4th Jan 2018

How can Harrogate unlock its independent business potential?

Firm founder Paul Berwin offers an independent analysis of business in the Harrogate District

Harrogate is blessed with a glittering array of independent businesses, each of which add to the rich tapestry which makes our town such an attractive place

Alongside some fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes, Harrogate’s independent scene also boasts technology companies – our town is gaining a strong FinTech (financial technology) reputation – and those offering marketing, design and professional services. Around every corner you’ll find another business you may not have spotted. 

An independent health check 

While the variety may be there you need look no further than the local press to see that there are questions over the health of our local independent economy. Over recent months we have unfortunately seen businesses such as the long-established Lowther Fruit Stores close – that's a loss for the community and, as a regular customer, me personally.

We’ve seen a range of initiatives proposed from groups such as the Indie Harrogate movement, all of which are designed to raise the profile of our independent sector and offer a progressive, mutually beneficial support network. These are very welcome and Berwins is proud to back the efforts of Indie Harrogate; but they must come as well as, not instead of, honest analysis and effective management by independent business owners. 

The keys to independent success

Ultimately, there’s no single recipe for the success of an independent. Businesses operating in different industries will be presented with varying opportunities and have unique hurdles to overcome. 

Nevertheless, having supported businesses across our district with legal advice for over 30 years – and founded one of my own – there are, to me four key ingredients to unlocking that potential: 

1. Have a clear vision - While market conditions will change over time, understanding what you are about should not. Berwins’ core principle is the same today as it was when I established the firm – to care passionately about our clients and the legal advice we offer. Centering the very DNA of our business around that fundamental vision helps to maintain focus and provides a yardstick for decision making. 

2. Do what you do best – and do it well - Ultimately, people will gravitate towards businesses doing their job well. So, whether you’re a first-rate web designer, a financial expert or an outstanding chef, pick what you do best and focus on doing this consistently well. Your customers will receive a great experience and you’ll also find fulfillment in exercising your talents. 

3. Recruit and treat staff well - Ensuring that you have the right people in the right positions – and that you take the time to develop them – unlocks potential and will ultimately pay dividends. The benefits to businesses doing this effectively are clear to see in many of the organisations Berwins supports and through our long-standing sponsorship of the ‘Best Employer’ category at the Harrogate Business Awards.

4. Be prepared to evolve - No business can afford to stand still. Sometimes you need to respond to industry changes – with new legislation the legal industry is certainly ever changing. On other occasions however, you need to identify that your offering needs to change for the long-term success of the business.

That can be hard – we business owners are naturally protective over our ‘babies’ – but it is necessary. It’s one of the reasons I admire the decision by Norse’s Paul Rawlinson to openly share the position of his independent restaurant – an evening at which I highly recommend – and his plans to evolve the way it operates with a view to securing long term success.  

Support quality independents

Ultimately, no business – independent or otherwise – is owed custom. Every business must earn its keep, be ready to invest and innovate, but when we can, the best indies do need our support.

By supporting independents, we’re supporting businesses that are wholly invested locally

By supporting independents, we’re supporting businesses that are wholly invested locally. That isn’t to say that multiples and nationals don’t have an important place; they do – creating employment and using local services at a scale which many independents cannot.

But those national chains are less likely to use the plethora of talented web designers, printers, accountants and yes, even lawyers, based in our community. So, I say let’s support quality independents and let that support contribute to a successful, dynamic and thriving community.  

Paul Berwin is Senior Partner and Founder of Berwins. He has over 30 years’ experience of supporting independent businesses with the legal advice which helps them to grow and unlock potential.  

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