A State of Independence
Choice is fundamental to modern living. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. That’s why the independent pub revolution that is currently playing itself out on the nation’s streets is so welcome & overdue.
We delve into the not-so underground world of independent businesses to learn what, and who is leading the way in the quest to be different. Choice is fundamental to modern living. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. That’s why the independent revolution that is currently playing itself out on the nation’s streets is so welcome. And overdue. From pubs and bars to restaurants, bookshops, cafes and record shops, bold and creative independent businesses are pumping new life into our towns and cities.
“Of the 48,000 pubs in the UK, approximately 40 per cent are independent”
Bars and pubs are at the vanguard of this sea change. Of the 48,000 pubs in the UK, approximately 40 per cent are independent and this figure is likely to rise. Today there are over 1,400 breweries in the UK and most of these are indies. It’s these breweries that have spearheaded the craft beer movement. This is backed up by financial stats too. Smaller pubs are seeing their turnover increase twice as fast as large chain pubs.
Indies clearly have a number of things on their side – they are generally run by devotees and these enthusiasts are nimble and daring enough to recognise the need for modern pubs to adapt to the needs of the modern drinker.
Birmingham is leading the way for independents
In Birmingham, Tom Cullen, has created an award-winning email magazine, I Choose Birmingham, which highlights the best things to do in Britain’s second city. He is uniquely placed to see how indies are fueling a creative renaissance in the city, and why they are the lifeblood of any town. We spoke to him about the importance of indie businesses.
“London dominates so much of the food and drink scene that actually the only trump card other cities have is their distinct identity”
How important is a distinct identity to a town or city these days?
Vital. In the UK London dominates so much of the food and drink scene – well, any scene for that matter – that actually the only trump card other cities have is their distinct identity. London can’t touch that.
How key are independent businesses to this identity?
Pivotal. Independents are the heartbeat of the city. They’re the reason behind a city’s entire buzz. Birmingham is home to the Original Patty Men, makers of the nation’s best street food burger at the national street food awards. When they set up their first restaurant, there was a surge of pride throughout the city and the citizens of Brum have filled their restaurant from day one. And that level of excitement is hard to create.
Independent pubs are on the rise. What makes them so vital?
Choice. Stunning beers from all over the world without one buyer, in one office in London, dictating what’s on tap, what’s on pump and what’s in the fridge. And as a consumer the feeling of handing over a tenner to an indie is comforting.
Are indies defining trends? The case of craft beer would suggest so?
They are leading trends because they can take risks and if the risk comes off it becomes a trend. Put simply, if it tastes good, it becomes a trend. Once it’s a trend, the chains want in and the indies are already on the hunt for the next thing.
“With Birmingham independents it’s wonderful to see how many joint-venture events are popping up wherever there’s crossover.”
Is there a spirit of independence?
Yeah – you can see them all helping each other, in fact. In the Venn diagram of Birmingham independents it’s wonderful to see how many joint-venture events are popping up wherever there’s crossover. They help each other out on social media too, which is great to see.
In Liverpool, entrepreneurs have successfully incentivised shopping local
Two budding entrepreneurs have produced a card that gets customers exclusive discounts and deals at close to 100 independents in the city. Independent Liverpool pulls together the city’s numerous independent businesses in one place, allowing these kindred spirits to shine. Similar schemes have now been rolled out in Birmingham and Sheffield.
We spoke to one of the visionaries behind Independent Liverpool, David Williams.
“We wanted to shout out about the local and unique independents that give our city character.”
Why was Independent Liverpool set up?
We wanted to shout out about the local and unique independents that give our city character.
How does it work?
We sell a membership card. This card gets you exclusive discounts and deals at close to 100 independents. The idea is to be rewarded for shopping local and the discount acts as an incentive to get people through the door.
“We are incredibly proud to see the independent renaissance working so well in Liverpool.”
How successful has it been?
Massively. To think it has gone from a hobby to our full time job is incredible. We now host food and drink festivals where thousands of people will come down, our website gets half a million unique visitors each month and we’ve taken thousands of people down streets they might have never ventured down before.
Why are independent businesses important?
They’re the heartbeat of every city. There is space for chains and independents but what separates us from any other city in the UK- our independents. They’re an insight of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. By investing in our local community, we invest in our future.
“One big advantage of independents is they almost have autonomy and can play around with things.”
Are independent businesses more flexible in that they can react quicker to trends?
One big advantage of independents is they almost have autonomy and can play around with things. They can react quickly to trends and create daily mini-marketing campaigns.
This independent resurgence is indicative of what makes bars and pubs great in 2016. The pub industry has had to adapt to survive – and it’s the independent sector that has clearly taken the lead on this. That’s why you find movie-themed pubs in north London; a Glasgow bar that houses a record shop, a butchers inside a Suffolk pub and more besides.
How independents work together
Independent often seek out other independent shops and businesses in their area and informally share skills and customers. The Antwerp Arms in Tottenham has, for instance, teamed up with local microbreweries to create their own craft beer. You can also join a card scheme similar to those in Liverpool, Manchester, Rotherham, Sheffield and even Barnstaple to get more footfall and promotion.
Independent pubs and bars are often at the cutting edge of successful trends in our cities and high streets. They can be a preview of the changing tastes of your local customers. Checking out the independents in you area could be good for business.
Useful Independent Links