Normally most businesses wouldn’t dream of speaking to their competitors, let alone befriending them.
But that’s exactly what a group of small independent shops in Birmingham city centre have done after coming to the conclusion that, together, they can take the retail world by storm.
In a collective bid to beat stiff competition from high street chain stores, half a dozen shops have agreed to rub each other’s backs the right way in a bid to boost trade.
The initiative sees each firm telling its customers about the other shops, inviting them to take flyers and business cards for their competitors, which will entitle consumers to discounts at the various outlets.
The idea is the brainchild of progressive independent coffee shop Six Eight Kafé, in Temple Row, which opened its doors in February last year and has been winning a growing reputation for serving quality coffee ever since.
Manager Hannah Smith said: “We have a different approach to business as we believe that independent businesses work better when working together instead of competing or ignoring each other.
“We believe in promoting each other and telling our customers that there are other fantastic operators just around the corner from us.
“Many people just aren’t aware of the small businesses, even those that have been operating for years.”
However, with high street chain store Coffee Republic just yards away, the shop is no stranger to the tough battle to stay afloat in the midst of a recession that has seen many retailers crash and burn.
“We accept that there’s people out there that don’t care about independents – they just want a fast service and to get their drinks and get out – and that’s fine, but we think we stand out as we offer a much more personal service than the chains,” said Ms Smith.
“I know I sound biased, but when I first tried a cup of coffee here it was the best I had ever tasted, and then from there I went on a massive learning curve finding out everything there is to know about coffee.
“It’s that knowledge we like to share with our customers, if they want to learn it, and everyone that works here is seriously passionate about what they do, so much so that not one person has taken a day off sick since we first opened.”
Phil Hazel, owner of nearby Liquor Store, in Great Western Arcade, off Colmore Row, also runs his business selling quality men’s denim clothing and accessories with a deep-seated passion.
Having worked for 12 years for retail giants such as Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel, the 31-year-old had clocked up experience of everything from doing window displays to buying products in and training staff.
“I really wanted to take everything I had learnt and put it into my own shop,” he said. “I’m passionate about denim and I realised that there’s very few independent shops like mine, if any, in Birmingham so I thought there was a niche in the market.
“We don’t just sell jeans, we offer expertise that means people get a very personal service and walk away, hopefully, with the best fitting pair of jeans they have ever had.”
He admitted that opening the business in February at a time when many major chain stores were folding was a brave move.
“I think if you can survive during a recession, you are on to a winner,” he added.
He hopes joining forces with other independents will also boost trade, adding: “I buy coffee at Six Eight Kafé and got to know the staff, so when they approached us about how we could mutually promote each other considering we have similar customers, we didn’t hesitate.
“I think in this economic climate you should take every opportunity you can get to bring in more custom.”
Dentist in Town, in The Minories shopping centre, and The Pen Shop, which is also located in Great Western Arcade, are also teaming up with the competitors.
Other businesses in Great Western Arcade are not only joining in, but taking the collaboration one step higher, including At One Day Spa and Benjamin Ryan Hair & Beauty.
Despite the rivals offering similar beauty and spa treatments, they have opted to take the view that if you can not beat them, join them.
Beth Davies, owner of At One Day Spa, has seen business boom since she opened the firm in December 2010.