With indoor dining reopened, a survey of SMEs has shown that high-street businesses rely on local eateries and the hospitality sector to drive footfall and trade.
More than half of those questioned in the Champion Green survey of SMEs believe that having bars, restaurants and cafés fully open is important for the restoration of the local economy. 56% believe the quality of local food and hospitality provision affects local shopping habits, with the anticipation that next Monday’s opening up of indoor dining will encourage consumers to stay closer to home for their shopping needs.
56% of small business owners say they lost money due to turnover falling during COVID-19 lockdowns. The average overall loss was put at 43% for the year ending March 2021.
Confidence in the sector is still apparently high, however. 80% are confident or very confident about their own employment situation in the next three months, while 66% are confident on the security of their business. Similarly, six-in-ten business owners (61% ) are confident of maintaining their personal income in the next three months.
Longer-term, 88% are confident or hopeful they can restore or improve turnover levels in the next 12 months, although only 34% are confident about the longer-term security of all of their local business community.
Small business is the lifeblood of local communities and of jobs, so supporting local has never been more important, according to Marian O’Gorman, the Champion Green founder who is also Chairperson of Kilkenny Design Group.
“More than two-thirds of people in Ireland are employed by SMEs and the sector generates 46% of all private sector turnover. Social provision depends on a strong economy, and the best way to help economic recovery is to get back out and into local businesses, Ms O’Gorman said.
Restoring turnover levels (42% ) is put as the biggest personal challenge for SME owners in the next six months. Covid and further lockdowns (69% ) and the influence of Brexit (39% ) are seen as the biggest external challenges.
One-in-five (19% ) say they feel like they have to raise staff wages to convince them to return to the workplace and to stay.
For small business owners, 55% say increased financial support of local business is key for driving renewal. Consumer advertising and information on the importance of supporting local business is key to growing local support, almost two-thirds (64% ) say.
For office-based SMEs, 66% say a return to the office is important, or very important, for the future of their business. A similar 64% believe the mental health of their employees is enhanced by a return to office-based working.
The recent business survey marks the anniversary of the launch of Champion Green, one year ago. The scheme provides business advice and marketing support to SMEs and highlights how consumers can make a difference in driving the recovery of small business.
It is supported by Kilkenny Design and Visa, in association with Retail Excellence, Small Firms Association and Chambers of Commerce Ireland.
The recent survey also confirmed the significance of ecommerce for SME survival. 66% of small businesses put their business online, or enhanced their online presence, as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns.
38% say an easy-to-use website will be most important in promoting their business going forward, while 42% say advertising to highlight the importance of supporting local businesses will feature in business development plans.
Plans for Champion Green this year include a dedicated Champion Green loyalBe loyalty app for locally produced goods and a National Champion Green Week in September to encourage and reward consumer support for local brands and businesses.
The initiative is backed by a €1m investment to drive consumer support for local enterprise and to help SMEs adapt business.