StyleNest speaks to Olivia Martyn, the founder of the small business initiative Shop Local London borne out of the current pandemic.
How did Shop Local London begin?
When lockdown had just started, and everyone was queuing for hours for online supermarket delivery slots, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the small shops and independents. I just thought, all of the small independent shops I love are going to die – not to mention the love and hard work that went into creating each and every one of them.
I used to run a small business and I work with start-ups as part of my day job, so I can appreciate what goes into starting a business. Retail was already a struggle – increasing rents and rates combined with dwindling footfall just made it all that harder for small retailers to make a living. Next day delivery on Amazon is often more appealing than a walk to your local corner store, and a Tesco shop is more convenient and more affordable than going to your local greengrocer, butcher and baker.
All of a sudden, these small shops had COVID to deal with too – they needed to figure out home delivery, launch e-commerce, or pivot their business entirely.
I initially pulled together a list of small shops delivering groceries near me, put it on airtable (similar to an online excel) and circulated it amongst friends and in Facebook groups. I thought this would help people find what they needed but from a small local shop. It worked to some extent, but nobody was contributing to it to help the list grow. Plus, it wasn’t inspiring. It didn’t tell the story behind each of the small places listed. So, one Saturday afternoon (on the 4th April), I started posting some of the recommendations on Instagram.
The next day I started getting recommendations and requests from strangers, and followers just kept coming in. All of a sudden we had hundreds of recommendations via Direct Message and tonnes of people sharing our account as a useful directory, including influencers, journalists and public figures. We now have 13,000 followers.
Has the current pandemic changed the way people shop?
When nothing was open during the first lockdown, absolutely. People had to find new ways to do their usual supermarket shop, mostly online, and this introduced people to a lot of new places they may not have otherwise considered. But in all honesty, since lockdown has lifted, habits are slowly returning to normal. People are back in their favourite supermarkets and ordering everything on Amazon for convenience or price.
Having said that, I am pleasantly surprised by how many people are shopping local as they are experiencing their local areas more, and we’ve had a lot of messages from people saying we’ve helped them discover and support places they had never even heard of.
What were the main challenges you faced?
Managing requests coming through was difficult at the beginning – we had hundreds of people asking where they could find certain items in their postcode – and people were very specific! As a result, we launched a website so people could search for a place to shop via their postcode instead of messaging us. I built that over a weekend with the help of my friend Jason who had done something similar in Somerset, and an amazing colleague and engineer called Andrei who’s still involved and supporting.
It was, and still is, also quite difficult to manage changing circumstances and to keep up with what people need. At the beginning it was about groceries, then it moved to restaurants and takeaways and things like books and plants. When the weather started getting colder, people wanted to know where they could go that had outdoor heaters, and now it’s about gifts ahead of Christmas.
All of this combined with managing a full-time job! But luckily we have a few amazing volunteers who are on hand.
What do you hope for the future?
A world where we can fall in love with our highstreets again, because we’ve enabled the best places and the people behind them to thrive.
What inspires you?
Seeing the resilience and kindness from people this year has been particularly inspiring. On the topic of shops & restaurants, it was amazing to see them cooking and delivering food to the NHS, running lockdown cooking and baking classes, and pivoting their businesses entirely to provide for the community. Not to mention those who used unemployment to launch a business from scratch – e.g. The Floating Boulangerie started by Jeremy who taught himself how to bake during lockdown and started selling from a houseboat floating along the canals of London!
What’s next for Shop Local London?
We’ve made a commitment that everything we do will be in the interest of small shops. So we’ll continue to find ways we can support them – let’s see where that goes! Do your next foodshop in a smaller store on your high street. Buy vouchers and gifts locally. Get a takeaway but order directly. And spread the word.
And for me personally – I now have a bucket list of places I can’t wait to visit! To name just one – Books for Cooks in Notting Hill is a dedicated bookshop for cookery books, with a kitchen at the back which tests and serves some of the recipes. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this place before!