David Charles is a man on a mission.
He is waging a campaign to help independent retailers in Grantham fight back against competition from the big chains and multiples.
His major weapon is the newly-formed Grantham Retailers Association (GRA), which attracted 40 businesses to its inaugural meeting.
David started up his own business – Grantham Computer Shop in Guildhall Street – 24 years ago and he has seen first-hand how the town centre has got less busy as shoppers head to out-of-town shopping retail parks and superstores.
He is confident independents like his own can prosper by joining forces in organisations like the GRA and by partnering up with other business groups and agencies in the town.
Why did you set up the Grantham Retailers Association?
Earlier this year I was concerned about the way footfall was reducing in our shop, especially on Saturdays. Our busiest day of the week used to be a Saturday and we would need four to five staff to cope with customers. Now we can manage with one or two people serving in the shop. We are still doing well because we have adapted to offer other things like repairs but the lack of footfall was a concern.
We carried out a survey into shopping habits in Grantham and it showed that people do value independent businesses but that they could more to promote themselves. I decided we should bring the independents together in the form of this free association.
How successful has the GRA been among independents in the town?
We have now had three meetings. There were over 40 businesses at the first meeting, which was a very good turnout. We have had around 25 independents at the other two. There has also been a sub-group formed to discuss important issues and ideas. I am pleased with how the group has started - our next meeting will be in January after the busy Christmas period.
What are the benefits for members of the GRA?
We have a website - www.gra.net - where members are promoted. There are also free window stickers promoting independents on shop windows in the town centre. We are ready to launch social media sites for Twitter and Facebook to help promote local independents further. One of our big things is the ‘spend local card’, where shoppers can take advantage of special offers at independent businesses if they produce the card. We charge £1 for the card with most of the proceeds going to charity and some being ploughed back into the association.
How do you see the future of the GRA as a business organisation in Grantham?
I am also a member of Grantham Business Club and a committee member of Grantham Events Group, which helps put on the Christmas fun day, St George’s Day celebrations and Grantham Carnival, and it really helps to have all of these organisations linked together with the GRA.
I am also looking for a tie-up with Grantham College because business studies students can help promote our ‘spend local card’ and media students can produce videos for us to use on our website. I am a big believer of ‘the £5 rule’ - if every adult in Grantham spent £5 a week in an independent retailer rather than a national retailer then it would be worth £7.6 million to the local economy.
You must be very busy with your work commitments and serving on the various committees, so how does it affect your family life?
My wife, Julie, also has her own business as a hairdresser and beauty therapist. We have two children, aged 23 and 19, and we don’t have a lot of spare time.
We have plenty of projects lined up for 2014 so it should be another busy year.