The battle between big corporates and the small independent has been going on for years. Major chains like Starbucks and Costa Coffee dominate our high streets, but independents are fighting back. The northern cities of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle have vibrant coffee and bar scenes with loyal customers.
Many people actively try to avoid big corporate chains and support small businesses. We do this for different reasons including concerns about large conglomerates, a desire to express our individuality, better product and a wish to support local traders. The publicity around international conglomerates, ie Starbucks, and the amount (or lack of) corporation tax that they pay has reignited the debate about supporting local independents.
But can you be sure that your local independent really is just that? There has been a furore in the press over the news that the quirky southern coffee chain Harris + Hoole actually has Tesco as a major shareholder. With their chalkboard menus and stylish stripped wood interiors the coffee shops look like any number of independent artisan coffee shops. No mention of Tesco is made inside the stores and it promotes its quality coffee credentials heavily.
Closer to home I was surprised to learn that the Leeds’ bar Nation of Shopkeepers is actually part of the Mitchell and Butler chain (those of Toby Carvery fame). Naively I had assumed it was an independent bar.
These are both examples of big brands recognising the backlash against carbon copy chains and a preference for smaller more individual offerings. It shows that there is still room for innovation and that in some areas; the corporates are having to adapt to keep up with independents. The danger though, is though large companies with their buying power, aggressive growth strategies and ability to pay for expensive branding and design companies will make it even more difficult for small businesses to thrive. My view is that if you like a place then you should go into it; but just be aware that sometimes, not everything is as it seems.