Small Business Minister Bruce Billson says to ‘Shop Small’ to recover local retail amid supermarket power debate

Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson has hit the publicity trail to support the launch of the Shop Small campaign in Australia.

The month-long campaign to be held throughout November is designed to promote the value of small businesses and encourage consumers to shop at retailers in their local high street communities.

Internationally, Shop Small operates in the US, Canada and the UK. It was launched in 2010 by American Express, and is presented in Australia by Energy Australia, MYOB, NAB and Virgin Australia.

As part of the campaign, MYOB will give away five $10,000 “business makeover” grants to five local businesses. The accounting software business will also give away 100 vouchers worth $250 in November to customers who shop at registered retailers in the campaign.

Billson told listeners of 2UE Drive yesterday that the campaign is designed to encourage people to “look around their communities, look at those strip shops, look at the areas they love to visit, love to go and have a look in the windows, love to go and talk about choice and how they want to spend their consumer dollar”.

He said if consumers support their local communities, it will keep “bigger businesses on their toes and nimble”.

Billson said working with small business owners was “satisfying” due to their dedication and commitment.

“You know, they have mortgaged their house, they lie awake at night wondering about cash flow and how to pay the rent in their business for the next month, and getting behind those entrepreneurial Australians that still provide about 43% of all the private sector jobs in our country,” he said.

Billson’s comments on supporting small business follow a week of controversial discussion about the power of the supermarkets to squeeze suppliers in order to keep costs for consumers down.

“At the moment the ACCC is looking at allegations of unconscionable conduct or an abuse of their market power where big supermarkets have been engaging in ways that no one would like to see, that’s the allegation with some of their suppliers. So the ACCC is investigating those allegations.”

Earlier this week, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said that the ACCC was “completely clear that our role is to protect the competitive process”.

“It is simply incorrect to label all those who question aspects of the degree of market power of the major supermarket chains as people wanting to protect inefficient businesses,” Sims said.

“Second, we see the supermarket issues capable of being dealt with under the Competition and Consumer Act, and we do not see use of the act as excessive regulation.”

The sentiment of Shop Small reflects a recent initiative by the Victorian government, Support Small Business Day, which was held on Saturday, October 19. The day saw local businesses across Victoria hold special events, discount initiatives and promotional drives to encourage people to support their businesses.

UK retail guru and star of BBC television series Mary Queen of Shops,Mary Portas, visited Australia as part of the Support Small Business Day initiative and told SmartCompany there were many ways local businesses could band together to succeed.

“There will never be a lot of bricks-and-mortar retailing, restaurants and small businesses, but we need to ‘reboot’ them,” she said.

“In the same way that everyone is trying to sell omni-channel and thinking, ‘how do I sell online?’, you’ve actually got to think, if I was starting a store again today, what would it be?

“My local fashion stores at home know what I like … If they can’t compete on value, they should compete on knowledge, service and expertise. They email me when things I like come in.”

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