Most people expect to see a Boots in a place like Twickenham (it’s almost a reassuring badge of suburban honour) and yet despite the presence of that national chain we do still have a few independent pharmacists. It’s not clear cut, but if having a little Sainsbury’s means more time spent shopping locally rather than getting in your car or sitting in front of your PC then other retailers could benefit too.

And for those who harrumphed at the coffee reference above, you have a point. We knew where we stood with Starbucks and Caffe Nero versus the rest. Now we have Harris & Hoole too. It’s an offshoot of a small family run chain… but with big expansion plans funded by Tesco. So is H+H a friendly community based specialist coffee shop or is it a way for Tesco to get their hands on more of your hard earned dosh? Or is it both? What a dilemma! Perhaps we just should just get back to the days of Lyons Tea Shops. Hey, hang on, weren’t they a national chain too?

So what now? There can’t be many who want to return to days of local stores shutting at 5.00pm, half day closing on a Wednesday, and a pint of milk and a newspaper being the limit of your Sunday purchases. The way we live and shop has changed. It’s made life a lot harder for many independents despite our love of shopping. The recession and high business rates haven’t helped either. But those independents that can compete on price, convenience, community focus, the provision of quality products or innovative customer service can still have a future and play a key role in defining the shape of our high streets. So look around, shop wisely and maybe there’s hope for our town centres yet. Lettuce hope so.

Some shops. In Twickenham

Some shops. In Twickenham


Filed under Features, High Street Updates, Local Issues & News

15 responses to “Shop Local? Absolutely! Probably

  1. Chris

    It looks as if a new toy shop is about to open on Church Street, a couple of doors along from where Langton’s bookshop was. Good news for the children of Twickenham.

  2. leelcampbell

    Can anyone recommend a cafe/pub/restaurant that is (relatively) child free during the day? There are many business people who need a quiet environment for meetings and to have at least part of the premises relatively quiet would surely be an excellent business opportunity.

  3. Boss

    I love all the chain coffee shops in Twickenham. They suck up all the sheep and leave really good independent coffee shops like Mambocino and Zizou less busy for the rest of us.

  4. I would agree that H&H have done countless interviews but have been less than convincing. (If they just said, we fancied having a bit of Tesco’s money to bankroll us and cash in, it would be better). Also, they do send out flyers with “local coffee-shop” shtick from the Tolleys without mentioning Tesco at all. (And Twickerati, it is a bit different to bank funding – Tesco are equity owners sharing in the profits).

    BUT you are spot-on that it is a very good service – excellent coffee, friendly service and well set up for people with young kids. I always go there if I am with my kids and need a coffee shop.

    In fact, there is a nice division of coffee shops in central Twickenham now. Luluz for cakes, H&H for kids and Coffee Lab for no kids peaceful coffee!

    Just need some other good shops now…

  5. Bobby Gee

    It’s great to see people thinking carefully about where they spend their money – and some of these questions are to do with quality and others to do with sharing values with the vendor and wanting to support them.

    Harris and Hoole is a fascinating addition to this debate – my own suspicion is that this is just another tactic in Tesco’s ongoing world domination strategy and i wouldn’t want to be part of it – fortunately there is no shortage of good quality coffee in twickenham

  6. George

    Since the arrival of Tesco I do probably use the nearby convenience stores a bit less but I do still use them. The shop that has probably lost out most (in term of my spend) is M&S Food as I now need to walk a shorter distance for those items that the Heath Road convenience stores don’t sell.

  7. Vicky

    You can buy lovely lettuces in the Twickenham farmers’ market grown by Alex at Hounslow Community Farming Association ( only a couple of miles away! But only on Saturday mornings or via a veg. box.

  8. Joanne or rock

    Think it’s a little unfair to negatively criticise H&H due to being part owned by Tesco. And it’s an argument that is getting a little tired. Whilst this family run business has had a huge investment from the supermarket giant, H&H have done countless interviews expressing why they chose to go down this route. In my opinion H&h coffee shops offer a uniqueness away from Starbucks and the like. It’s easy to get your double buggy in there, they serve great coffee (and tea) and have introduced children’s lunch bags. I think the point you miss from your post is the importance of a high street actually offering what local people want. H&H have clearly done their market research – you only have to walk past at any given time to see how busy it is – and more of these local shops need to do the same. Sainsburys local on the green is never busy – perhaps due to lack of parking? And whilst I am a big fan of laverstokes, their prices are hugely inflated. Same for reubens – lovely bread but at nearly £4 per loaf, its not going to be a daily buy for the kids sandwiches! Local is great, big chains are great. prices will vary, but people have a choice. And that’s all you can really ask for. That and less empty shops!!

    • Thanks. We’re largely in agreement aren’t we?? Independents need to pick & choose their battles and selling a crisp lettuce at 8.00pm is one they’ll struggle to win.

      You might have preferred an earlier draft which asked of H+H whether it would get the same reaction to Tesco’s involvement if it was being bankrolled by our friends the bankers at Barclays or RBS instead. It also mentioned the fact that there are always ‘independent’ local stores with poor produce choices and or poor service. But the draft needed pruning and those parts got cut.

    • louise blair

      two words “double buggy” is enough to put anyone off! Nero have just about turned into a creche so I guess the overspill (those with “double buggies” are going to take over H&H…what happened to hosting your own coffee mornings?!!

    • rickyandbianca

      I also see that The Three Kings are opening up with new landlords with a big sign advertising Yummie Mummy afternoons…..that’s another boozer off the list. Don’t get me wrong (and I am a father) Kids do not belong in the pub regardless of how good looking their mothers are…(runs for cover) On saying that I very rarely visit the pub and never at lunch time so I guess my argument holds no water but you see where I am coming from…

    • john

      I welcome any way for pubs to afford to stay open!!!

    • john

      ahhhh, I can see the childless ones… 😛
      there is a place for everyone, and please do understand those mums work very hard, the word “double buggy” is heaven to them!! 🙂 its means they can leave the kids to sleep on, while they have a coffee and a chat with friends, after a fraught morning getting the kids fed, cleaned, dressed, and ready to go out!!