IT is springtime, people are making a determined effort to remember the public health guidelines, vaccines are on the way, and we can see and imagine a return to more normal lives within the year. Optimism is returning.
One of the biggest casualties of the pandemic in Ireland, however, has been small business and jobs, which, when put in the context of saving lives, was a sacrifice that had to be made. Doors closed, people stayed at home, and our policy makers did their best to balance the challenge of saving people’s livelihoods or their lives.
More than 280,000 people in Ireland are employed in the retail sector, even apart from the manufacturers, suppliers and craft workers supplying these retailers. In Kilkenny Design, for example, over 70% of our stock is Irish made or designed and most of our suppliers are small Irish companies. They, and we, were suddenly faced with ramping-up online sales and marketing, something which, realistically, is not as easy as it sounds; particularly for SMEs with no real experience or resources in the quite complex area of ecommerce.
But, the good news is that, just as Covid can and will be beaten, so too the Irish people can rebuild a shattered economy and restore jobs and wellbeing and investment in our local area.
Like our major efforts to implement public health policy, it will take a concerted effort, and it will need a focus on the bigger picture of what is good for our communities and our families.
In a nutshell, recovery will happen if we all ‘think local’.
74% of Jobs
Last April in Kilkenny Design, we chose to act to support our sector and the thousands of small Irish businesses which, in fact, employ about 74pc of Ireland’s total workforce. Of all Irish- owned companies here, almost 99% of them are SMEs.
The Champion Green movement was started to highlighting the simple ways everyone can make a difference. Essentially, we urge people to shop and to ‘click local’ to help communities to bounce back and thrive again.
And we have made inroads, including our national campaign in November to turn ‘Black Friday’ green, tackling the challenge of 70% of online purchases in Ireland going abroad.
Spending with Irish websites more than doubled over the weekend, increasing 135%.
We have engaged with over 50,000 consumers on the Championgreen.ie website and with over 10,000 SMEs at a very practical level too. People have responded, but the initial impetus to ‘support local’ is in danger of waning. We all need to remember why it is so important.
Consider your purchases, which are probably now mostly online, and think about how they might save a small business. Save a local business so that it can continue to pay staff, to create jobs, to provide a local service and to contribute to the exchequer that, in turn, funds our health service and schools, social welfare and public services.
Consider using local services and service providers wherever you can, if you have ‘lockdown cash’ to spend. Invest in your home, your garden, your little luxuries, your family and yourself by supporting local.
You don’t need to be an economist to understand that keeping money in circulation locally, rather than spending it overseas, means the local economy and people benefit.
Business people here take pride in a job well done; a great product or service that is excellent quality, unique and original and brings pleasure. Our small retailers, manufacturers and craftspeople deserve our support, firstly, because they deliver quality and, secondly, because if we do not support local, the Irish economy and every single one of us loses out, long-term.
Our Champion Green campaign, which is supported by VISA and backed by groups like Retail Excellence, Small Firms Association and Chambers Ireland, has a business focus too, providing practical marketing and logistical supports for SMEs.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD, kindly helped launch the 2021 Champion Green strategy for us recently, acknowledging the huge significance of our ‘support local’ message.
The bigger picture of economic recovery will involve digital transformation in local business, staff retraining, accelerated transition to ecommerce solutions, and renewal of town centres and local infrastructure to support viable local communities.
There’s a ‘job of work to be done’ as my father might have said, and we can all support this work, as both consumers and business people.
As we look forward to the reopening of our economy and the restoration of some normality in our lives, let’s become more conscious consumers. Take a moment, before you part with your hard-earned cash, and decide where it can be put to best use.