The Covid lockdown has been good for some local shops. Not only were people avoiding crowded supermarkets and other chains, but they discovered that small shops could often supply things that larger ones struggled to stock.

Things are slowly going back to ‘normal’, so it’s worth mentioning other reasons why shopping local can be a good idea. One of them is the personal service. 

I recently had a problem with the ‘power head’ attachment on my vacuum cleaner: it had jammed and stopped spinning. As it’s a SEBO, I expected it would be easy to dismantle; but having located all the screws and removed them, I still couldn’t finish taking it apart. I checked the price of a new one, £70, and decided to seek advice.

PICTURE: David Bruce Photography

This involved nipping down to Adams & Jarrett where I‘d bought the vacuum cleaner in the first place. While not being willing to give it the final ‘yank’ it needed, they were able to point out the three clips that were preventing it coming apart. Armed with this knowledge, I succeeded in unclipping the clips and unjamming the roller. Triumph!

My experience of helpful service was confirmed when I talked to one of the owners: “We like to treat people as we like to be treated. Old fashioned service. Always putting the customer first.”

It was interesting to know if this policy had worked, so we delved into the history of the shop, set up in 1965 by a previous generation of owners. I learned that the shop had always had to adapt to the ups and downs of the economic cycle and changing demands. “Adapt and survive.”

Among the adaptations was expanding sideways and, twenty years ago, acquiring a warehouse. This helps them compete with the Internet as “many people want to buy things immediately” when they come in. (And a piece of Covid social history: “Just before lockdown we sold about 150 freezers and now have none left.” Not just stocking up on toilet rolls then.)

There appear to be many elements that help create an environment where local shops thrive, often based on simple human values. As one of the owners says: “The local shops are very much a community.” They all know each other and talk to each other, and when there’s a threat to them, they work together. 

About eight years ago they all took a stand against the introduction of parking charges in the street by having a one-day protest: “Up till then, the only time the shop had been closed for trading.”

For larger shops like Adams & Jarrett, it’s also about how they treat their staff. Each member of staff is allowed to develop a special interest, be it in fixing things (my interest), selling particular items, or, on selling as an aim in itself – something that chains seem to focus on exclusively. 

“Many of our staff are beyond retirement age but like to keep working. And customers like to see familiar faces,” one of the owners pointed out. 

And it’s not just the staff who stay. There are some customers who have been shopping at Adams & Jarrett since it opened. Some of these customers are now housebound and will ring when they need something, trusting the staff as they’ve been with the shop for a long time.

One happy (and much younger) customer recently bought a fridge freezer from the shop and found the large range really helpful for comparing models: “The space in my kitchen is quite tight, so seeing them in the shop ensured I made the right choice.” He also pointed out the competitive price and the helpful staff. “You just don’t get these benefits by buying on the Internet.”

But what about value for money? As members of the Euronics buying group, they can offer a range of brands at competitive prices. In fact, they will price match, Currys and John Lewis on a like-for-like basis. Service has to be factored in sometimes and part of that service is free delivery within a range of 20 miles.

And by the way, although some say Robert Tressell’s book, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, was based on his time working at Adams & Jarrett, this was a completely different company from the one that took over in 1965 (though they kept the name).

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