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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 17 September 2007

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THE web is having a significant and positive impact on the fortunes of businesses in the North West according to a new study.  The research by thebestof, shows that small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) plan to grow their businesses by on average 38% in the coming year. However the more web-savvy SMEs including businesses in the North West have growth ambitions that are twice those of their conventional SME counterparts (41% vs 20%).

The study is based on telephone interviews with 500 small and medium sized businesses combined with an online survey completed by a further 2,583 SMEs. The businesses were drawn from across the UK and from a mix of sectors, and included 293 businesses in the North West.  The research which explores SMEs general approach to marketing, reveals that businesses in the North West typically spend £3,000 marketing their businesses and 86% of them plan to spend as much if not more on marketing in the coming year. However a significant group are focusing this spend on the web and this spend is delivering results. For instance the internet-enabled businesses in the North West get 31% of their enquiries from the web.

In general, the study paints a picture of an SME community in a bullish mood. 10% plan to launch a new product or service in the next 12 months and a further 13% will expand into a new area. 17% will merge with or acquire another business and only 3% plan to scale back their operations. Indeed when asked to score their future optimism, on a scale of 1 to 10 the average North West business score is a creditable 7.8. 

When analysing the businesses which are more web active against those who are not, the study shows that the companies most actively using the web for marketing, expect their business to grow twice as quickly as the SMEs who aren’t. These web-aware SMEs are also far more likely to be taking business away from larger rivals too. For instance 58% of the internet active businesses in the region describe their competitors as bigger than them, whereas the less internet active are more likely to say their competitors are the same size as them or smaller.

Nigel Botterill, Chief Executive of thebestof comments:- “The first wave of the internet seemed to be all about the major brands and retailers, or businesses like or ebay, whose whole premise is built on the internet. What this research shows is that there’s a whole generation of ordinary small businesses in the North West who have been quietly working in the background, using the Web to steal market share from their bigger competitors.”

The Report suggests the web-aware SMEs as a whole haven’t set up e-commerce operations, they are just making sure that they are doing the basics. For instance:-

76% have a site
46% do search engine optimisation
30% run email campaigns
11% run affiliate programmes
9% do pay per click advertising
7% run a blog

While certain SMEs are making major online gains, the study also highlights a digital divide. For instance, just under 10% of businesses in the North West report that the internet holds no potential for their business, furthermore a 3rd don’t see it as relevant. Yet in the same region there are businesses generating just under a third of their business from the Internet.

Nigel Botterill again:- “It is extraordinary to see how the internet is delivering so much for some and yet so little for others. We’re working hard to try and understand why this is.”

Part of the problem appears to be a matter of mindset. 19% reports that they don’t feel equipped to take advantage of the Internet. A further 56% simply believe it is the natural domain of the bigger business. The age of the proprietor in charge of the SME is another issue.

Nigel Botterill concludes:- “The region’s SMEs need to break out of this mindset. 69% of them turn to the web for their suppliers, so why do they think people looking for the possible services they offer, aren’t doing the same?  They need to realise that there are businesses exactly like theirs doing some very simple things to capture business through the Web. It’s not rocket science, it’s a basic business skill and tool, just like financial management, which they can and must harness.”

Brits look to the past for the ideal community

DOWN with bus lanes, big supermarkets, "chuggers" and bendy buses - Brits in 2007 dream of a post-war Britain ruled by village fêtes, bus conductors and even the old rag ‘n’ bone man.

In the latest chapter of Somerfield’s Local Life report, 25% of Brits yearn for a 1950s neighbourhoods, craving bobbies on the beat (85%), district nurses (55%) and bus conductors (41%). Meanwhile modern Brits shun congestion zones (53%), speed cameras (45%), outdoor smoking areas (21%) and bus lanes (15%).  In fact, 20% of Brits envisage a community from further back, wanting stocks (25%) and heads on spikes (8%) reinstated. A small demographic meanwhile propose boosting community spirit by resurrecting witches’ stakes.

Top 10 features to bring back:-

1. District nurses (55%)
2. Bus conductors (41%)
3. Red phone boxes (36%)
4. Stocks (20%)
4. Rag ‘n’ bone men (20%)
6. Routemaster buses (17%)
7. Heads on spikes (8%)
8= Town criers (6%)
8= Moats (6%)
10. Witches’ stakes (3%)

Nostalgia is not the only incentive for change as Brits are troubled by modern conveniences such as outdoor urinals (30%) and smelly hotdog vendors (29%). A wary 64% voted the street fundraiser public enemy number 1.  12% meanwhile want large out-of-town supermarkets abolished as 66% favour the traditional local grocer. Other favoured features of communities from yesteryear include traditional post offices (69%), sweet shops (42%), street markets (55%) and fêtes (32%).  36% yearn for the iconic red phone box to be reborn and 20% wish to bring rag ‘n’ bone men back to life.

Pete Williams, head of press and PR at Somerfield, said:- “Some say that today’s society has it all, but clearly the good old fashioned values of half a century ago are far more appealing. Communities like personal, face-to-face service and traditional establishments. Many aspects of contemporary life, such as invasive methods of law enforcement or modern conveniences are generally unwelcome. It seems putting ASBOs in stocks is right for the neighbourhoods of 2007.  Somerfield’s Local Life report is a landmark study delving into the past, present and future of UK communities. The study builds a broader picture of today’s communities and the expectations of those living in the neighbourhoods of our stores.”

Top 10 features to save - and the regions that most want them:-

1.   Policemen on the beat (85%) - North East
2.   Traditional post offices (69%) - Midland & South
3.   Local grocers (66%) - South
4.   Street markets (55%) - North Scotland
5.   Park wardens (42%) - Lancashire
6.   Traditional sweet shops (42%) - Yorkshire & South
7.   Fêtes (32%) - Midlands
7.   Milkman (32%) - East Anglia & Yorkshire
9.   Newspaper stands (20%) - Yorkshire
10. Bandstands (18%) - Central & North Scotland

Top 10 features to remove and the regions that most want them:-

1.   Street fundraisers (64%) - South
2.   Congestion charge zones (53%) – Yorkshire
3.   Speed cameras (45%) - Midlands
4.   Parking meters / pay & display (33%) - South & Yorkshire
5.   Outdoor urinals (30%) - South, South West & Yorkshire
6.   Hamburger / hotdog vendors (29%) - London
7.   Outdoor smoking areas (21%) - North Scotland
7.   Mini-roundabouts (21%) - Central Scotland
9.   Bus lanes (15%) - Wales
10. Bendy buses (13%) - London

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