The local retail brand

January 2010

Depending on where you live and also how you choose to shop, the local independent retailer will either figure in your life or it won’t. ‘Where you live’ might actually be the main reason on its own – perhaps you’d love to pop into a traditional fish monger in your local high street, but if it doesn’t exist anymore then clearly you can’t. Equally, if such a shop was in your local high street then perhaps you’re just happier and more comfortable buying your nice piece of monkfish tail all neatly packed from Tesco on a Thursday evening along with the rest of your weekly shop. You might also, and arguably reasonably, justify the latter because of a busy lifestyle.

Where I live – about 60 miles north of Inverness – such choices and decisions take on a slightly different dimension. Let me explain: our nearest Tesco is about 40 miles away and nearest B&Q getting on for 60. The former situation is actually no big deal, as we have a reasonably sized Co-op about 18 miles away. No B&Q, or equivalent, also isn’t such a great problem because we have a superb hardware shop about 10 miles away in a seaside village called Golspie – accepting if I wanted a complete replacement bathroom I’d have to make the trip to the big orange store in Inverness. But actually, and although relative distances have a bearing on the quality of the local brand (which I’ll come back to), they aren’t my whole point. What is my point is that where we now live has made me fall in love with the local retail brand, and this is why…

Let’s start with that local hardware store in Golspie which is called Lindsay’s. I mentioned above that distance has a bearing on quality of the local brand and the reason why is simple: The fact that the alternative shop to buy a packet of wood screws or lawnmower really is 60 miles away, means that stocking products which, if the national giant was just down the road, would be unrealistic (B&Q would clearly win on price every time) means that actually the range is pretty amazing. So okay you might pay a tad more, but who cares when it’s on your doorstep (in this context ‘doorstep’ is a relative term – it’s still 10 miles away from us…).

So that’s convenience covered off as an element in why I’ve fallen in love with the local brand, but the other main reason is to do with experience. Let me explain with a short story about buying simple wood nails in Lindsay’s. I needed rather a lot of nails for a particular outdoor job at our new property. Scouring Lindsay’s shelves for packets of nails (I thought, and perhaps you do too, that all nails come in neat little plastic bags with a cardboard tab at the top which has a slit in it to allow the whole thing to slide onto a ‘euro hook’) I found absolutely none. Knowing it was inconceivable that such a shop wouldn’t sell nails, I asked one of the always-helpful shop assistants. “They’re upstairs” she told me and quickly set off in that direction with the obvious expectation that I’d follow. Once upstairs (an intriguing room of half warehouse and half sales floor), she hovered over a long row of bucket-type containers and each holding a very substantial quantity of the thin metal objects I needed. We briefly discussed best length for the job (as you do) and, once decided, next issue to resolve was weight – that’s in “How many do you want – half a pound?” That sounded a pretty good start point to someone like me more accustomed to buying their minced beef by such a measurement, and my new friend proceeded to scoop handfuls of one and half inch nails (no deliberate avoidance of metric on my part here – just how it’s apparently done) into a large dish which sat upon some Victorian looking scales. A half pound weight was then positioned at the other end of the primitive, albeit highly operational, weighing device. A few more nails were added for the respective weights to balance, but then I decided that actually there didn’t look enough nails, so plumbed for three quarters of a pound instead. No problem there – just a quarter pound weight to be added to one end and a well-calculated scoop of about 60 nails in the other.

Of course I’m not proposing that B&Q adopt such labour-intensive (and in their case entirely impractical) methods of selling such products, but who said buying nails isn’t fun? (Well, probably nobody has ever said that, but you’ll take my point anyway, I hope.)

But for people in our area the concept of me finding novelty in how nails are sold would be laughable – it is, of course, the norm (as no doubt it will be for me in a few years time). No, for them what Lindsay’s stands for would be along the lines of “You’ll get it at Lindsay’s” (like it’s a given), or “Lindsay’s will have it” (same sentiment) or even “The only place you’ll get that around here is Lindsay’s.”

Having mentioned fishmongers earlier, it’s only fair that I tell you about the one we have which is also in Golspie. A. G. Campbell, as it’s named, has a somewhat simpler offering than its neighbour the hardware shop just a few doors further down the high street (which is actually the A9) but that takes nothing away from its standing as a strong local brand. Its fish is the freshest you’ll get in any shop – landed just up the coast at Lybster – but what makes it really special is the smokery in the very same building. So walk through the door – or just pass by on the pavement when the door is open – and you’re hit with the rich and distinctive smell of smoked salmon and haddock. A more helpful chap behind the counter you wouldn’t find anywhere, and if all this wasn’t enough the prices seem ludicrously low (or at least they do to someone like me used to paying supermarket prices when the fish has travelled half way around the world to reach the chiller cabinet in front of me).

And ask anyone locally about this fishmongers, and you won’t hear a bad word about it.

So any local retail brands which need a slating? Well not exactly local brands, but certainly a very famous retail brand which has inappropriately imposed itself locally – Harrods. “Harrods” I hear you cry “In the Scottish Highlands? Surely not…” Well they have and here’s the story: It’s well known that Mohammed Al Fayed is the owner of both Harrods and Fulham football club. Less well known, is the fact that he also owns the Falls of Shin Visitors Centre – a tourist attraction which, as the name suggests, boasts an impressive water fall – with the centre itself bearing the Harrods name. The water fall isn’t the problem though (beautiful and dramatic as it is), it’s the dreadful visitors centre and the nonsense it makes of the Harrods brand name. So what’s wrong with it? I hardly know where to start, but try: the eclectic mix of inappropriate merchandise such as tacky models of London buses with the Harrods name on (and keep in mind this is the Scottish Highlands), through to sub-standard food offered in the over-priced self service café. Overall the experience is awful, and the Harrods name makes the whole thing worse by raising expectations with its name simply being over the door. Okay I guess few employees will be big enough to tell the boss that there’s a better way to run and brand a visitors centre, but I dearly wish one of them would.

So not a local brand, as such, but then not patronised by local people either. No, the visitors are largely tourists whose coaches bring them to it once, and once only.

Bring on the local brand.

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