WHEN it comes to independent shops, there are few who know more than TV retail guru, Mary Portas.
The self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’ knows a thing or two about how to turn around a failing businesses.
So much so, she has even been advising the Government on how best to save our High Streets.
The retail royalty’s 28-point plan of action to help rescue small retailers has even helped spark traders in Matlock into action, who recently got together to form a group and plan the best way to maximise business in the town.
Yet while Mary is thinking on a national scale, closer to home, two Wirksworth women are taking on the mantle.
Anna Brown and Dina Holland have teamed up with a London-based friend to create and launch The Retail Inspector Programme in Derbyshire, an initiative designed to exclusively support independent retailers.
Recognising the need to breathe life into town centre businesses badly affected by the recession, and coupled with the seemingly-unstoppable growth of internet shopping, they set up the programme to offer coaching and mentoring to small businesses.
Both have had careers with both small and large retailers and met during a networking group in Cromford.
They immediately clicked thanks to their shared passion for independent shopkeeping.
“We are so like-minded” says Anna and within a couple of hours of meeting we were finishing each others’ sentences! It’s uncanny that we both live in Wirksworth too!”
Anna had been working on the idea of setting up the programme when she met author Antony Welfare who had written ‘The Retail Handbook’.
Last May, they decided to collaborate rather than compete, and started to work together. Dina joined the team in June.
They firmly believe local business owners are in need of support if they are to thrive alongside the bigger high street chains.
“It’s often lonely as an independent” added Dina.
“We have over 50 years of experience between us which we’d love to share to ensure that our unique and creative shops continue to grow.
“We were keen to know if we can really make a difference to both established and early start-up retail businesses.
“Now we know we can, whether it’s new shops setting themselves up for success, or long established, reputable businesses that needs to refresh or adjust their retail principles for today’s customer expectations and competitor changes”.
They have launched a community website offering support and advice, with blogs, updates and networking opportunities.
Those signing up are given access to coaching, training workshops, and a chance to create a business plan.
It is also free from the politics of local councils, with the simple agenda of putting local business back on the map.
Recently, they offered their backing to the recently-formed Matlock’s Town Team, which is hoping to tackle issues affecting their trade, including parking.
There are preliminary plans for traders to offer shoppers the cost of their parking ticket if they spend over a certain amount in their shop.
Both Anna and Dina were at last month’s inaugural meeting and were encouraged by the enthusiasm of the shopkeepers.
Anna said: “We are proud of our county and it’s full of excellent independent retailers, creative artists, and great food producers.
“We’d like to keep our High Streets thriving, and Derbyshire continuing to offer unique products to locals and visitors alike.
“These are tough times for retailers, with many of the bigger, famous names no longer trading. Independents can offer real customer advantages, and take a key role in our communities”