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Dare to be different

Many independents have watched the rise of online shopping with a degree of trepidation – worried they will lose out to mighty beasts such as Amazon and Ocado.

While it is true that the future will see many of us ordering our staples online: the beans, washing-up liquid, detergent and larder essentials, independents have the opportunity to capitalise on what makes them different – their very independence.

Independents can be more nimble in their buying and they do not have the internal bureaucracy and chains of command that characterise big operators. They can be quirky, individual and entrepreneurial.

Convenience will be of increasing importance as people have less time and, indeed, resent time spent buying the basics – which is why subscription services for staples is something that could prove popular.

So what is the future for bricks-and-mortar independents whose bread and butter is the physical shop from which they trade rather than the digital netherworld?

One of my favourite independents is Thornton’s Budgens, in Belsize Park, north-west London. It is the hub of a parade of shops and restaurants in Haverstock Hill.

Not only is it convenient, it is individual – it has a style all of its own, selling products that are a bit different, as well as the basics, from organic, fair-trade bio-dynamically-farmed Hampstead Tea to freshly prepared and ready-to-cook foods.

It has a deli that sells more than 200 types of cheeses, authentic Italian hand-made pastas, sausages, prosciutto, salamis and locally-produced breads and pastries. And it has a free-to-use cash till outside.

Thornton’s also has a Post Office, offers home delivery for its bigger spenders and it has dedicated Cook freezers, which gives it another point of difference and a Maido Sushi concession (pictured).

Retail experts agree that theatre, locally produced, sustainable, ethically sourced and differentiation is what will sort out the men from the boys on high streets of the future.

Generation Z cares more than the preceding generation about environmental issues, animal cruelty and health.

With town centres suffering from so many high-profile closures, it is independents that are the future – independents that dare to be different.

Andrew Don.

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